|Hams on the Side||1995 Copyright eye|
|Denis Seguin||September 7, 1995|
|Michael Moore Fries America With Canadian Bacon|
Push the most jingoistic American into a corner and he'll be forced
to admit that the end of the Cold War has caused more harm than good
for the United States, in term of both foreign and domestic affairs.
Were the Evil Empire still in place, he might admit, the Gulf War
would never have happened.|
Michael Moore, the Toronto film festival-bound director of Roger & Me (a previous festival premiere) and host of TV Nation , the FOX-TV series which employs that documentary's confrontational approach, was at the Sundance film festival when Operation Desert Storm began in '91. At Cannes this spring for the premiere of Canadian Bacon, his first fiction feature, Moore recalled the scene. He suggested the assembled filmmakers at Sundance vote on whether they should declare a formal protest against the action, and was appalled when the vote was soundly defeated. "In typical American tradition, because as a country the majority don't vote, we voted not to vote."
As they say, it got him to thinking. Says Moore, "Could the president just name any country as the new enemy? Would the American public just fall into step behind him and support the war? And I thought, 'What would be the most absurd example of that?' And I came up with Canada."
Or, more precisely, Canadian Bacon-- the title a play on our famed fatty side-order as well as the soft butt cheeks of this country, here primed for a fictitious kicking.
Faced with high un-employment and industrial sluggishness, the film's waffling U.S. president (Alan Alda), a Clinton surrogate, is forced to concede that there's nothing like a full-time enemy to concentrate the national senses. But when the representatives of the former Soviet Union are unwilling to negotiate the old enmity back into existence, the national security adviser (Kevin Pollack) whispers an unfamiliar arctic name in the president's ear. That night, the major network newscasts are full of ominous stories from north of the border.
Canadian Bacon is exceptional in many ways. It features the last complete performance of the late John Candy (he died while filming Wagons East! ) and it marks one of the rare times Toronto has played itself in a U.S. film.
But what is most remarkable is just how wickedly satirical and genuinely subversive, it is. At its best, it reaches Strangelovian heights, as when the bellicose chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (played with manic vigor by Rip Torn), furious that the Russians won't play the game, bodyslams their ambassador on the White House lawn. While there are many digs at the Canadian stereotype--polite, litter-free-- the overall joke is on the Americans.
In Niagara Falls, N.Y., Sheriff Bud Boomer (Candy) is at the bankruptcy auction of a local weapons plant--peace is bad for business--when he hears word of a Canadian invasion.
Later, watching TV, learning about the infiltration of Canadian celebrities into the U.S. media, he decides to take matters into his own hands. While the CIA dusts off its Canada specialist and the Secret Service readies a clandestine force of fake Canadian invaders, Bud Boomer mounts a preemptive strike. He attacks the "captial" of Canada: Toronto.
Moore's script takes so many whacks at things American--opportunistic politicians, compliant media, ignorant public--you wonder how this film got made in the first place. According to Moore, it very nearly didn't, and took quite a fight to keep it as tart as it is.
Although Candy was the prime factor in the studio's financing, Moore suggested that the producers were rubbing their hands in anticipation of their very own version of Uncle Buck, an execrable but profitable Candy vehicle.
"John wanted to do more of what he used to do, sharp-edged satire and not what Hollywood expected of him," says Moore.
When Candy died in March of '94, a little bit of the film died with him. "John was my supporter and he was no longer there to back me and my vision of the film so I lost fights with the studio about content."
Watching the film, you can see scars--the ending is a bit patchy, the cynicism isn't quite as barbed as it might be--but it's not apparent whether these are the fault of censorious producers or Moore's art.
A clue suggests itself in the film's margin, in a travelling shot down a corridor at CIA headquarters, where there are framed photographs of various politcal leaders in whose assasinations the CIA has been implicated. The final image in this macabre trophy hall, alongside Chile's president Allende is a picture of JFK in Dallas. Perhaps the producers were willing to let this provocation pass because of its subtlety. More likely, they didn't notice.
What were the producers doing bankrolling Moore in the first place?
"I told them [the studio] it could make money and be about something, that it doesn't have to be a dumb comedy. It's not going to make Dumb and Dumber money but they'll get their money back. But we live in an economic system where there's no such thing as 'enough.' They're never satisfied because there's always more money to make."
Having given his producers more politics than they bargained for, Moore shouldn't have been surprised when they gave him more flak than he expected. Now, with only movie-goers left to vindicate him, Moore is undoubtedly hoping that they are more inclined to vote with their entertainment dollar than their suffrage.
I'll pay eight bucks to see it again.
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