Hogan's Alley

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Michael Moore Can Dish It Out, But Can't Apparently Take It

The Sunday Times had an interesting piece reporting on the soon-to-be-released documentary by Rick Caine and Debbie Melnyk called "Manufacturing Dissent". The filmmakers, who started their coverage of Michael Moore as fans of his, gradually came to see him as a propagandist of the first order, rather that any sort of objective journalist. Two prime examples of Moore's disingenuousness cited were:

“We didn’t want to refute anything,” Ms. Melnyk said. “We just wanted to take a look at Michael Moore and his films. It was only by talking to people that we found out this other stuff.”

In part the “stuff” amounts to a catalog of alleged errors — both of omission and commission — in Mr. Moore’s films, beginning with his 1989 debut, "Roger and Me" That film largely revolved around Mr. Moore’s fruitless attempts to interview Roger Smith, then the chairman of General Motors, after his company closed plants in Mr. Moore’s birthplace, Flint, Mich.: an interview that occurred, Ms. Melnyk and Mr. Caine said, although Mr. Moore left it on the cutting-room floor.


In “Manufacturing Dissent” Mr. Caine and Ms. Melnyk — whose previous films include “Junket Whore,” about movie journalists, and "Citizen Black" about Conrad Black— note that the scene in “Fahrenheit 9/11” in which President Bush greets “the haves, and the have-mores” took place at the annual Al Smith Dinner, where politicians traditionally make sport of themselves. Ms. Melnyk and Mr. Caine received a video of the speeches from the dinner’s sponsor, the Archdiocese of New York. “Al Gore later answers a question by saying, ‘I invented the Internet,’ ” Mr. Caine said. “It’s all about them making jokes at their own expense.”

None of this is news to those not blinded by hatred of Bush. It seems to me that any objective viewer would see Moore's films as highly selective and manipulated versions of reality. We'll see what the impact of this new film is on Moore's next project, "Sicko", an expected attack on the American health care system.

The core issue for documentary makers is the philosophical question:

Calling the Melnyk-Caine film “unbelievably fair,” Mr. Pierson said it asks what really matters in nonfiction filmmaking: Should all documentary-making be considered subjective and ultimately manipulative, or should the viewer be able to believe what he or she sees? “I found it encouraging,” he said, “that my students were dumbstruck.”