Judge Geoffrey Miller would like to let Michael Moore know the awful truth: He's out of the running for World's Sexiest Man again this year.
"In the beginning, there was a free press—well, not really, but it sounded cool. By the end of the millennium, five men controlled the world's media, but only of them was the anti-Christ. Yet there was one man who operated outside their control. He and his motley crew were known as the People's Democratic Republic of Television. Their mission: To bring the people the Awful Truth."
Confession #1: While I'm uneasy with embracing labels (especially ones that pack so many potentially polarizing connotations into one little word), most anyone who engaged me in political discourse would come away describing me as "liberal." I've never voted for a Republican. I've been known to occasionally read Daily Kos. I'm aghast that anyone would actually support "intelligent design" over evolution. Whenever I hear President Bush speak, I see-saw between laughter (at his atrocious command of the English language) and horror (that this man, filled with bad ideas but precious little intellect, is running my country). You get the point.
Confession #2: Despite that, I'm fairly ambivalent towards Michael Moore. Roger & Me was a landmark documentary that was at the forefront of reinventing a genre mostly known for its stuffy intellectualism into riveting filmmaking. Moore's muckraking expose on the closing of General Motors factories in his hometown of Flint, Michigan was a genuine and moving indictment of corporate downsizing and the decline of manufacturing jobs in America.
Over a decade later, when Moore returned to prominence with Bowling for Columbine, I wasn't particularly impressed. Gun violence and America's obsession with firearms is a worthy topic for a documentary, but Moore approached it with all the subtlety of a D.A.R.E. officer lecturing children on the evils of drugs. I didn't even bother seeing Fahrenheit 9/11. I had already made my mind up on Bush, had already read and heard enough to know whatever Moore wanted to tell me. I wasn't about to pay money to listen to Moore preach to the choir for two hours.
That being said, The Awful Truth, a TV series hosted and directed by Moore that ran from 1999 through 2000, is occasionally engaging. Primarily a critique of corporate America and the politicians that shill for it, The Awful Truth is only brought down by Moore's love of dumbed-down arguments and cheap, gimmicky stunts. Most segments are like miniature versions of Moore's full-length films: roughly 10-minute documentaries, with Moore usually in a leading role, that mercilessly attack something he perceives as unfair or unjust. These are tied together by a smattering of introductory bits hosted by Moore.
The parts that actually work are quite good. Moore isn't an intellectual egghead like Noam Chomsky, nor is he a comic with aspirations of social commentary like George Carlin or Chris Rock. He is at his best when he's a crusader for the working man, fighting against everyday injustice. So it's no surprise that the most successful segment is the one where he takes on Humana, a HMO that has refused to pay for a live-saving pancreas transplant for a dying 30-something man. Not only does Moore get Humana to pay for the transplant, he gets the company to change its entire policy on transplants.
The "Ficus for Congress" episode is the other highlight, cleverly tapping into the frustration of average Americans living in a democracy where they often have no choice in important elections. Moore runs a semi-serious campaign against an incumbent congressman who is facing no challengers. His candidate is a ficus—yes, the houseplant. Surprisingly, the write-in campaign for ficus strikes a chord, setting off a wave of others running ficuses around the country. Even though ficus is doomed to lose the election, its failed bid to go to Washington is amusingly satirical and tackles a real problem.
The majority of the other segments on this disc, however, suffer from Moore's biggest problem: He never really lays out his rationale; he simply assumes we're on his side already. Even if he does, more often than not, share a position similar to mine on a particular issue, I have trouble understanding what good comes out of him say…throwing a fake wedding for Chrysler and Daimler-Benz in protest of corporate mergers. Moore has a tendency to be condescending to his audience, almost as if anyone who even dared to hold a differing opinion (or even questioned his fact-checking) had to be either ignorant or just plain stupid. What started in Roger & Me as an innocuous, smirking confidence had grown, by the time The Awful Truth was on the air, into an off-putting self-righteousness. It's what has slowly turned Moore into a liberal version of right-wing caricatures like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, and quite frankly, I'd rather not have that sort of figure representing my views.
In his defense, Moore usually has his heart in the right place. Nearly every segment of The Awful Truth is dedicated to finding justice for the powerless and downtrodden. Given the way corporate scandals have erupted in the past couple years, he was also quite ahead of his time with the show's critiques of unethical corporate practices. Essentially, it's not so much what Moore is saying as how he's saying it, which is what can make his work so frustrating.
On the technical end of things, the transfer is clean and clear. The video is full-frame, and the audio is Dolby Digital stereo. The Awful Truth was far from a flashy show, so the presentation is more than adequate. There are scant extras, outside of commentaries from Moore on two episodes.
Here's the awful truth about The Awful Truth: Whatever opinon (if any) you currently hold of Michael Moore, this series won't change it. If your favorite hobby is making blog posts about how fat he is in between marathon viewing sessions of Fox News, it won't change your mind. If you thought taking that girl from work to Fahrenheit 9/11 was a good idea for a first date, it won't change your mind. Personally, I'd advise anyone looking for liberal commentary with a twist of comedy to seek out Bill Maher or Al Franken, two guys who are funnier and smarter than Moore. But The Best of The Awful Truth is a competent compilation with a few stand-out moments, and it will surely please fans looking for a single disc distillation of the show's greatest hits.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary from Michael Moore
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