Me and Still No Roger
September 1992

Elaine Dutka

It was nothing if not ironic: Filmmaker Michael Moore introducing an epilogue to his critically acclaimed documentary "Roger & Me" at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences- the very outfit that overlooked the movie when handing out Oscar nominations two years ago. A darkly humorous examination of the impact of General Motors' plant closings on his hometown of Flint, Mich., the $160,000 movie not only survived the slight but went on to become Hollywood's top-grossing non-concert documentary.

As Moore tells it, last week's event --at which he was introduced by People for the American Way's Norman Lear as "Roger Moore" - was less a case of forgive and forget than of keeping his priorities straight. "To focus on the Academy Awards diminishes the issues I want to raise," he explains, his trademark cap serving as a reminder of his working-class (and movie director) roots. "Now that the depression isn't just in Flint but everywhere, I want to air the movie as a small contribution to the national debate."

Airing "Roger & Me" (capped by the epilogue and a possible viewer call-in segment) on PBS' "P.O.V." series on Sept. 28 is further evidence of Moore's pragmatism. When the film was released in December, 1989, he stipulated in his contract with Warner Bros. that it could never be shown on public television. The message, he felt, should be disseminated at malls, digested by a mass audience instead of the "Masterpiece Theatre" variety.

Moore's foot-dragging, speculates "P.O.V." producer Marc Weiss, stemmed from anger as much as philosophy. "Michael came to me for funding in 1988," he recalls, "and sent me a 15-minute tape. I told him outright that the material wasn't funny and proceeded to turn him down."

The epilogue's title, "Pets or Meat: A Return to Flint," alludes to Moore's conviction that employees who were once taken care of by big corporations are now devoured and discarded by them. It begins with a warning that the 22-minute epilogue contains material which may he offensive to "young children, vegetarians and General Motors corporate shareholders."

Flint, Moore intones, is in worse shape than before. Ten thousand more jobs have been lost. Flint's faltering tourist industry has lost Autoworld but is trumpeting Frankenmuth, a pseudo-Bavarian village serving chicken dinners 30 miles outside town. Fred, the deputy seen evicting Flint's down-and-out in "Roger & Me" has expanded into car repossessions. The "bunny lady" who bred rabbits for a living? She's "moved down on the food chain" selling rats (two for $5) and mice (50 cents each) as snake food. (Those who watched her bludgeoning a rabbit to death in "Roger & Me", are now treated to the sight of a 20-foot reptile downing a bunny whole.)

Former General Motors CEO Roger Smith, the prime focus of Moore's barbs has fared somewhat better: He's retired and making ends meet on his $ 1 million annual pension.

Moore, no slouch in the self-promotion department, spent a year on the road, hitting 20 countries and 110 U.S. cities to publicize "Roger & Me." He appeared on "The Tonight Show," went head-to-head with Pat Buchanan on "Crossfire," was lauded by Donahue and bantered with Letterman. By his account "Roger & Me" has grossed more than $25 million in the theatrical, television and home-video markets.

Last October, the director married his girlfriend of 10 years, two weeks after completing another screenplay - a live-action satire on the "new world order in the 'Dr. Strangelove' vein." The film, budgeted at $ 8 million, will be financed independently. But no distributor is yet in place. Warner Bros., with the right to a "first look", turned it down last February. Moore rewrote the script and says he and the studio are talking again.

The Oscar controversy, in Moore's mind, is old news and for the most part he's kept a lid on his anger. "I never expected an Oscar nomination in the first place," the director maintains. None of the top-grossing, critically acclaimed documentaries in the '80s - "The Thin Blue Line", "Shoah", "28 Up", "The Atomic Café" had been nominated and I saw no reason for that pattern to change. I only felt bad because Warners had committed another $1 million in publicity if "Roger & Me" got nominated so that many more people would have seen it.

As for revelations that he played fast and loose with chronology, the director remains unapologetic.

"Those charges were an attempt to distract the public from the overall message." Moore asserts. "Because the Establishment knew they had no facts in their corner, they talked about how violent it was when the bunny lady clubbed the rabbit, or whether Reagan came to Flint before or after a given event. We see it happening now. Though the economy should be the focus of the election, the press is more concerned with whether Clinton inhaled.

Copyright 1992 Los Angeles TImes

 

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