|Copyright 1998 Newsweek|
|Michael & Me||April 20, 1998|
|Andrea C. Basora|
Halfway through his new film, "The Big One," Michael Moore's "media escort" in Chicago enthusiastically gushes: "Michael is like a floor sample of what we all can be." He does look a little like a floor sample. Large and shambling, he's the kind of guy who can never keep his shirt tucked in. But this untidy outward appearance very much belies the inner man. Would that we all have untucked shirts if it meant that we could be as wholeheartedly dedicated to making a difference as he. Like "Roger and Me," one of the most successful documentaries of all time, "The Big One" takes a loud crack at big business and leaves it looking both foolish and unfeeling. A true voice for the working class, Moore has a lot to say...on just about every subject.
On O.J. Simpson: I taped a pilot for Fox--I'm still waiting to hear whether they're going to pick it up or not. [O.J.] had not, and has not been on a talk show in the three years since his trial, not one where he's appeared and answered questions from the audience like he did for an hour with me. It didn't take a lot to get him on, I got the feeling that maybe a lot of people don't want him on their shows because they don't want to hear his side of the story. Some people were appalled that I would even have him on. I asked the audience at the beginning of the show, "How many of you think O.J. did it?" and 75 percent raised their hands, at the end of the hour only 50 percent raised their hands. He convinced 25 percent of the audience that there was reasonable doubt. The first, and toughest, question I asked him was "O.J. I think the question that's on everyone's mind is do you think that adding 10 yards to the kick-off line has ruined professional football?" But, as I wrote in my book, I think there are a number of questions about his trial that have not been answered. I don't believe the police version of what happened. He may have committed the murders--it's very likely that he did--but there's also a very strong possibility that he didn't. I gave him my theory as to what happened that night and I'm just surprised that the police haven't investigated more of the leads regarding this. Most white people don't agree and get very upset at me when I start talking this talk and I get e-mails from people all the time: "Quit saying O.J. didn't do it." And of course I don't say O.J. didn't do it. I don't know, only the dog knows who committed the crime. But I do know the LA police is a racist police department and they don't tell the truth and nothing they say should be believed unless they absolutely prove it. I think the problem is that society is upset at itself because it didn't protect this woman when he was beating her. He beat her when she was alive and nobody did anything. She would call us--society's representatives, the police--and what did she get? She didn't get help. And then suddenly, when she's dead, everybody's on their high horse wanting justice for Nicole. Well, where were you when she was alive? And the thousands of other women who are being beaten every night? Where's the justice for them? I don't want to hear about justice for Nicole. That's not what's really bothering you. There's 24,000 other murder victims a year in this country and I don't see you getting your underwear in a bunch over those victims. You're upset at him because he got off from beating her. We didn't punish him the first time around, so we're going to punish him for this now. And because we let him into white America, we let him on our boards of directors, we let him play at our country clubs, he tried very hard to be one of us, we even let him marry one of our own without any objection, then he had the arrogance and the audacity to go and kill her? After we let him in? Who does he think he is? I think this is really what's at the center, the racial element that white Americans don't want to acknowledge. Do you think if he'd killed the first wife, the black one, the overweight one, the ugly one, that there'd be one tenth the media coverage? No, I don't think so.
On Pauline Kael: Everything is personal. Want to hear a Pauline Kael story? Pauline Kael wanted Warner Bros. to send her a tape of "Roger and Me" because she lives up in Massachusetts [whereas most reviewers are in New York] and I wouldn't let them. I said, "It's a film and should be seen on a movie screen. No reviews from video cassettes." So she got very upset that I did not treat her in the royal manner that she had been used to. And I have to say, quite honestly, that I had never read the New Yorker in my life, I had never read anything by Pauline Kael--she didn't mean squat to me. So she came down, she was the last critic to see it before the NY film critics voted on their awards for the year and she just ripped me a new one, basically I think because she was really upset with me. Now that I've gone back and read her books, this is obviously a film that, had I gone to her before anyone else, then shown her a rough cut--you know how she has championed films throughout the years because Altman or Scorsese would bring her into the editing room. But I didn't treat her the right way, so I got pounced on.
On the ideal CEO: The ideal CEO would not earn more than 20 times what the average employee made; would make sure that all the employees had health care; would make a decent profit, but would put the money back into the business so that it would do better and hire more people; and would be a woman. I believe that eliminates all of the companies.
On selling out: I certainly don't think I've sold out. If you think I've softened my message from "Roger and Me" to now, if you think I've pulled my punch, you should say so--and you should kick my ass for it, too. I think just the opposite. I think "The Big One" and "Downsize This" are more angry, more outraged, more funny. And I find it ironic too that these companies put my work out there. But they do it because of the economic system that we have, that they belong to. They're doing it because they believe they're going to make money--it's all about the money. They don't have politics or feelings like we do, they just have a bottom line. This is a huge flaw in capitalism: I'm driving a MAC truck right through it, they know I am and they're letting me get away with it because they know what I do isn't really a threat. They're so convinced the audience will not get up out of their seats and go out and act politically. They're so convinced people are just going to go home, turn on the TV, zone out and not do anything. If that's what happens, they've succeeded and I've failed. See, I'm betting the other way. I'm betting that people will leave my movie and say, "You know, maybe we should do something....Why don't we raise a little hell here in Des Moines." That's what I'm hoping for and it's kind of a race to the finish line.
On enjoying the fruits of his success: I chose to put the fact I'm flying first class in the film. I could try and come off like "Well, I'm still living in the slums of Flint." Or I could tell the truth which is that it's very odd that someone like me, who in 1990 turned in a 1040 that had $12,000 on it, is now eight years later making a lot more money than that, attacking these companies that are paying me the money. I just find an incredible irony in that. But you have to understand that when you're working class, one of the main tenants of being working class is that you want to get out of the working class. And I have found that the only people that really seem to be nervous about the fact that I'm doing well are the people who are already doing well. It's like I've moved into the neighborhood, "What are you doing here...?" Nobody back in Flint is saying "What are you doing on the Upper West Side of Manhattan? Who the hell do you think you are?" They're the ones going, "All right man, go! You got out, you escaped!" They all feel great. I mean, none of this was supposed to happen.... I'm happy and privileged to have the forum to be able to speak to a lot of people about the things that I care about. And people back there are happy that I'm able to tell our story, because how else would you hear us? We don't have TV shows, we don't own newspapers. How would you know who we are, we being the majority of Americans who work their butts off every day cleaning the toilets, building the cars, working two jobs to get by. [What's happened to me] is a rare thing.
On Phil Knight and Nike: The Director of Public Relations, Lee Weinstein, called me from Portland and asked if he could fly to NY and meet with me, took me out to breakfast at the French Roast restaurant on the corner of 85th and Broadway. I go in there, sit down and he says "What would it take for you to remove two scenes from the film?" I was really stunned, I didn't know what he meant and I didn't want to know what he meant. So I just cut him off and said "I'm not cutting anything out of the film." It made me horribly nervous. Once you start dealing, you're going down the wrong road. I said I would add a scene of Nike building a factory in Flint, but I'm not going to cut anything. I think you might be surprised at my manner with [Phil Knight], that I didn't go for the jugular, but I was how I actually am. I am a person who actually does respect other people. I do believe that all people have a conscience and are good at their core--even him--and I really thought I'd get through to him. I read in the paper that I'm mean-spirited, but I don't see myself that way at all. I think I might ask a hard question or two.... You've got to understand also that I'm scared when I'm in there. I'm very nervous, my stomach is in a hundred knots, I have no film crew with me so I have to find one at the last minute. As we're driving out we pass a travel agency and a light bulb goes off, so I run in and buy the plane tickets. I'm not prepared for this, I haven't shaved, my wife's aunt has just died so my wife's all upset and I'm taking the red-eye back to Michigan--this was not the best day for me. So that laughter is really a nervous laughter, as it is with [Phil Knight] too. Think about this. They are the marketing PR geniuses of the world and that's as good as he could do? I am not trained, I am not a journalist, I have a high school degree. If that's as good as he could do with me, then man.... I think his wife had given him my book ["Downsize This!"] and his manhood got a little challenged. He was probably sitting around with his PR guy saying, "Yeah, we'll show him a thing or two, we'll show Roger how he should have handled this guy...." He could have come off looking like a hero. He should have been ready with something really great.
On the grant program, jointly funded with Miramax: You should see the letters I'm getting from people applying for grants--unbelievable. There's 25 high schools in Genessee county and I announced that we were going to give a $1,000 scholarship to each school. So in the suburbs I'm getting all these letters from kids whose parents have a combined income of $140,000 saying, "I want to be a doctor and I'm going to the University of Michigan. Give me $1,000." Then I get a letter from the student council president at North Western high school in the inner city of Flint. And she writes, "When we-the senior class--were going around looking at colleges this year, it was very difficult to even get to the colleges. We didn't have gas money, we didn't have lunch money. We would like you to give the $1,000 designated for North Western high school to the junior class--next year's class--so that they can use it to go explore colleges." And it's signed by all the kids going to college from North Western. I was so moved by this act of selflessness--I want to give a grant, even if it's not $1,000, to every one of the kids who signed that letter. These are the kids who need it the most and they're saying, don't give it to us while the kids in the suburbs are going 'Gimme, gimme, gimme.' It kind of goes against the stereotype, doesn't it?
On "The Big One": Mostly I want people to sit there for an hour and a half and have a good cathartic laugh. If you've been having the shit kicked out of you by your company and you're working too long hours and are not paid enough and have crummy health care, then for an hour and a half you can come and laugh your ass off at the people who've been sticking it to you. I want it to be one big Bronx cheer. If five to ten people at each screening to walk out of there thinking that they should do something, anything, I'll be happy. My expectations as an American are at an all-time low.
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