Film Offers More Chips from Flint
September 28, 1992

Rebecca Freligh

A few years back, filmmaker Michael Moore spent some time trying to get General Motors motors chairman Roger Smith to visit depressed Flint, Mich.

Smith never made the trip. But roly-poly Moore, Flint's most famous homeboy, made "Roger and Me", (1989) a loopy, tragicomic documentary about the effect of GM's plant closings on ordinary Flint citizens.

"Roger and Me" was a hit for Moore and made minor celebrities out of his subjects: Deputy Fred Ross, the evictor; Janet, the Amway color analyst and spacey Rhonda the Bunny Lady, who clubbed a rabbit to death for Moore's camera.

Moore's new 23-minute film "Pets or Meat" revisits these characters and Flint three years later, with the country deep into economic recession of which the Flint plant closings were a harbinger.

"Roger and Me," and "Pets or Meat" receive their television world premiere tonight at 9 on a special broadcast of "P.O.V." public TV's independent documentary film series.

From the opening, "Pets or Meat" is marked by Moore's rust-belt ironic sense. "OK, Mike, just give it that Ken Burns feeling," says an off screen voice, for a few minutes the film has a "Civil War" sweep before Moore rejects it as not his bag.

We learn some things have changed since "Roger and Me," for one, Roger Smith has retired. But even he has felt the effects of the recession --his pension has been cut by $150,000.

In Flint, nine new Taco Bell restaurants have been built. Officials maintain tourist traffic is high.

But, it's revealed, this claim is based on visits to nearby Frankenmuth whose bounteous chicken dinners and bouncy German oom-pah music become a continuing motif- a counterpoint to Moore's forthright images of hunger and loss.

Deputy Fred has moved on from home evictions to car repossession and sale. Moore's friend Ben Hamper has become a best-selling author ("Rivethead") and a part-time tennis pro. Rhonda the Bunny Lady has a new daughter (the "little bunny"), works part-time at Kmart and sells rats and mice as well as rabbits.

(Mercifully, Moore mostly spares us the view of the snake swallowing the rabbit. I said mostly).

And Janet describes with her trademark sincerity how a color analyst analyzed the city of Flint - and designed appropriately splashy banners for its worn streets.

"Pets or Meat" doesn't have the zing of "Roger and Me." And while Moore's unsuccessful attempt to reach Smith was the glue that collaged its imagery together, this film is more more random, without any such through-line.

Still, it's worth watching, since you won't often find in the mass media Moore's frank view that corporate employees are "first pets then meat." Food for thought.

Copyright 1992 The Plain Dealer


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