'Roger & Me' Details City's Anguish
September 20, 1992

 

This is a man swirling through the American dream.

Michael Moore suddenly has it all -- fame, fortune, robust praise. His first movie ("Roger & Me") reaches PBS at 9 tonight and his second is on the way.

So how does he sound? Well, mostly down.

That's particularly true when he talks about the subjects of his first film - the working man in general and Flint, Mich. in specific.

"Things haven't got better," Moore says. "They've got worse ... There's a total despair."

It's even true when he talks about his own world. "I want my old life back," Moore groaned.

In that life, he was an anachronism, a lumpy and shaggy soul who continued an alternative newspaper into the mid-80's. The "Michigan Voice" was semi-legendary.

Then Moore was lured away to edit "Mother Jones" magazine in San Francisco. When that job crumbled, he returned home in despair. "I've always loved movies anyway," Moore says, "but after I was fired, I started going every day."

He decided to make his own movie. The result -- a documentary about Flint, mixing humor and rage - caused a sensation.

That thrust him into headlines. Moore is now making a satirical comedy but says he preferred the old days.

Haven't there been any benefits?

Moore lists two: "I got to meet Debby Boone and I was an answer on "Wheel of Fortune.'"

No, he wasn't watching at the time. "My parents were and they called me in New York right away. It runs later in New York, so I was able to see it."

That may seem small compared to the bigger picture: At the end of the decade of moneychangers Moore returned the focus to the working man.

Now "Roger & Me" reaches TV, followed at 10:30 by a 23-minute update, "Pets or Meat".

"Roger and Me" includes old film clips and bizarre interviews with such people as Pat Boone (Debby's dad) and Bob Eubanks, who now calls Moore "a bad, bad man." It's wildly funny, but still has a core of despair.

The subject is the aftershocks in Flint, after General Motors closed some factories. It includes four evictions, including a dramatic one on Dec. 23, 1988.

"We were devastated by it," Moore says. "'There were five kids screaming, the Christmas tree out at the curb, the presents."

Moore and his crew hopped in their van, to make one last try at interviewing GM Chairman Roger Smith in Detroit.

As they reached the lobby, Smith was set to deliver his Christmas speech. "I thought: 'This is too bizarre he's quoting Dickens!' "

Moore promptly thought of the "Godfather" finale, in which a baptism is intercut with murders. "I showed that to the editors and said. 'This is the way the last scene should be cut.'"

So "Roger and Me" ended with cuts between the speech and the eviction. The laughter ended; audiences were shaken.

The '80s promptly ended and the working man was rediscovered.

In Flint, Moore says, things are worse than ever. One of the evictees was killed and the others are struggling. The "rabbit lady" from the first film has a part-time job now, but her pay goes to creditors. "She's working at Kmart and has a pay stub that says zero."

The lone good news involves Ben Hamper, the autoworker-turned writer discovered by Moore. In "Roger and Me," he was in a mental health center. Now his book, "Rivethead," is thriving. "He has real talent," Moore says.

So does Moore. What he doesn't have is his old life.

     

Copyright 1992 The Desert Sun

 

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