18 THE LIST 8—22 Jul 2004
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Steven Spielberg thinks FAHRENHEIT 9/1 1 will top $100m at the box office, putting its director into the big league. As the US right wing media sharpen their knives Paul Dale finds the real MICHAEL MOORE in some ancient American texts.
the Whitehouse with his new film. Fahrenheit SW 1. At least. that's what the world's self-justifying and ancient liberal press would have us believe.
Rewind l5() years to intellectual Henry David Thoreau who. in his short lifetime. wrote one seminal book. Walden, an
account of his year as a recluse in the woods of
Massachusetts. poetry and a brilliant essay called Civil Disobedienee. Thoreau‘s gig was that of the supreme individualist. He championed the human spirit against materialism and social conformity. His was an expression that would lead him on the road to the transcendentalist philosophy that was to infiuence everyone from Henry James to one Theodore Kaczynski. the man the world later came to call the Unabomber. Thoreau was the master of the pithy quote: he had a unique ability to catch the zeitgeist of the pioneer peoples of a burgeoning republic. Above all things. Thoreau believed we owe it to ourselves to ‘beware of all enterprises that require new clothes‘.
Now a fat man from Michigan who looks like he dresses in the dark seems to be willing to pick over the bones of the conundrums that Thoreau threw down to his readers. We will retum to Thoreau later. for reasons that will become obvious. but for now let us look to the back story of Moore. who became wealthy building a utopia out of comic paranoia. political polemic and shouting loudly but clearly for the little man.
Born on a mildly overcast I954 day in Flint Michigan. Moore was the child of diligent Irish emigres. After what seems to have been a fairly pleasant childhood. his parents raised enough money for their son to go to a Catholic school. Later on. he was transferred to a public high school. It was here that he fell upon his first societal injustice — the education system in his school was dreadful. so. aged 18. he ran for a seat on the (Davison) board of education. and won. He was the
ichael Moore is about to commit the ultimate act of civil disobedience. unseating the current resident of
youngest person ever elected to the board. But university left him cold and he dropped out. believing that his time was better spent writing. Like many before him. this placed the young comrade in a quandary of familial disappointment and post adolescent self-belief that his talent as both a writer and an entertainer would deliver him from life‘s modalities.
By 1988. at the age of 34. Moore had spent almost ten years working for small political satire magazines (among them the occasionally hilarious Mother Jones) and watching one door after another being closed in his face (this may. in part. explain his contempt of municipal and business hierarchies). So he decided it was titne to make his first film. whether anyone was going to give him the money or not. He wanted to make one film in particular. about the decline of his home town Flint after the General Motors factory was closed down. so he invested the little money he had and (as the legend goes) hosted bingo games in his house to make up the deficit. By the end of 1989 the film was ready: Roger & Me was a gentle hymn to the casualties left behind by the death of the US industrial revolution. It was also unlike anything that had come before it — containing none of the usual ingredients of documentary film (such as naturalistic structure) nor did it exhibit the finer points of great correspondence or journalistic practice (such as elaboration or balance). Instead it used the bumbling figure of Moore as a counterpoint to a new accusative and strangely Capraesque human rights tragedy that was going on in the foreground. The film was a huge success (for a theatrical documentary) but not before it set a pattern of distribution trouble that would shroud all Moore‘s cinematic outings — years away from the vogue for reality television and big screen feature length documentaries that now besieges us — Roger & Me was a hard sell. but sell eventually it did. And how.
The kudos Moore gained amongst his contemporaries (Saturday Night Live comedians. low budget film producers and TV programmers mostly) was quickly lost when. in 1995. he made Canadian Bamn — his first fiction film that turned out to be comic actor John C andy‘s last. With the premise of a combat hungry US president declaring war on Canada — this was always going to stiff. Moore returned to television where his series TV Nation. a sort of perverted Candid Camera for mildly angry New York leftie liberals. was beginning to become the most talked about show on cable.
From I994 to now Moore’s story is almost too well documented to go into here: 'IV Nation 2. The Air/id Truth (for us lucky UK sophisticates). the Columbine-inspired rag bag agitprop Oscar-winning movie Bowling/m Columbine. books Stupid White Men. Dude Where '5‘ My Country." and now a new ﬂick. Hihrenheit 9/1 I .
Moore's new film is undeniably powerful for reasons that have already been well documented. Almost as interesting as the many conspiratorial quadrangles that Moore presents