|Hug Me, I'm an American||1995 Copyright Paper Magazine|
|Angela Matusik||September 1995|
Michael Moore has had a busy summer. He started out by transporting a dozen
relatives from Flint, Michigan, to the Cannes Film Festival for the premiere
of his first
fiction film, Canadian Bacon. Afterwards it was back to New York to start
seven episodes of his revitalized news show, TV Nation, for the Fox network.
he's been traveling around the country, partaking in a number of overt
political acts, such as
hugging governors, launching a presidential campaign for an ex-convict and,
just the other
day, facing his arch enemy, Newt Gingrich. "We didn't get on too well," he
says with a
Needless to say, the 40-year-old director of one of the highest-grossing documentaries ever, Roger & Me, hasn't mellowed with age. Though critics say that his unique blend of politics and comedy leans more toward silliness than satire (it is hard to defend the validity of Crackers the Corporate Crime-Fighting Chicken), Moore is fearless in his efforts to stir up those dormant American minds. "The Right Wingers get their platforms all the time! They're all over the tube, they're taking over," he says, nearly rising out of his chair in his midtown office. "There's very little room for our voice, for our side of the political spectrum. How many films do you see today that attempt to deal with the political situation in this country, especially comedies? You know, about as good as we get is Dave, and that isn't about anything but a sweet romance."
Canadian Bacon is an attempt to balance the scales. In it, America's president (Alan Alda) is facing a dilemma. Despite the fact that he's avoided international armed conflicts (and quotes Bob Dylan in his speeches), his popularity is at rock bottom. What he needs, his advisers insist, is a good old-fashioned war to get those ratings up. But who could our new enemy be? How about... Canada?
The idea for the film first came to Moore when the Gulf War broke. He was attending a closing-night ceremony at the Sundance Film Festival and was shocked when John Sayles, speaking out against the war, was met with boos. "Even the people in my group-- independent filmmakers-- were caught up in it; liberal, conservative-- everyone was for it. Bush's approval rating was 90 percent; 90 percent!" he exclaims. "I guess I set out to make a film for the other 10 percent, and that doesn't go down real well in Hollywood."
Set in Niagara Falls (my own polluted hometown), Canadian Bacon stars John Candy and Rhea Perlman as disgruntled city workers whose main job is picking up the bodies of distraught citizens who have thrown themselves over Niagara's high cliffs. As comical as it may seem, there's more than a grain of truth to Moore's farce. "It's a very common occurrence," he explains. "In fact, it averages about once a week. They don't publicize it because it would kill the tourism, but they have to go down and pick the bodies up from the rocks." (When I was in high school, a live broadcast inadvertently showed a man's suicide on the evening news. All you saw was this little head bobbing along in the background...) Another Bacon idea grounded in reality: the animosity toward Canada. "They hate them, they hate them in the supermarkets," says Moore, who wrote a great deal of the script on location.
Despite Moore's success as a documentary filmmaker, getting funding for his first fictional venture was not easy. "It wasn't until I cast John Candy that I got people to agree to it, and then they wanted me to take out the politics and just make a John Candy comedy. It was the first fiction film of my career, and they thought I'd play along, but that's not what I'm interested in." Although 80 percent of the film was shot before Candy's death, a few scenes had to be completed without its star.
Now that he's crossed the line into feature filmmaking and has survived his second season on network television, does Moore feel at all challenged by his success? "Not really, because I don't hang out in the media world. I don't hang out in the Hollywood world that's here," explains Moore, who lives in New York most of the time (though he still has a house in Michigan). In fact, sometimes he even thinks to himself, how the hell did I end up here? "I donít think you ever shake that. I think if you're raised like I was, it's very hard to leave. A lot of people try to forget it, but it's very hard. I lived the first 30 years of my life before Roger & Me and you get set in your ways by then, especially guys," he says with a laugh. "Forget it, you can't get them out of their favorite chair."
It's Moore's que sera sera attitude that keeps him going. He's not worried about ratings, or getting sued ("I sue back") or losing money. (In fact, he gives a lot of it away through a foundation for independent filmmakers he established after Roger & Me's surprising success.) What does scare him, however, is America's current political situation. "I've got my map up there of the governors I'm trying to hug" Moore points to a map of the U.S. across from his desk. It's marked with black-and-white headshots of the states' leaders. To date, 16 have been hugged by Moore. "Look at the supposedly liberal Northeast. Every single state is Republican. It's not till you get down to Delaware or Maryland that you find a Democrat, and this is the liberal part of the country. This isn't the Deep South! So we've got problems."
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