JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Bowling for Columbine (Director/Producer: Michael Moore) - February 20, 2003

Bowling for Columbine

3 3
120 min.

Bowling for dollars

Seeing Gaspar Noé’s dreadful Irreversible (cross-reference below) and Michael Moore’s rant on America’s right to bear arms in the same day certainly resulted in image overload, but also confirmed the awful truth that reality is far more repulsive than fiction. And, judging from the delay in the release date for the DVD, there’s still lots of cash to be made from the suffering of others.

In Bowling for Columbine, the most telling moments were delivered by the unscripted perceptions of others.

Most compelling was Marilyn Manson (brilliantly self-described as the “poster boy for fear”) when he caught even provocateur-c“lèbre Moore off-guard by saying “What would I say if I could speak to those kids from Columbine now? I’d have nothing to say to them; I’d be listening.” Seems like too few have.

Chris Rock, in a pre-recorded segment from one of his comedy videos had the perfect solution for America’s epidemic of gun-related killings: “Make the bullets cost FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS each! That would be the end of innocent bystander deaths.” Costly mistakes, indeed.

In comparison to these savvy visions, the older celebrities (cornered by Moore’s near-entrapment techniques) lost much of the lustre from their own, self-anointed, halos.

Dick Clark, cowering in a van, unprepared for the question regarding the link between one of his franchise restaurants, U.S. workfare, and the death of a six-year-old from the bullet of a classmate, reacted, well, like a dick. Charlton Heston affirmed his charter membership in the “Stupid-old-white-men club,” when he opined that the excessive gun-mortality rate in the land of the free was probably the result of the “ethnic mix.” I also learned from the Lord of the Republicans that his country was founded by “dead-old-white-men.”

Canada came off as an open-door nation where instead of killing each other, we (according to a trio of school-skipping teens) “tease, laugh at or make fun of” the objects of our scorn. I fully expected that to lead into a segment on suicides caused by bullying, but it never came.

By this time, the opening premise and promise of this truly remarkable “talk-u-mentary” had begun to lose its punch as Moore couldn’t resist becoming the film, rather than making it. That should have been caught by his director!

The whole sequence, touching as it was, with two survivors of Columbine being coerced into taking their bullets (internal and store-bought) to Kmart headquarters served no real point except to betray Moore’s ego as being right up there with the star of Ben Hur.

The interview with unapologetic James Nichols drew howls of laughter as he was drawn out to be a bigot. During the famous “Nichols has pointed the gun to his head” caption, the giggling ceased. Not a few around me hoped for the bang. I felt ill that a man so obviously in need of help was being used for cheap laughs by the manipulative producer.

In Irreversible, there is unfettered violence and an on-screen death that curdles the blood, yet the montage of clips that showed bullets instantly ending life assembled for Bowling for Columbine, was far, far more troubling.

The un-credited classical music (But why bother?, those old-white-dead composers’ works are in the public domain) was inserted more for its brand recognition than its underlying ideas. I was disgusted with Moore’s use of the finale from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to link to the “Hitler shot,” just because the baritone’s words (O friends, no more these sounds! Let us sing more cheerful songs, more full of joy!) were sung in German. It was a tough day for Beethoven symphonies—the “Allegretto” from his Seventh got dragged into Noé’s coda in a vain attempt to add legitimacy to a story that never really started.

Overall there was much to admire (the Lockheed spokesperson brought the house down when he assured us that “our weapons of mass destruction would only be used to defend the country from attack”) but a more severe edit of the self-indulgent segments would reveal the masterpiece this film should have been. JWR

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