|Moore Meat, No Additives||1995 Copyright The Georgia Straight|
|Ron Yamauchi||December 7-14, 1995|
Passionate journalist. Scourge of the radical right. Defender of
the free mind against the forces of ignorance, television, and the
Repubican party. Michael Moore, junketing filmmaker, holds a plush
teddy bear in a site at the hotel Vancouver. The teddy bear clutches
a Canadian flag.|
"Smile Michael," says the guy from Canadian Press. Moore smiles gamely and holds up the bear, which he is squeezing forcefully. The shutter clicks. "Great," says the cameraman.
"This is incredible," Moore mumurs through his stubble. His slightly pained smile gleams white under the flashes. "This goes against every fibre of my journalistic experience."
Photo op done, the creator of Roger & Me and TV Nation plops himself comfortably onto a sofa, adjusts his omnipresent baseball cap, and addresses his latest interviewer on the long marketing road. It's the morning after the Vancouver International Film Festival screening of Canadian Bacon, Moore's first purely fictional movie, and he is still feeling good. At least, there's a spark in his eye when he demands, "Why hasn't the Georgia Straight run anything on Canadian Bacon?"
After laughing briefly at my expression of dismay, Moore assures me that he really wants to speak to the Straight, for which he feels a certain kinship. The 41-year-old Moore began his roundabout journey into the public eye by editing and publishing a free weekly in his hometown of Flint, Michigan, for more than 10 years.
Journalism was not Moore's first choice. "I was supposed to make cars," he says, smiling ruefully before adding--rather startlingly--that he originally left home at 14 to be a priest. Although that career didn't take either, Moore was left with an analytical mind and a desire to ferret out social evils. These gifts coincided with his former car-making destiny to produce Roger & Me, a bitterly funny documentary about the decline of Moore's beloved hometown. As fans of the film will recall, Roger & Me depicts the critical injury inflicted on Flint's economy in the early 1980s by its primary employer, General Motors. Despite a period of record earnings and an unconscionably generous bonus system for senior executives, General Motors relocated much of its automotive production from Michigan to the Third World to cut labour costs. Although Moore had no previous film experience, he was sufficiently enraged by the GM-created malaise in Flint--and the pick-yourself-up admonishments of Ronald Reagan-- to seize a camera and record the proceedings. The title of the film is derived from Moore's numerous, often comically stymied attempts to interview then CEO Roger Smith.
Although Moore never got through to Smith, he did garner wide critical and popular support for his quirky and acerbic film. The same sensibilities and techniques that animated Roger & Me have been transferred to television, with Michael Moore as the ringmaster-host of TV Nation. Perhaps the canniest, most mischevious show on American television (along with The Simpsons), TV Nation is Moore's "soapbox for 10 million people". Moore, who doesn't mind being called didactic, relishes having a weekly platform from which to send up, debunk, and generally embarrass Big Business and its flunky, the Republican party.
Realizing that left wingers rate only slightly above child molester in America's current political climate, he insists that his co-workers share his zeal. "I told everyone working on the show that if you're here to advance your career, then you should leave. My feeling is that we have one chance here. We should all work as though we'll never work in television again."
Indeed, that may be the case. Now in hiatus after its second season, the show has already shifted networks and spawned years' worth of litigation. Given Moore's growing pariah status among the financial elite, the renewal of TV Nation will not be automatic.
But Moore will still be working, somewhere. His most recent project is Canadian Bacon, a slapstick political farce and the first of what he hopes will be a series of smart comedies. Moore speaks fondly of John Candy, who, in his final movie role, portrays a fervently nationalistic American sheriff who is moved to invade Canada. He created Canadian Bacon for Candy, who was equally enthused about making a mall-plex comedy that would happen to contain some political satire. Candy completed all of his scenes before his heart attack, although some planned re-shoots had to be scrapped.
Canadian Bacon has brought Moore the first generally mixed reviews of his movie career. He is candid about the weaknesses of his first narrative film, which he feels suffers from a lack of energetic camera work. "I hired a DP--Haskell Wexler-- who was 72 years old, and slightly bitter," Moore says sadly. A director himself, Wexler spent more time bemoaning his career than attending to lighting and camera angles, Moore says; as a result, numerous planned action shots fell by the wayside.
Moore also admits that the film contains the odd erroneous depiction of Canadians, a gross sign of hubris in a film that purports to tell Americans that they are ignorant about other countries. Specifically, one mock-documentary segment claims that we put mayonnaise on fries. Of course, the correct condiment is vinegar.
"I knew that," Moore says. "But the idea of vinegar on fries just makes me sick!"
Moore sticks by the "Canadian" accent used in the scene in which Dan Ackroyd says "aboot" instead of "about". "You do say that," he insists. "At least, in Ontario you do."
Regardless of the difficult shoot and mixed results, Moore relished his foray into Hollywood, and the contradictions and ironies that have resulted. For example, Moore notes that the movie was financed by Polygram, which is owned by Philips, which also makes nuclear weapons.
Despite all of the Hollywood wheeling and dealing and his rising media profile--Moore has a book and two more movies in the works--Moore says that there's still a lot of Flint in him. "I'm in Flint every month. My wife and daughter live there. I haven't moved to Hollywood or New York, because I know what that would do. So, I live the same way. I don't have a car or a boat. I have the same friends and same three pairs of jeans."
Above all, Moore states, he's having a pretty good time. The television show has given him an industry track record as a producer. The movie was well received by the Vancouver crowd, who laughed in all of the right places. "I feel privaleged," he says simply.
Even the junketing process?
"Ah," says Moore. "You should write a movie about that." He looks around the expensive appointed suite. "But I don't mind this," he says. "It's a two-way process. I enjoy the give-and-take with you, the guy before you, the photographer, even that bear."
He scratches his stubble and smiles. "I'm paying attention."
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