|Interview with Michael Moore||1995 Copyright NY Times Syndicate|
|Ian Spelling||September 12, 1995|
Michael Moore has always been a button pusher.
The acclaimed director of "Roger & Me" (1989) recalls that he began honing his innate abilities
to prod people and question authority as a child growing up in Flint, Michigan.
"I used to taunt my sister," says Moore, laughing as an ancient anecdote comes to mind. "She was a year younger than me and would be put in her playpen with her bottle. I'd go in and swipe the bottle from her."
These days, Moore, 41, still makes babies cry, but babies are a lot bigger and, in some cases much more powerful than his sister. On a clear and warm August evening in Manhattan, Moore stands at the corner of 47th Street and Seventh Avenue. leading about 20 New Yorkers through a spirited but ragged rendition of Canada's national anthem.
A husky figure dressed down in jeans, a black sports jacket over a blue button down shirt, and a Detroit Tigers baseball cap, Moore is shooting segments for his documentary style FOX-TV show, "TV Nation," a veritable celebration of button pushing. The midnight hour comes and goes as Moore banters with passers-by, queries people about the Simpson trial, and interviews the show's mascot, Crackers the Crime-fighting Chicken.
Several days later, Moore is on the phone from his home in Flint, discussing both "TV Nation," which may or may not be on the air by the time this article appears, and his long-delayed film satire "Canadian Bacon," which will be released on September 22.
"Bacon" focuses on post-Cold War America, where few have jobs and the President (Alan Alda) is desperate to increase his approval rating as Election Day approaches. At the urging of his closest political and military advisors (Kevin Pollack and Rip Torn), who know nothing boosts a flaggin economy or Administration better than a contretemps, the President declares war on the new Evil Empire...Canada.
Picking up the story, Moore explains that, "a group of guys who had lost their jobs up by the border in Niagara Falls, New York--one of whom is now the Sheriff (John Candy)-- take the propaganda a little too seriously. So, the Sheriff, his Deputy (Rhea Perlman), and several others conduct their own invasion into Canada.
"I got the idea for the story after the Gulf War, because I was astounded that Bush's approval rating was 90 percent during the war. People just went aheaad and supported the war, even though most of them didn't even know where Iraq is.
"It stunned me that people didn't put more thought into their decision to supprot the war, especially after Vietnam. So, I decided to make a film for the 10 percent that didn't approve amd, hopefully, can convince some of the people who supported Bush tha maybe we should think a little before we jump into a war."
Moore assembled a top-notch cast, all of whom accepted less than their normal paycheck to participate in the project, then set about making his film. The writer-director reports that, other than having to answer countless questions from a crew looking to him for answers, directing a feature was not much more of a challenge than lensing a documentary.
"I'd say the feature format is easier because you can script everything out, tell the actors what to say, and edit the film according to the script," he says. "With a documentary, you don't know what you're going to get until you're out there and you can really only write and form it after you get into the editing room."
Shortly after Moore completed filming "Bacon," John Candy died of a heart attack, squelching Moore's plans to reshoot certain sequences.
"John's death was a terrible shock," says Moore. "He was a good guy and everyone loved him.
"I feel especially bad that he never got to see any of the film. He supported my vision of it, and that was very important to me."
Later, while reshooting other scenes, actor G.D. Spradlin suffered a heart attack, causng further delays. Finally, Moore had to battle the film's financiers.
"They wanted the film to be less political and more 'Uncle Buck,'" says Moore, referring to a populer Candy film. "I wanted the film to say something, to have substance."
Ultimately, "Bacon" went from the frying pan at the MGM studio to Gramercy Pictures, which is releasing the film as Moore intended.
"It's 80 to 90 percent there interms of everything I'd hoped for, which, for me, is pretty good," says the director. "I have standards...I was raised by nuns."
Moore was actually taught by nuns in Flint, Michigan, where he figured he was destined to follow in his family's footsteps, which meant a future spent building Buicks for General Motors at the plant that was the life's blood for thousands of people.
Moore, however, walked off the job before his first day was over. In 1976, at age 22, he founded the "Flint Voice," an alternative newspaper he edited for the next 10 years.
He achieved national prominence in 1989 with the release of his scathingly funnydocumentary "Roger & Me," which chronicled his efforts to convince GM chairman Roger Smith to tour Flint and see for himself the impact of GM plant closings on the locals.
"The film told people what some people were really going through during the supposedly great Reagan era," says Moore, assessing the documentary's lasting impact. "GM has not closed any more plants since the film put the spotlight on them.
"I hope people who've seen the film realize it's not only about Flint. What happened there has happened all over the country."
Moore followed up "Roger & Me" with "Pets or Meat: A Return to Flint," a half-hour sequel that played at numerous film festivals in 1992. He has since been busy with "Bacon" and "TV Nation," the latter of which he describes as "'60 Minutes' with Beavis and Butthead as correspondents."
"'Nation' began as a half-hour documentary style show on NBC in 1994, but the network dropped the program after a short run. No one was more surprised than Moore when FOX ordered new segments for airing this summer, a period notorious for its plethora of repeats.
"I was shocked because the show's content is the antithesis of what television is all about," says Moore. "I still don't understand why they allow it on the air.
"FOX pretty much stays out of my way, but they're nervous about 'TV Nation' like any network executives would be nervous about a show liek ours."
On a given night, Moore might present the ramifications of an America without NEA funding, resulting in visits to Atlanta's fizzy Coke World and the Finger-licking good KFC (formerly Kentucky Fried Chicken) Museum in Louisville. Another evening may find a "Nation" reporter, perhaps Janeane Garafalo or Rusty Cundieff, interviewing a right-wing radio station's ex-weatherman, who was fired after predicting bad weather for a Rush Limbaugh picnic.
Unfortunately, "Nation's" ratings are as low as the President's in "Bacon," and, if the program is to remain on the air after mid-September, when FOX's eight show commitment concludes, the network will have to settle for quality and prestige over Nielsen rankings.
"I'm worried but hopeful," says Moore. "FOX seems happy with the demographics, so we have a chance.
"I'd like to think there's room on the schedule somehwere for our show."
Should "Nation" come to an end, Moore is ready to move on. He's busy writing another film and a book and is looking forward to spending some quiet time with his wife, Kathleen Glynn, who has had a hand in producing all of Moore's efforts.
No specific project is next on Moore's agenda because there is no agenda.
"That works best for me," he says. "I do what hits me and get it done.
"Wouldn't you be disappointed if you saw me out in L.A. with a three picture deal? I've just never been career minded.
"Right now, I'm able to do and say the thingsI want to do and say, make a living, entertain some people and provide employment for others. I'm happy enough with that."
|Home||The Exchange||Films||Books||TV||Mike's Message||E-mail Mike|