'Roger and Me' Maker Returns to Flint, Mich.
September 27, 1992

Ray Richmond

Michael Moore doesn't necessarily have lofty dreams or anything. He just wants to save America's hide -- all by himself.

With the nation caught in the grip of its most urgent economic crisis since the Great Depression, Moore hopes that just as his 1989 cult hit "Roger & Me" proved a prophetic glimpse of things to come, so, too, will its 23-minute sequel short, "Pets or Meat: The Return to Flint," keep the presidential campaign centered on the real issues affecting people's lives.

Both the darkly comic "Roger & Me" and "Pets or Meat" air back to back at 9 Monday night on KCE5T/28 as part of the PBS series "P.O.V." (for "Point of View").

Moore, the slumpy-looking filmmaker who wrote, directed, starred in and raised the money for both films, is worried that without a little nudging from him, the bread and butter issues of jobs and the economy won't be adequately addressed this campaign season.

"'Pets or Meat' is my contribution to the discussion," said Moore in a telephone interview from New York. "The discussion needs to get off draft dodging and who's sleeping with which Jennifer."

Of course, Moore has been ranting about this stuff since '89, when "Roger & Me" was released and took the country by storm. Made for $250,000 and financed partly through Tuesday-night bingo games, it earned $25 million worldwide to become the largest-grossing non-concert documentary.

Not that "Roger & Me" was a typical documentary in any sense. It sardonically told of Moore's fruitless quest to land an interview with then-General Motors Chairman Roger Smith (who retired in 1990) in the wake of Smith's decision to lay off 30,000 auto workers in Flint, Michigan.

Moore hoped to convince Smith to visit Flint to see first-hand what his layoffs had done to decimate Moore's hometown arid the spirits of the people in it.

During filming, Moore would run into Bob Eubanks (who later would threaten a lawsuit), Pat Boone, Anita Bryant, a cash-strapped woman desperately selling rabbits "for 'pets or meat'" and a colorful eviction officer named Deputy Fred Ross.

What made the seriocomic "Roger & Me" so widely entertaining if perhaps not entirely accurate was the disarming presence of Moore as he amatuerishly poked into layer upon layer of bureacracy to come up empty.

"These people probably took one look at me and figured this thing would never even make it onto cable access," Moore guessed. "They were probably a little surprised when it became this, like, monster." Indeed. If it seemed as if Moore was making like a moron in "Roger and Me" for effect, that was no act, he admits now.

"We truly didn't know what we were doing," he said. "Here we were, fumbling with the camera to load the film. These guys had to be laughing their butts off."

But there was a method to his madness, and Moore ended up having the last laugh. And now, he also has "Pets or Meat," the modest sequel produced on the shoestring budget of $50,000.

"Pets," like "Roger & Me," makes its television debut on Monday night. We get to see updates with the Bunny Lady, Deputy Fred, Roger Smith's secretary and with one very earnest Flint tourism guide.

We learn that things haven't improved much in Flint in the past three years. People remain out of work. Fred still is evicting people. And the Bunny Lady is in debt up to her rabbit's feet.

Moore admits -- with some prodding -- that he paid the rent of the people evicted on camera in "Roger & Me' " for two years, and he erased the Bunny Lady's $7,000 bankruptcy debt, contributing nearly $250,000 to various individuals and groups.

One thing Moore could not erase, however, is the memory of Bunny Lady clubbing and skinning a rabbit on camera. It was the single "Roger & Me" scene that earned Moore the most venomous criticism, from animal protection groups and bunny lovers alike.

So what does Moore do in "Pets or Meat"? He shows the Bunny Lady feeding one of her live, furry friends to a snake.

Has this guy got a death wish or what?

"Hey, look, I didn't kill no bunny," Moore said. "The point was, and is, that this is this woman's livelihood. It would have gone on whether I was filming it or not.

"A lot of people missed the central metaphor of this, I'm afraid, and they'll miss it again with the snake devouring the rabbit. But it had to be in there."

Moore contends that people made a big deal out of the slaughter of the rabbit because they "didn't want to deal with the real issues" the film addresses.

Moore noted "When I was on tour for 'Roger and Me' three years ago, I told people they shouldn't just see this as a movie about Flint, but as a coming attraction because I knew it would be coming to their town too.

"I told everyone that the party (President) Reagan threw for the rich in the 1980s was a bill that would come due in the 1990s. And it has. Now we see it. So I thought it was time to return to Flint and show how things have gotten worse."

How much worse?

"Lots," stressed the Flint native, who maintains apartments in Flint and New York City.

"More stores are closed, more jobs are gone and more people have lost hope. And Roger Smith still won't talk to me."

Indeed, Moore is shown in "Pets or Meat" placing an actual telephone call to Smith and talking to his secretary who suggests that he pay Smith $100,000 for his non-role in "Roger & Me" because he's unemployed.

"I'm not too worried about Roger," Moore admitted. "He's buying real estate part time. Boy, there's a guy who's always on the cutting edge. If you want advice on diminishing enterprises, give Roger a call."

As for Moore, "Roger & Me" has made him something of a rich man, though he claims to be living "a modest life" with the same friends and the same lifestyle - though he notes that he did recently purchase a compact disc player.

Success has brought more lavish budgets for Moore's films. He just completed writing on "Canadian Bacon," an $8 million Warner Bros. production being distributed through Island Pictures. It's his first conventional feature.

Moore describes the film as a comedy cross between "Dr. Strangelove" and "The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!"

"It's about the fact that America has suddenly run out of enemies, and all that's left is Canada," Moore said. "So we decide to have this huge military buildup against the Canadians."

Why Canada?

"Well, not only is Canada the second-largest country in the world," Moore pointed out, "it's also the world's largest supplier of party ice."

Copyright 1992 Orange County Register

 

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