Michael Moore’s “Bowling For Columbine” is one of the most controversial films of the past several years; there was controversy upon release (some wondered if the film would be released) and then the controversy returned once again when Moore made an Oscar speech against the current state of affairs in our government and about the war that was taking place in Iraq. Debates about the possibly fictious nature of some of Moore’s points in the film still are debated upon the internet (see http://www.moorelies.com/ml/ as an example for the against, while one can see Moore’s responses at http://www.michaelmoore.com/).
This is exactly what Michael Moore wants. Some of “Bowling For Columbine” might not be entirely accurate. The film may be one-sided. However, people are talking. People are debating. Moore discusses his Oscar speech in one of the supplements on the DVD about how pleased he was at the varied response to his Oscar speech, because it was the sound of a people who have freedom of speech. Although some will likely disagree, Moore is encouraging people to find out about what’s going on in your community and country, form your own opinion and understand that one person can make a positive difference.
According to Moore’s website, “On the day after I criticized Bush and the war at the Academy Awards, attendance at “Bowling for Columbine” in theaters around the country went up 110%”. According to Moore, stating the success of his film (and book) after his Oscar speech shows that, despite speaking out about his feelings on the situation, caused the opposite of a backlash. Moore’s films don’t provide all the answers, but they put the subject on the table in a thought-provoking way that encourages intelligent discussion between both sides of the issue.
Occasionally amusing (such as a side trip to Canada, whose citizens seem puzzled by violence in the US) and often troubling, “Bowling for Columbine” is Moore’s presentation about gun violence in the United States. Moore, who is a NRA member himself, offers a lot of questions about why our society may be violent, then explores the points that he finds regarding these aspects. Moore does not find answers, but offers information, interviews, clips and other issues to backup his points. Matt Stone (creator of “South Park” and former resident of Littleton, CO, where the Columbine shooting happened) talks about how students who are made fun of or deemed unusual should be respected, cared for and told that the high school experience won’t be the experience that one finds after leaving high school. “Shock rocker” Marilyn Manson provides a thoughtful and surprisingly subdued interview about his feelings about being deemed a poor influence. Moore’s interview with Manson leads to a segement where he questions why bowling wasn’t blamed for the Columbine incident, since the two kids bowled every morning, including the morning of the tragedy. Yet, other countries listen to the same music, do the same things and yet, gun violence in other countries is a fraction of the amount that takes place in the US.
Moore’s tactics are not always successful or effective, however. Moore starts an argument about how a work-for-welfare program was part of the reason why a child killed a fellow student. Although a very terrible tragedy, Moore goes after Dick Clark (yes, that Dick Clark), who owned the restaurant the child’s mother worked at. Clark simply continues to get into the van he was already getting into, and speeds off. Another scene that doesn’t work terribly well is one where Moore tries to get an irritated police officer to arrest someone for polluting the Los Angeles area so much that the Hollywood sign wasn’t visible. Moore’s interview with NRA president Charleton Heston, reportedly in early stages of altzheimers, has also been heavily debated. Some of the events of the film seem staged. Despite Moore’s success (I believe his recent book hit #1), he still manages to sneak up on interviewees thanks to his standard outfit of jeans and a worn baseball cap – Michael Moore has been and will always be – the “everyguy”.
There are subjects that Moore tackles, but doesn’t tackle quite enough. It’s a very strong point that the media is making a “culture of fear” (one statistic mentioned is that the murder rate has gone down 20%, while coverage of murders has gone up 600%). Instead of getting interviews with actual news producers in major cities, he attempts to interview a former producer of the show “Cops”. Depsite Moore’s inspired idea (and visualization) of “Corporate Cops”, the interview largely seems like a runaround. Many smaller towns and markets in the US, where there isn’t as much (if any) competition for news broadcasts, also don’t seem to be nearly as focused on violence.
And there are certainly effective and powerful moments throughout. A journey to Canada finds that the neighbor to the North, has just as many guns and yet, doesn’t have nearly the rate of gun violence and doesn’t seem to be nearly as worried. Their news broadcasts seem to focus more on things like highway repair and local events. They have government health care, too – I would have liked more depth on such details about the Canadian society structure. Another sequence has Moore and two survivors of the Columbine tragedy going to K-Mart to challenge them to stop selling ammunition. When he succeeds, Moore’s shock and genuine appreciation for the decision is very moving.
Again, think what you like; Moore has presented his (some say staged) case and whether you like him or hate him, it’s not about that – it’s about presenting thought-provoking questions that will lead to debate, question, research and hopefully, from that, maybe some positive changes.
VIDEO: “Bowling for Columbine” is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is obviously a lower-budget affair, with handheld camera work, natural light and maybe inconsistent film stock. That said, “Bowling” still appears exactly how it did when I saw it in theaters (although, and it may just be me, but the film seemed slightly brighter here than it did theatrically). Sharpness and detail are satisfactory, as the picture remained crisp and clear, yet, of course, didn’t reach the kind of definition and detail that one sees in feature films.
There weren’t too many issues seen in the image quality. No edge enhancement was spotted, but a few minor specks were seen on the print used. A couple of light traces of pixelation were also spotted. None of the faults were very noticable, though. Colors remained natural and well-rendered throughout.
SOUND: “Bowling for Columbine” is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film’s soundtrack is certainly more of a 3.0 effort, though, which is understandable, given that it’s a documentary. Audio quality seemed fine, as the dialogue remained crisp and clear throughout.
Commentary: This is a commentary from the film’s receptionists and interns, although director/writer Michael Moore does provide an introduction to the commentary, as well as an audio introduction. I can understand Moore’s statement that he’s said all he wants to say in the movie about the movie, but I would certainly have liked another commentary featuring politicians or political commentators debating the film as it rolls. The idea of having the film’s receptionists and interns do the commentary is a cute one – possibly too cutesy – and they do offer some decent tidbits (at one moment, they talk about a deleted scene that was in the part where Moore talks to a security expert), but they also spend a lot of time talking over one another and occasionally slip off-topic. Again, a cute idea for a commentary, but something more constructive and informative could have been done in a second commentary track.
The Oscar Speech This 12-minute interview has Moore explaining his thoughts on why he went forward with his Oscar speech and explains the moments leading up to his walking up to the podium. The academy would not allow Moore to show his speech on the DVD, so – as he sits somewhere in Michigan with the Oscar at his side – he re-states the speech and what he remembers seeing when looking out on the audience.
Return to Denver: This is a 25-minute speech from Moore to University of Denver students, where he discusses gun violence and the current state of Government. The Q & A and a moment where a Columbine graduate confronts Moore about how much his film and work meant to her are both powerful moments. The documentary also features an interview by Moore about his views on conservatives and trying to bring together both sides to do good.
Film Festival Scrapbook: This 16-minute piece shows clips from “Columbine”‘s Cannes and Toronto wins. An interesting tidbit is Moore’s story about what happened after Moore interviewed Heston, which the audience doesn’t see.
Corporate Cops: In a segement (some of the footage which was used in the movie) from Moore’s “Awful Truth” TV show, he takes on corporate criminals (in this case, a pesticide company) in “Corporate COPS”.
Charlie Rose Interview: Although this 25-minute interview does focus on “Bowling for Columbine”, it does offer a very interesting political discussion between Moore and Rose.
Also: Marilyn Manson music video, a 21-minute interview between former press secretary Joe Lockhart and Moore, photo gallery, trailer, “Action Guide” and “Teacher’s Guide”.
Final Thoughts: “Bowling For Columbine” – debates about its filmmaking aside – still succeeds in one important thing – asking thought-provking questions that will hopefully start debates among its viewers. After a few viewings, its flaws (it could be more focused, going deeper on some of its topics) have become more apparent, but it’s still a film that I think people should see and discuss. MGM’s DVD was delayed for a while, but it seems as if that delay has resulted in packing the DVD (apparently, the Region 2 version has no supplements) with lots of (largely) informative supplemental features that go into greater depth about Moore’s opinions/beliefs on the topics and the movie’s production. Recommended.