Michael Moore Hates America
October 24th, 2004
This is it? This is the film that has been grabbing so much attention over the last summer? A shockingly amateurish production meant to counterbalance and expose Moore's elusive filmmaking skills, "Michael Moore Hates America" just simply apes the Moore formula, but in a profoundly ridiculous fashion, making an absolute ass of director and star Michael Wilson.
Two years ago, iconic Midwesterner Michael Wilson saw Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” and decided it was just too much. Wilson was fed up with the alleged lies and misdirection that Moore’s film contained, and he wanted to get his side of the story out to the unsuspecting public. Thus born, “Michael Moore Hates America,” which Wilson suggests is more of an allegorical title than a libelous swipe. Yeah, right.
“Hates America” began as Wilson’s loving ode to the country’s great and diverse population, which Wilson claims Moore has taken it upon himself to speak for, defecating on American ideals in the process. However, during the film’s production, a political bomb was dropped in the form of Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which ended up one of the top grossing movies this past summer; a remarkable achievement for a decidedly partisan documentary. Suddenly, Wilson smelled blood in the water, the end result being that “Hates America,” for all of its patriotic pandering, bizarre round-up of “experts,” and general dream of objectivity, is the exact same type of filmmaking that Wilson is openly criticizing Moore for. Good heavens, the hypocrisy is deafening.
Wilson wraps himself in the American flag immediately with his biographical opener, which paints him as a infant-cuddling, “aw shucks” Wisconsin/Minnesota boy who just “don’t” understand why a rich New Yorker like Moore would say such bad things about America. Wilson’s film is basically an examination of Moore’s interview and editing tactics, which have been endlessly accused of and partially debunked as being biased and manipulative. Therefore, it comes as a great surprise when Wilson starts deliberately playing these tricks too, and not in a smart, satiric way, but in a desperate, hypocritical way, while still playing up his deceptive, “gee whiz, I dunno about this Moore fella” personality.
Wilson starts the by nitpicking the minutiae of “Columbine” (the sequence where Moore gets the free gun from the bank is a favorite), yet isn’t a strong enough filmmaker to realize the he’s just reemphasizing Moore’s overall point in the process of tearing it to shreds. Wilson invites personalities like Penn Jillette (a wonderfully outspoken and articulate man who should’ve directed this movie), documentarian Albert Maysles (“Gimme Shelter”), and unknown comedian Tim Slagle to chat about Moore and his films, with each interviewee concluding that Moore has a right to say what he wants, but he really shouldn’t. Wilson also criticizes Moore’s love for Canada by heading up to the Great White North and interviewing two stoned and homeless Canadian teens for their thoughts on America. How insightful. However, that’s not nearly as stupid as Wilson challenging Moore’s “Columbine” suggestion that only Caucasians are choosing to live in gated communities to keep minorities out, yet Wilson finds only Caucasians to interview when he visits one of those communities to prove Moore wrong. That moment alone sums up the entire movie with disturbing precision.
Does Michael Moore manipulate his films? Of course he does (every media outlet does!), which leads Wilson to the discussion of what the term “documentary” should really mean. Here is where “Hates America” hits a positive stride, and finally finds a topic worth burning tape over. The fact that there hasn’t been truth in cinema since it began (documentaries too) is lost on Wilson, who is determined to prove Moore is a liar, and the interesting documentary question is soon dropped in favor of three, count ‘em three “Moore is fat” jokes. Oooh, classy, Mr. Wilson. It should be noted that the filmmaker is just as obese as Moore.
Another good sequence that Wilson puts forth is a visit with a wounded soldier who appeared in “Fahrenheit 9/11” through archival news footage (that he cannot control), and is none too happy about it. Wilson gives the armless military man free room to justifiably vent, even commenting directly on his scene as it appears in Moore’s film – which, again, since Wilson doesn’t quite understand what he’s doing, is exhibited on a bootleg DVD of “Fahrenheit.” Hey, Michael Moore might hate America, but apparently Michael Wilson hates the MPAA.
Eventually the film questions if the specific editing of sequences to engage an emotional response should be considered an honest way to make a film. Last I heard, that was the only way to make a film. And if the criteria for cinematic fraud is to piece together something emotionally resonant, manipulative, and heartbreaking in the name of an overall point, then stay tuned for my 2005 documentary: "Brian Orndorf Hates ‘Rudy’”
Personally, I’ve always supported Moore’s films with great delight, and enjoy their absolute fearlessness. Nothing reminds me more of why I treasure his films than to see Wilson stumble around his scenes, unable to find a joke or a profound moment to latch on to, much less have the guts to actually explain the type of film he’s making to his interview participants (which is unreal to witness). For all his hot wind and suspect filmmaking instincts, Moore is a genuinely entertaining fellow, verbally light on his toes, and harnessing a wit that can cut through stone. Moore is a muckraker, rabble-rouser, and general political terrorist who grows in power and ego the more people pay attention to him. Wilson is just a softhearted guy mistaking boldfaced imitation for bravery and “truth.” He’s trying to suck off some of Moore’s substantial spotlight to jumpstart his own filmmaking career that, if this unprofessional film is any indication, has absolutely no justification to continue.
My rating: D-