Heart of Flint
When Michael Moore made an independent documentary about his home town, he found himself with a surprise hit on his hands. Now he’s landed a major current affairs series, but the principle’s the same, discovers Eddie Gibb.
ls Michael Moore the Roger Cook of American television documentaries? It‘s tempting to think so. not least because they have the same baggy. lived-in kind of look. Both put themselves at the centre of their films and aren‘t afraid to show the process of making documentaries. not just the result. But there are big differences too: for a start Moore doesn‘t generally get punched.
‘lt’s really about empowering the viewer - to show people look, you don’t have to be afraid.’
Where Cook engineers confrontation by poking a camera in the faces of drug barons and crooked entrepreneurs. Moore prefers to amble up to his subject. as if to say ‘Hey. I‘m just a regular guy looking for some answers.‘ Which is exactly what he is — a regular guy from Flint. Michigan who comes from a long line of autoworkers.
Michael Moore: American television's Everyman in the l930s. General Motors put Flint on the map.
and damn near rubbed the town out again when it left 50 years later. This gave Moore the subject for his l989 film Roger and Me which chronicled his two- year attempt to secure an interview with GM chairman Roger Smith. He failed. of course. but the
attempt gave him the narrative thread to string
together a series of vignettes of life after GM's departure. leaving 30.000 redundant people in its
wake. A car heritage centre and luxury hotel was the
mayor's laughable response to the lost jobs — roughly equivalent to promoting weekend breaks in Linwood. So when Moore says his ‘politics are of one who grew tip in Flint. Michigan‘ you know what he means. This blue-collar outlook. coupled with the
unshakable belief that powerful people should be held accountable. underpins his latest project. 'I'V Nation. a co-production between the NBC network and the BBC. ‘The main objective is to focus on issues currently in the news from a different perspective — something that takes the point of view ofthe working class. which is rarely seen on TV,‘ he explains.
‘The main objective is to focus on issues currently in the news from a different perspective - something that takes the point of view of the working class, which is rarely seen on TV.’
'I'V Nation is billed as a magazine programme which will cover subjects as varied as: pets on Prozac; the difficulty African-Americans have flagging down taxis. and caning in British public schools. Several segments were shot in Britain, but basically 'IV Nation offers BBC audiences a chance to watch a side of America rarely seen on the US networks and almost never on British television.
As in Rage/“(1nd Me. there will be a few attempts to walk straight into the offices of Very Powerful Men without an appointment. The chiefexecutive officer of Ford agreed to Moore's challenge to see if he could change the oil in one of his own cars. Unlike
GM‘s illusive Roger Smith. Ford’s CEO managed to
present a human image of the company and the difference points to the strength of Moore's technique. He gets nearer the subject by peeling away the layers of public relations which act as a filter on so many television documentaries.
‘lt's really about empowering the viewer — to show people look, you don't have to be afraid.‘ says Moore. ‘If you have a video camera. it‘s a very accessible form of communication. it‘s a democratic artform.‘
'I'V NlllfU/l begins on [31% ‘2 on Friday 22 Jul)“ at 9. 30pm.
Lonesome once more
Even as you read this, someone, somewhere in the world is busy concocting hokey, prairie musak. Inevitany it will be more sheets of aural horseshit with endless variations of a theme first heard on High Chaparral. Unfortunately, the makers of Return To Lonesome Dove (yup, it’s a sequel) have bought a job lot of the stuff and they’re determined to use it. As the opening titles roll, the sonic pap flows over sepia photos of the Wild West and, bowdee pardner, there’s the one with the cowboy riding into the sunset. Welcome to mini series country, where the stars are embarrassed and the plots are thin. The story looks straightforward - this one’s about moving some horses
from A to 3. Or at least it seems simple until you throw in half a dozen obtuse subplots, several implausible love interests and various other vague and dusty narrative trails. But check out the quality (and width) of the leading men: Ollie lieed as the gruff
gigolo. We first meet Gideon (effeminate name for a cowpoke if you ask me, but at least it’s Biblical) just as he’s been caught in the, er, saddle during a ‘fitting’ with another man’s wife. But he’s a sensitive soul and makes a brave attempt to explain his behaviour: ‘Me and Dolly weren’t married six months when she got hit by a runaway freight truck. I’ve been hurting for a woman’s touch ever since.’ Almost touching.
It's a man’s world in Lonesome Dove, Texas with plenty of bonding, back- slapping, brawling and branding. Twisted syntax is also a bit of a pre- requisite down on the range, with ‘don’t seem there’s ever nobody can say' a firm favourite round those
trooper Woodrow F. Call.
cattle baron with a cod Scots accent and Jon Voigt as the grizzled old
To give a flavour of this Wild West yarn let’s look in on Gideon Walker, a Texas Ranger who moonlights alternate nights as a dressmaker and
parts. I guess you gotta do what you gotta do, but galloping bareback across the plains wearing just your longjohns seems to be taking this a little too far. (Jonathan ‘Ten Gallon’ Trew)
Return to Lonesome Dove begins on 3801 on Friday 15 July at 10pm.
The List l5—28 July I994 71