|Copyright 1990 Newsday, Inc.|
|The New York Newsday Interview With Michael Moore||January 25, 1990|
|New York Newsday's Spencer Rumsey interviewed him.|
Q. The documentary you directed, "Roger & Me," which mocks General Motors and its chairman, Roger Smith, is a hit
nationwide. Do you think its success comes from your tapping some kind of latent anti-Reaganism?
A. The anti-Reaganism is not latent. That's why the movie has become successful. I knew the film would be popular. I trusted what I saw around me in Flint and Detroit. And it ain't just happening in Flint and Detroit.
Q. And nothing else is tapping into that.
A. That's right. Who's our voice? Those of us who don't like what's going on. Those of us who after 10 years of Reagan and Bush are working harder to earn less. The working core that used to be the middle class. There's no such thing as job security anymore. The movie really taps into that. And it allows audiences to laugh because it is a very nerve-wracking film to watch.
Q. But some critics, like The New Yorker's Pauline Kael, have said that those laughs are cheap. They come at the targets' expense.
A. The targets being General Motors and Roger Smith. We never get to laugh at those people. Laughter is a political tool. People get to laugh at Roger Smith and the rich in the movie. That in and of itself is a political act because there are so few avenues these days to express yourself in opposition to the status quo . . . I happen to believe that we have a pretty good constitution that allows me the right to overthrow capitalism through mockery, as the Wall Street Journal said.
Q. In one scene a waitress offers you dozens of different coffee drinks. It drew a big laugh from the audience when I saw it. Weren't we laughing at her expense?
A. The people in Detroit are not laughing at that waitress. They have nothing against that waitress. It's everything that that represents. We go into a restaurant in Detroit, we have one choice. Maybe two. But wealth has all of these choices.
Q. Some critics compalin that you've taken liberties with the chronology of events.
A. It's only a few people who don't want to deal with the politics in the movie who are saying that. All the facts in the movie are true. All the context is true. They're only accusing me of being a journalist - attempting to tell a story with 50 hours of film footage edited to an hour and a half. Your own reporter said he called up Pauline Kael and asked her, "How many calls did you make to Flint to verify what you've written?" And she said none. Why didn't that appear in New York Newsday?
Q. Does your film's success scare the right?
A. They should be scared. It's no accident that Warner Brothers is distributing the movie. If they believed that what they should be doing is putting out Engelbert Humperdinck records instead of rap records, they'd be out of business. They've got to be able to spot trends.
Q. You've drawn heat from the auto workers' leadership and from Ralph Nader. Are you surprised by the criticism your film has drawn from the left?
A. The people who don't like the film are the people you would think would be the supporters of it. National Public Radio. Film Comment. The New Yorker. Other alternative papers will not like it.
Q. Why not?
A. Part jealousy. Part consumed with their own politics. They believe the way to create a political opposition in this country is to pose as oppositionists. I'm going to keep making movies. More people have seen my movie in the first three weeks than ever read anything I wrote in the Michigan Voice or Mother Jones.
Q. Two employees' pension funds in California and New York are trying to exert pressure on GM's board because they're upset that GM is losing market share. So Roger Smith is laying off workers in part to benefit other workers who happen to be shareholders, contrary to Marxian theory. A. First of all, I never read anything by Marx. I'm embarrassed to say that. I just grew up with a basic set of values that deal with what I think is fair and just.
Q. But what about Roger Smith's responsibility to his stockholders to keep GM profitable?
A. What are they all worried about? First of all, it's unfortunate that a public employees' union has bought into a system that guarantees that a certain percentage of them are going to be without a job. General Motors made 4.87 billion dollars in net profit in 1988, a large chunk of which was returned to the shareholders. What are they saying? They want more? Can't live on $ 4.87 billion? They're cutting costs so they can make more money. It's not that they're hurting. This isn't Chrysler. This isn't U.S. Steel, which lost a billion dollars in one year. This is General Motors.
Q. So what would you have done if you were in Roger Smith's shoes?
A. Keep the factories open.
Q. Even if it's unprofitable?
A. That's the point! They made 5 billion dollars last year! They are profitable! They want to be more profitable! They're greedy! You will never hear them utter the words "enough is enough." They'll close down all the factories in this country if they believe that they're going to make more money in Mexico and Taiwan.
Q. Would you like a situation where there are no Roger Smiths?
A. I'd like to see a situation where those who work for Roger Smith have some say as to who he is.
Q. You don't have much truck with the idea that the Democratic Party is the savior of the American working people.
A. No, I sure don't. In fact, I see them as the problem. They create the illusion of hope. I wanted to show people that this has nothing to do with Democrats or Republicans. We have a one-party system with two heads.
Q. What has the reaction been in Eastern Europe?
A. I showed it in Leipzig. These people are pretty tired of the American press portraying [their political transformation] as a victory for capitalism. They don't want capitalism. But they like the idea of having free health care, education, low crime, everybody working. They don't want to give that up. It was a wild discussion: "We hate the Communist Party, but if this [in the movie] is what capitalism is, we don't want that, either!"
Q. When you were surrounded by security guards in the lobby of the GM headquarters, why didn't you say, "Okay, arrest me!"
A. I was too scared. That's the only reason. Roger is having this Christmas party. His speech is over and I rush up to try to get this question in, and the plainclothes guys follow me and grab me. My heart was beating and I just thought, jeez, I do not want to go to the downtown Detroit jail.
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