Michael & Me
Scott at rednet.org
Fri Sep 22 23:16:00 MDT 1995
**Michael & Me: Exclusive interview with TV Nation's Michael
Moore on working class values, media politics ... and makin'
(Reprinted from the September 23, 1995 issue of the People's
Weekly World. Maybe reprinted or reposted with PWW credit.
For subscription information see below)
Michael Moore launched his film work with Roger & Me in
1989. Although snubbed by the Academy Awards, it went on to
become the highest-grossing documentary in film history. The
story takes place in Moore's hometown of Flint, Michigan and
deals with the devastation wrought by GM when it decided to
cut back production in that town. Moore's confrontational,
persistent and humorous style of searching for the truth won
the hearts of working people worldwide. A short sequel, Pets
or Meat: The Return to Flint, followed the story of Rhoda
Britton, Roger & Me's "Bunny Lady."
The success of Roger & Me allowed Moore the opportunity to
produce one of the most politically challenging and
entertaining series on television. TV Nation broke grounds
in gaining TV access for the progressive view. Although
continually threatened with cancellation, the show went on
to produce some of the most biting political humor available
on television. In one episode Moore took Communist Party
literature -- in a big red semi with a hammer and sickle on
the side -- through the Deep South to see if the Cold War
had really ended.
Prior to his film work, Moore founded the Flint Voice, an
alternative newspaper he edited before a brief stint as
editor of Mother Jones. He has also been a commentator on
National Public Radio. World writer Ron Sheldon interviewed
Moore at the Toronto Film Festival during the North American
premiere of his hilarious new political comedy, Canadian
Bacon (see review, p. 20).
World: Canadian Bacon was the funniest film at the festival,
at the same time one of the most serious. How does humor fit
into political action?
Moore: First of all, I think humor is a very effective means
of communicating a message to people. I think we've all seen
that too many people are turned off by the sort of soapbox
kind of preaching. That stuff's good when you're preaching
to the converted, but when you're trying to convert, for
whatever reason, wherever we're at now in 1995 in America,
it doesn't work very well. So I decided to use my sense of
humor as a means to affect change, to get people thinking
about the issues.
Underlying the humor though is a very serious point, and
underneath that is a lot of anger. I think some of the best
comedy comes from people who are very angry about the
situations they see in the world and the humor sort of acts
as a means to deal with the frustration of living in the
society in which we live.
World: Roger & Me was a gutsy film, but Canadian Bacon takes
American jingoism to the limits and should drive the message
home even harder.
Moore: I was very concerned with the Gulf War and how
quickly the people got behind this thing. And after the
lessons of Vietnam I would think we should really be asking
a lot of serious questions anytime someone says let's go to
war. I just got to thinking, can you just name any country?
Could the president say Canada is the new enemy? Is that the
only way we can exist, that we have to have a war-based
economy, whether it's Cold War or not?
World: In the movie you raise the issue of the connection
between the government, corporations and the control of the
Moore: You'd be surprise how many American media people here
are not wanting to talk about those issues. Either they
don't get it, they don't see it, or they don't want to see
World: But of course these media workers are being paid by
the very corporations you're talking about in the movie.
Moore: The first day we all gathered together to work on TV
Nation I told everybody, "I want you to act and behave on
the show as if this is the last thing you'll work on in
media. Because if we do any less than that, you know we will
have sold out, because this show is being carried on a
Rupert Murdoch-owned network, and so we have to behave each
week as if we are trying to get ourselves canceled by the
man himself." I think by having that attitude we're able to
do a lot of good work. But it has to be sincere. If you're a
careerist, thinking only to advance your media career, then
I don't really want to work with you.
World: The anti-corporate films you've been producing are
being funded by large corporations. How does this work?
Moore: It's a living example of a lesson in capitalism. One
of the most ironic things about capitalism is that the
capitalist will sell you the rope to hang himself with.
Actually they will give you the money to make a movie that
makes them look bad, if they believe they can make money off
World: Is this sort of like when Marx said 'the bourgeoisie
produce their own gravediggers?'
Moore: Basically. They exist to make a profit. They are that
ruthless. As long as you make money and are attacking the
government it doesn't matter. Obviously, they don't consider
any of us a threat at this point. So they can say, oh yes,
let Michael go do his little Newt Gingrich thing, or his
little thing on the newspaper strike in Detroit. He's not
going to really hurt us right now.
World: You've been described elsewhere as having "empathy"
for the working class. How does that happen?
Moore: I think it's just the function of growing up in
Flint, Michigan, in that environment. My father worked on
the assembly line at General Motors for 33 years. All of my
uncles and aunts and grandparents worked for GM also.
World: Did you ever work for GM?
Moore: I quit my first day. One day at Buick. I said, "Man I
can't do this. I'm just a wimp. I have to go back to
writing." Then I started my own paper, the Flint Voice. My
Uncle Laverne was in the Flint sit-down strike that helped
start the UAW. Somehow I guess that sense was always there.
Politics were discussed in our home.
World: Were they left-wing politics?
Moore: No, not at all. My parents were Irish Catholic
democrats, basic liberal good people. They instilled in us
kids a real sense of what was just, fair and all that. But
it's not just an empathy with the working class. I am that.
And what's really rare about all this, is that it's not
often that we are given a voice in film. We have people,
good liberals who write working class roles in films, but
it's rare that we ourselves are given a camera and film and
get to tell our own story, instead of somebody else telling
our story for us.
And so what's happened to me through these film projects,
I've had this opportunity to speak from this working class,
Flint, Michigan perspective. I feel fortunate to be able to
do that and I feel very responsible, too.
World: You've set up a fund to help struggling artists and
groups on the left, the Center for Alternative Media. Can
you describe this fund?
Moore: We have given grants now totaling over $400,000 just
from the profits of Roger & Me. I decided to give away 50
percent of whatever I earned from the film. But that's my
own personal choice, and I know some people reading this
will think 'what is this guy, crazy?' But it's because of
where I come from, you know I like the life I had before
Roger & Me. I never made more than $15,000 a year and I
still only own three pairs of blue jeans and one Detroit
As far as recipients, I helped fund a number of independent
and documentary films, including Panama Deception, which won
an Academy Award. I helped fund the first feature film that
was distributed in this country by an African American woman
called Just Another Girl On the IRT by Leslie Harris. I
thought it was appalling that we're in the 100th year of
cinema, and there has never been in the U.S. a film directed
by an African American woman, and released by Hollywood, and
that voice needs to be heard in American cinema.
World: Would you like to advertise where this fund is
Moore: (laughs) You know we do this very differently. We're
not like the typical foundation. It's kind of like I see
something and I just call up the person and say, "What's
your address? I want to send you a check." It's really more
from me, keeping with the spirit of Roger & Me. And what's
incredible is the irony of this whole system. I basically
get this money from Time-Warner and then recycle it into
World: You have valuable connections and the ability to
reach out with your message to greater advantage.
Moore: At this point I have a greater responsibility to make
sure that I do good with what I've received. And the only
reason I've received it is because average working stiffs
were willing to go to the theater and pay seven bucks to see
my movie. So if they're going to give me their money what am
I going to with it? Get a big boat? I don't think so.
World: What inspired you to write Canadian Bacon?
Moore: The bombing had started in Iraq and four days later
we were at the Sundance Film Festival and I really thought
that as independent filmmakers we should take a stand
against this war. So I approached John Sayles, who was emcee
for the closing night awards, and said do you mind
presenting this resolution that we could vote on. It said
something simple like, 'We group of independent filmmakers
oppose the American war in Iraq.' John said yeah, it's a
great idea. He started to read the thing and people began
hissing and booing him down, yelling this isn't politics,
this is a film festival, hand out the awards.' Now this was
a group of independent filmmakers, not ditto heads, people
that you think are of like mind. I was shocked. I came home
thinking, if this group of people has fallen for the support
of the Gulf War, my work is cut out for me. And when Bush
got that 90 percent approval rating, I said I've got to make
a film for that other 10 percent in the hopes of building
[on] that 10 percent.
World: Can you tell us a little about your wife, Kathleen
Moore: She's from Flint also. Her dad worked in the shops.
Regarding Canadian Bacon, she was co-producer, designed the
costumes and the titles, and helped conceptualize the
project. We've been partners on this stuff for a long time.
World: You can almost tell what episodes in TV Nation that
you had a hand in writing.
Moore: I can't ask all my writers to be clones of me -- it
would probably be boring. It's good the show is reflective
of kind of where the American public is at. Some people are
where I'm at, some are where Karen Duffy is at. However they
can hook into it, so be it.
World: What about future projects?
Moore: (laughs) I'm going to join the Ice Capades. "Marx on
Ice." I can see it now!
Actually, I'm currently working on a couple screenplays. The
whole concept of Mark Fuhrman's America is on my mind and
the racial issues that are still not resolved in our
country. I want to give it a shot. I think this O.J. trial
speaks volumes about our country. It goes way beyond the
whole celebrity issue and the media frenzy over it. It says
a lot about issues regarding race, police and corruption.
World: You're one of the few filmmakers in this country
willing to tackle these issues from a class perspective. We
wish you the best with your new film.
Moore: Thanks. Somebody came up to me and said Canadian
Bacon is the first left-wing film for the mall crowd. I can
only hope that that's what it is.
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