Judge Christopher Kulik gives the new kid on the block a chance with his first film and is impressed, though he stipulates that the title shouldn't be taken literally.
"I wouldn't go see this film!"—-- Michael Moore
Independent writer/producer/director Michael Wilson is a native of Marshfield, Wisconsin and he decided to make a documentary about one of the 21st century's most controversial filmmakers. Wilson spent several years on this project, and was finally able to get a limited release in late 2004 and, incidentally, around the same time as Fahrenheit 9/11 was being released directly to DVD. Is this really another right-wing crack case against Moore, or is it something more thought-provoking than that? Michael Moore Hates America finally comes to DVD courtesy of Allumination Filmworks, mere weeks before Moore's latest film Sicko, which attacked the health care industry.
Facts of the Case
Wilson has two primary goals here: showing that Moore is not open to dissent and then asking if he hates America because of that reason. In the style of Moore's 1989 breakthrough hit Roger & Me, Wilson travels across the U.S. and goes to Canada to get interviews with people and find out how they feel about Moore and his work. He talks with politicians, comedians, other documentarians, journalists, and ordinary citizens, who each give their individual opinions on not just Moore but America in general. In addition, he tries constantly to get a 45-minute interview with the Big Guy himself, though is rejected a number of times. Like Moore, Wilson provides his own unique brand of humor while at the same time making some valid points.
As I said in my recent review of Sicko, don't judge the man, just understand the issue at hand. I refused to judge Wilson while watching Michael Moore Hates America, not because its his debut effort and I wanted to be nice, but because I respect what he believes in as much I respect what Moore believes. For better or for worse, we are all in the same boat, and therein lay a significant problem: some of us want to stay on deck, while others would rather be down below. This is exactly one of the major discussion points in Michael Moore Hates America: we are a divided country, with one major section being compassionately conservative, while the other is largely liberal. The first thing that Wilson does right is not reveal his political beliefs, because it doesn't really matter. Second of all, he gets straight to the point and presents his two goals. While he succeeded 75 percent of the way, there are several occasions in which he stumbles. However, I can overlook that because he is brand new to this game.
I understand that the title alone will determine how much this film will be rented, because perception is reality. However, the title has an alternate meaning, believe it or not, that of merely commenting on (rather than attacking) the subject and seeing what the reaction is from many people on Moore's films. At times, Wilson makes it clear that he is even edgy about using the title or not, because he knows he will expect retaliation. You know what, I admire him for that, and the irony is that Michael Moore does the same thing to a certain extent. He doesn't truly know if Moore hates America, and thus he never really implies it, even though he does state that he loves his country with a passion. In other words, he probably thinks that Moore is right but he is going about the wrong way, or maybe he thinks there is a mask on Moore's face that hasn't been taken off yet.
Naturally, he does question Moore's antics and ways of presenting facts, but he is never really mean-spirited about it and doesn't go off on some Moore-bashing crusade. I got that clear indication when Moore went to a university near his hometown for a book signing of his best-selling "Dude, Where's My Country?" Wilson gets the microphone to ask a question and is honest with Moore about him making a documentary called Michael Moore Hates America and simply requests for an interview. In response, Moore doesn't get upset though he does unfairly slam back at the inquiry, saying that Wilson is being slanderous and that he is the one who hates America. Obviously embarrassed, Wilson just simply turns around and walks out, but then receives some positive comments outside about how he stood up against Moore with many of his fans. Thus, an idea is born.
Over the course of his journey, Wilson interviews some fascinating people. One of my favorites is Penn Jillette (from "Penn and Teller," a comedy show on selling lies), who says that he is sick of Moore indicating that he is speaking for the majority of America. Later, Wilson goes to filmmaker Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter), who gives his two cents on how Moore has gone off the beaten path as far as making documentaries are concerned. Then there is a psychiatric doctor who suggests that Moore is living in a fantasy world, as well as a low-key comedian who comments on how Moore has become a figure of praise (as well as ridicule) in our politically divided country. Wilson even manages to meet some of those associated with Moore's films, like the tellers at the Michigan bank where Moore bought a gun (in the opening sequence of Bowling for Columbine) and Sgt. Peter Damon, who lost his hands in Iraq and is featured in Fahrenheit 9/11 via archived NBC footage. While some of those interviewed say the same things (i.e. suggesting that Moore twists facts to satisfy his ego), others seem very open in their revealing comments on questioning where the truth really lies.
Let me be outright honest: I don't believe that Michael Moore hates America, though there are two things you must consider as I say this, with a) he could and b) if he does, so what? The reason why I mention this is because most of those who hate Moore are those that love the U.S., and feel that Moore is harming it in some way just because he goes after certain targets and ridicules them. Additionally, those same people say that America is the greatest country in the world and—-if you don't agree with that—-then you are traitor and should move to France. They also say if you hate or bad mouth the president, than you hate America, even though freedom of speech is absolute. My whole contention has been that every country has its problems, flaws, and downfalls, including America. We are not ideal in any way, and we are not superior to anyone, and while many of those that Wilson interviews disagree, that doesn't mean that I hate them or this country. Like I said before, people will believe what they want to believe, and that is the ultimate theme of Michael Moore Hates America.
That being all said and out of the way, I did had qualms with some of the things the interviewees said and if I did have the chance to meet them, I would ask them other questions that Wilson doesn't ask. For example, the NRA member questions (but does not antagonize) Moore on "rewriting history" with how he portrays the organization in Bowling for Columbine. She believes that Moore is misleading children into what he says in his documentaries, and I must put in a word on that. When I was kid, I was taught that the Pilgrims came over to America and became friends with the Indians, and agreed to live in peace after the Thanksgiving supper. What they didn't teach us (at my school, at least) was that the Pilgrims had essentially landed, the Indians offered peace, and eventually the former started to push them away and kill them over the next century. I was never taught that the Indians were persecuted, driven out, and prejudiced well until the 20th century, and that our ancestors, essentially stole the land away from them. Whether the NRA member is right or not, history is constantly being rewritten, especially by real historians.
Then there is Sgt. Peter Damon, who talks about how genuinely upset he was when Moore acted as a voice for him and "portrayed the military as a bunch of fools." First off, I say bless his heart because he truly did a brave thing joining the military and fighting for our country, and that is why I say that I support the soldiers and not the war. However, what he does in essence is contradict himself when he says he has his voice and he can speak up for himself…well, in Fahrenheit 9/11 he really did when he talked about what it felt like to lose his hands. I do agree with him 100 percent that Moore should have at least gotten his permission to put him in the film, though at the same time I don't think he watched the entire film, because at the end Moore does in fact say how much respect and love he has for the soldiers and their commitments. So, I'm not sure exactly what Damon means by saying that that the military is presented negatively and unpatriotically by Moore.
As for Wilson himself, he basically only asks questions and doesn't provide answers, which I think is a strong benefit for Michael Moore Hates America because he wants the viewers to come up with their own perceptions. After watching the film, I had a lot of respect for the guy and even wouldn't mind having a pint with him sometime. However, like most filmmakers he does have his small indulgences, such as being satisfied over some happy people playing hockey in the street and saying: "I really doubt this would be happening in front of Jacques Cherac's house in France." OK, what does have to do with anything, Mike? Even though he doesn't reveal his political views, he makes it clear that he doesn't like France, though he fails to even elaborate on that. In defense of him, though, his humor is certainly inspired, like when he shows pictures of African Americans who are members of the NRA while the woman he interviewed talks about how Moore compares the organization with the KKK in Bowling for Columbine. He says: "Call me crazy, but I don't think the Klan would hire these people!"
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Michael Moore Hates America took over three years to get to DVD, after it had garnered some praise by Ebert and Roeper and was even nominated for the Audience Award at the 2005 L.A. film festival. The film is presented in an adequate 1:33:1 Full Frame transfer, and you can tell that the film was filmed on a very low budget, though that is what I expected. What is extremely disappointing is the fact that there is absolutely nada in terms of bonus features—-not counting a crudely made trailer which is pretty much the first five minutes of the actual film! Alluminations Filmworks also provides some previews of films like Flight 93. Come on, Mike, I'm sure that you could have injected a documentary or two about making your first film. Also, you mean to say that there are no deleted scenes whatsoever? Did you run out of money or something? Oh, well, maybe a special edition will come out in the near future.
It must be pointed out that people will dismiss this because of the title alone, and to be honest, this deserves to be rented just for the dedication that Wilson put into the project. Part of the reason why I viewed this film and wanted to write a review on it is while I do respect Moore and his work (as if you couldn't tell by my Sicko review), I'm more than willing to listen to alternative viewpoints. What I give Wilson all the credit for is making an insightful little documentary that says more about us as Americans than how we feel about Michael Moore himself. I'm actually a bit disappointed that he never got that interview with Moore, not because it suggests that Moore is a shameful manipulator who refuses to be spited, but because it would have at least answered the questions he had. And that's all they were: not accusations or vicious attacks, but just questions.
This is the perfect film to rent one night with Sicko, though I do recommend you view other films by Moore so you know exactly what Wilson is talking about. That way, you could then here two conflicting reports and then come up with your own viewpoint. As a fan of Michael Moore, I say that Michael Wilson has done an excellent job on his freshman effort, so give Michael Moore Hates America a go, as you may be surprised.
Michael Wilson has talent and Michael Moore Hates America is a fine independent documentary. Both are free to go and while the court looks forward to Wilson's next film, we hope it's not Michael Moore Still Hates America. Case dismissed.
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