Bowling for Columbine (2002)
March 30, 2018 7:04 PM - Subscribe

Filmmaker Michael Moore explores the roots of America's predilection for gun violence.

NYTimes: The most disappointing -- and the most likely -- response to Mr. Moore's disturbing, infuriating and often very funny film would be uncritical support from his ideological friends and summary dismissal from his foes. The slippery logic, tendentious grandstanding and outright demagoguery on display in ''Bowling for Columbine'' should be enough to give pause to its most ardent partisans, while its disquieting insights into the culture of violence in America should occasion sober reflection from those who would prefer to stop their ears.

Roger Ebert: The movie is a mosaic of Moore confrontations and supplementary footage. One moment that cuts to the core is from a standup routine by Chris Rock, who suggests that our problem could be solved by simply increasing the price of bullets--taxing them like cigarettes. Instead of 17 cents apiece, why not $5,000? "At that price," he speculates, "you'd have a lot fewer innocent bystanders being shot." Moore buys a Map to the Stars' Homes to find where Charlton Heston lives, rings the bell on his gate, and is invited back for an interview. But Heston clearly knows nothing of Moore's track record, and his answers to Moore's questions are borderline pathetic. Heston recently announced he has symptoms associated with Alzheimer's disease, but there is no indication in this footage that he is senile; it's simply that he cannot explain why he, as a man living behind a gate in a protected neighborhood, with security patrols, who has never felt himself threatened, needs a loaded gun in the house. Heston is equally unhelpful when asked if he thinks it was a good idea for him to speak at an NRA rally in Denver 10 days after Columbine. He seems to think it was all a matter of scheduling.

The Guardian: Moore scrambles around the film like a big shaggy dog, jumping up and knocking things over, excitably putting together all sorts of possible connections. He's not always convincing, though, when he draws wide-ranging parallels with the US's military adventures, overt and covert. The handgun psychologically equivalent to the B-52? A little glib. The relentless bombardment of info-bits is the movie’s appeal, and maybe Moore — who grew up around firearms and who became a lifetime member of the NRA after Columbine to agitate for change from within — is right: Maybe scatter-shooting is the most effective trick for keeping general audiences entertained enough to entertain serious questions about controversial issues. But Moore has never overcome his polemical weakness for getting more fun out of making detours than out of making points. And his signature move — of waylaying people in positions of power, or at least documenting his righteous failure to do so — only grows less pleasing with repeated use.

AV Club: Like much of Moore's work, Columbine mixes smart satire, petty bullying, and tough humanism. He isn't afraid to transcend the boundaries of good taste, and much of the film would come across as pat and mean-spirited if it weren't so clearly rooted in a sense of horror and concern. Throughout Columbine, Moore touches nerves, both in horrific footage of the Columbine shooting and in interviews where the subjects are so overcome with emotion that they lose their bearings. Bowling For Columbine is often uproariously funny, even though much of its queasy power comes from its acknowledgment that some matters are too horrifying to be washed away with cheap laughter, or packaged into soundbites.


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Michael Moore: Why the U.S. Has Trouble Effecting Change in Gun Laws
posted by MoonOrb (5 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think this is Michael Moore's best film. Roger & Me is, of course, the classic, but this one is interesting because it's not as sure of answers as his other movies. Gun control and the NRA, sure, but there are underlying tensions in the US that other countries just don't have, largely related to racism and economic disparity. Matt Stone (the South Park co-creator who was interviewed) is recorded as not really liking this movie, claiming that it twisted his words and that the cartoon segment implies his participation in making the movie. While the style isn't dissimilar, Moore has defended its inclusion, and XQUZYPHYR mentioned hearing that Parker and Stone put Moore in as a Hollywoood Liberall terrorist in Team America: World Police to get back at him for it, although this BBC interview claims he's not mad, although claims his style is dishonest. (Something something dish it out something can't take it.)

Michael Moore's documentaries have always been agitprop, but amiable and generally accurate. This is the movie of his that seems to be more actually questioning, rather than ironically or sarcastically so. Because gun control is a perennial issue in the US, it's also one of his longest-lived.
posted by JHarris at 5:07 AM on April 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

I hated this movie - though I agree, it's the epitome of Moore's schtick, which I feel is essentially crappy journalism from the Left. The grandstanding segment on Charlton Heston was so eye-rolly - not because of "hassling a senile old man" (though it was), but rather Moore's ostentatious placing of himself in the frame as same kind of avenging voice of justice, spew.

Coupled with the typically oversimplifications, egregious errors, etc. Ugh.

I think Moore did a lot in starting a new generation of semi-comic voices from the Left like the Daily Show, John Oliver, Samantha Bee etc - and I think all of those are far, far better than him both as comedy and as education.
posted by smoke at 7:16 PM on April 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's been ages since I've watched him. Oh-boy does the right hate that man with a passion, holy cow.

In my mind, I excuse his poor 'journalism', because I never saw him as a journalist; he was an activist, an outraged dude who used humor in in his activism. So I'll nod when he's fact checked, but his overall points and perspective are worth engaging with, IMHO. One shouldn't cite him, but he should engage folks enough to research the facts and then cite those.

As far as Heston being senile (or going senile); I'd say that's on the NRA more than it is on Heston. I'd be willing to bet a senile Heston would much rather be made to look the fool than he would appreciate if Moore instead confronted the NRA about why the hell they'd have a senile old man represent them.

I'd agree that this is one of his better films. It's not perfect, but it's worth watching.

Personally I liked The Awful Truth; I think that format was better suited to him. Again though, he's not a journalist, and he's not a comedian, he's a funny activist (or an activist that uses humor), and I think when you view him through that lens he comes across as doing a pretty good job at what he does.
posted by el io at 1:03 AM on April 2, 2018

Whenever most people fact check him, their objections usually end up being pretty weaksauce. As Moore himself has noted, what he does is opinion, but it's researched opinion, and his movies have to be fact checked ahead of time.

All of this feels like rehashing old fights though.
posted by JHarris at 4:46 AM on April 2, 2018

I remember this being pretty amazing at the time - especially the stuff on Columbine that I hadn't already known... but now, yeah, not so much.

The stuff with Heston is so heavy handed and I've since learned that Moore is an incredibly manipulative film maker - like the opening scene with the 'free gun in a bank' is heavily edited and compressed from what actually happened.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:06 AM on April 7, 2018

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