Northern Express Copyright 1997 Northern Express
A Review of Michael Moore's 'The Big One'August 30, 1997
Mark Smith

Northern Michigan Premiere Showing at the Bay Theater, Suttons Bay, August 28, 1997

The title of Michael Moore's latest movie, "The Big One", seems at first glance to be self-referential. Moore is of course a big man himself, a hulking man-mountain who manages to stick his weighty foot through the doors of many an unsuspecting front office, to wage guerrilla warfare on corporate America. Once inside, he is not so easily removed. He asks difficult questions of rich CEO's, and all the while the cameras roll. It makes for wonderfully tense entertainment. To dismiss Moore's tactics as mere gadfly journalism would, however, miss the point. Despite the apparent frivolity of his style, Moore is deadly serious about that other "Big One", the good ol' U.S. of A., and is outraged at how the working men and women of this country have been left behind.

What is apparent throughout "The Big One" is that Michael Moore is deeply attached to the people of this country, and wishes someone out there would ask the difficult questions for them. He is, however, no demagogue. Despite the bluster and jokes, Moore is extremely self-effacing, and his films ultimately point away from him, toward his subject.

What makes Moore mad? Quite simply, he does not like being lied to, and resents having his intelligence insulted on a daily basis by the mainstream media. Moore's questions are simple, direct and startlingly obvious, but courtesy censorship by those other big ones, General Electric (owners of NBC), Time Warner (owners of Turner Broadcasting and CNN), Disney/Cap Cities (owner of ABC), and Westinghouse (owners of CBS), prevents them from posing any real, tough questions.

Why, in a time of record corporate profits, are so many loyal company workers losing their jobs to Mexicans? If a company makes six billion dollars profit in three years shouldn't that be enough to ensure the job security of the employees? If General Motors' main responsibility is to its shareholders, why not just get out of the car business all together and start selling crack cocaine? There's even more profit in it than in cars. Admittedly it's a stupid question, but just think about it for a minute, and as the laughter fades, some of the logic remains. In one scene workers wearing Indonesian-made Nike shoes gather on a cold day in Flint, Moore's home town, begging Nike to build a factory there. "No can do," says Nike owner, Phil Knight, smiling all the while. Walking out of "The Big One" into the fresh air of the evening, I felt like David Byrne, slapping his head right between the eyes: "This is not my beautiful country. My God, what have I done!"

Shouldn't somebody like Dan Rather or Peter Jennings be shoving microphones under the noses of our greedy CEO's and at least attempting to make them accountable? Moore has taken on that job in a way that no other journalist could. Imagine George Orwell with a sense of humor, and you have Michael Moore. Like Orwell, Moore is a working class intellectual. Unlike Orwell, Moore masks his erudition with the persona of the bumbling yokel. That is part of his vehicle. He has mastered a style of film making and a relationship to the camera which allows him to sneak up on his unsuspecting subject and deliver a well-placed verbal kick to the groin. Like Touchstone the Clown, he "uses his folly like a stalking-horse, and under the presentation of that he shoots his wit."

It is a telling indictment of American media's lack of nerve that the funding for "The Big One" came from five foreign countries, including tiny Luxembourg. The BBC is the main backer, as was the case for Moore's "TV Nation". Moore's abrasive style of truth telling simply does not sit well with corporate sponsorship. You can judge the caliber of a man by the enemies he makes. Moore's "folly" of exposing the heartbreak behind the corporate downsizing of America has earned him many enemies, I'm sure, but more importantly, he has told the truth, and won the right kind of friends.

"The Big One" will be be making its official debut at the Toronto film festival this week. Those of us lucky enough to have seen Michael's northern Michigan premiere screening of "The Big One" in Suttons Bay on August 28 look forward to its eventual return to the area. It's worth seeing again and again.

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