The documentary as a political weapon

Sergio Sister, 1970, ecoline and crayon on paper, pencil and felt-tip pen, 32x30 cm


Commentary on the work of filmmaker Michael Moore

Michael Moore can be credited with an extraordinary feat: raising documentary to the heights of a political weapon. Starting with Roger and I, continuing with The big one and culminating in Columbine shootings, and then complete them with Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore traces a trajectory whose importance is measured by the themes he devotes himself to.

In the first two, the responsibility – never charged – of the multinationals for the growing unemployment rates becomes transparent. In Columbine Shootings, the issue of child crime, which spreads across the United States, with children murdering other children, collides with another hitherto untouchable, which is the control of arms sales. An investigative and engaging documentary of the highest quality is the contribution of this filmmaker, whose dedication was finally recognized when the film won the top prizes at the 26th International Film Festival in São Paulo, then at Cannes, and lastly the Oscar for best film in 2003. In Fahrenheit 9/11, back to the charge with white collar crimes.

After these and one more fiction film, two books and a TV program, the world began to pay attention to this good-natured fat man with his wobbly gait on weak knees, wearing a baseball cap and glasses, who practices candor. The firebrand Michael Moore becomes a link in the lineage of English-language satire, which is home to both Swift and Mark Twain; or, closer, James Thurber. Until recently, our author had only two targets, unemployment and armaments; but later he got another one, the now ex-“president” George W. Bush, from whose title he never removed the quotes.

Narrator and protagonist of his works, he calmly dedicates himself to a variant of civil disobedience which, opting for humor, consists of being boring and asking impertinent questions. He inaugurated a novelty in the documentary, which is to be present in front of the cameras all the time, violating the convention of objectivity – which opened an endless discussion among specialists.

Your book Stupid white men - A nation of idiots (2002) focuses on white-collar misdemeanors. Right from the start, he tells how, months and even years before the elections in the United States, the fraud that would lead the loser to the presidency was set up. It's appalling. The Republican candidate unearthed an obsolete legal device in Florida – recapitulating: where the first brother was governor and where the final fraud would be perpetrated –, according to which those who have served their sentence cannot vote. Now, the majority of US convicts, as is known, are blacks, who, as is also known, vote for the Democratic Party. Even those with a traffic fine were prevented from voting. The superintendent of elections in the state herself received a letter prohibiting her from going to the polls. All this, long before the issue of the recount. To aggravate the situation, who investigated and discovered the operation, too late, of course, was the BBC – English – because the natives were not interested.

But it doesn't stop there. Then he gives us an X-ray of who's who in the gang that took over the government. It shows how human rights are being eroded by a system that benefits millionaires, while health care declines and unemployment looms large. In turn, the educational institution has been preparing more incompetent and semi-illiterate people, while racism persists under insidious disguises.

A behind-the-scenes look at waste recycling reveals how it is designed to blind people's eyes, when in fact the air and water are permanently polluted to increase industrial profits. Politicians are just a bunch of minions of the plutocracy: to compensate, we are witnessing the proliferation of penitentiaries, a sinisterly expanding business. And even more, much more: here is Michael Moore in his best form, fearlessly wielding the weapon of his choice – laughter.

His style is candid. He was initially shocked when his hometown of Flint, Michigan saw the only source of employment, General Motors, close its factory and move to Mexico, leaving behind 30 unemployed. It doesn't hurt to remember that General Motors is "the largest company in the world". And the Flint branch was breaking its own profit records in recent years. Michael Moore then asked one of his little questions, which go to the crux of the problem: why? Why move to Mexico, leaving behind the ruins of a city given over to chaos, calamity, anomie, criminality, when profits are soaring? In order to save ten cents on hourly wages, he discovers.

He then knocked from door to door, trying to see the president of General Motors, the Roger Smith of the title of his first documentary, roger and me (1989), and naturally it was barred. But he keeps firing the question at whoever he finds in front of him and registering the results, the executives' denials, the security guards' truculence, the public relations' visible embarrassment. And although the subject is lurid, the viewer cannot help but laugh.

The next documentary, The big one (1997), focuses on the launch tour of his first book, Downsize this! (1996), which could be translated to: Wipe this! It tries to deepen the inquiry, penetrate other conglomerates, try to interview their entrepreneurs, to give an idea of ​​the process of this phase of globalization that takes care of downsizing, making it more flexible, outsourcing, eliminating redundancy, etc. Whatever label you give it, it points in the same direction: unemployment.

His only fiction film has been shown several times on cable TV, while his first two documentaries have been shown a lot less, and only in the dead of night. Operation Canada (canadian bacon,1995) attacks the domestic gun craze in the United States, where people think that the free acquisition, possession and bearing of guns is a democratic right, any limitation being an outrage to the Constitution. And even the occurrence of acts of terrorism like the one in Oklahoma City or the mass murders committed by children, which have increased recently, cannot deter them. The film portrays a pacifist president who can only obtain re-election in post-Cold War times – as his team soon diagnoses – by declaring war.

The rush to choose the enemy follows. Russia, which has endured half a century and ruined itself as a result, is not up for it. The target finally selected is Canada. The reasons, all very amusing, range from the cleanliness of the country, absence of crime and racial conflict, to the tradition of peace, which stigmatizes him as a socialist. Secret services then take it upon themselves to stage terrorist attacks and blame them on reluctant Canadians, to drag American public opinion into the war. The humor, let's face it, is a little dark, and sometimes it's a little difficult to have fun with the cynicism of the leaders and the belligerent rage of ordinary citizens. This film, which had little impact, would later inspire many others who copied its central scheme of creating an imperialist war to reinforce internal political positions.

Columbine Shootings, centered on the proliferation of guns in civil society, features, among other findings, a statement by Charlton Heston, who has the honor of being president of the National Rifle Association, which passionately defends the freedom to buy and own guns, as befits a lobbyist from the powerful war industry. The actor gives a hydrophobic performance, which gossip is saying is the best of his career as a canastrão. Nothing innocent information that Michael Moore advances: Lockheed – manufacturer of nuclear missiles and beneficiary of the largest government defense contract – is also the largest employer in Littleton, district of the city of Denver (Colorado) where the massacre took place. And we watch the filmmaker, answering the announcement of the North Country Bank, which has branches in the northern region of Michigan, his state, legally win an automatic rifle as a bonus for opening an account.

In the history of English-language documentaries, roger and me was absolute champion in number of spectators, until he was surpassed by Columbine Shootings. The books, each in their own time, topped the list of bestsellers in the world for months. New York Times. Awards follow one another, whether in Cannes, São Paulo, or even Hollywood. One can only hope that Michael Moore, after becoming a celebrity, remains firm in libertarian pretensions. In the meantime, we can follow their shenanigans at Among them, to the spectator's surprise, the very funny bit he makes in Winning ticket (2000). Priceless as a pious onanist and for conviction - for religious reasons, that is, to protect oneself from sex and to be immune to temptations. Besides, he is asthmatic and uses the inhaler all the time to quell his asthma attacks.

Lately, the pacifist movement that condemns the invasion of Iraq has multiplied the voices raised in protest. As for Michael Moore, after the tirades at the Oscar ceremony and an anti-war clip, he came with buckshot. Since his last film grossed fifteen times its budget, investors scrambled to finance the new project, Fahrenheit 9/11, on the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center. Mel Gibson won the dispute, through his producer Icon. When released before the 2004 presidential election, the film campaigned, woefully in vain, against re-election by revealing the Bushes' involvement with the Bin Ladens in oil and arms deals.

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão is Professor Emeritus at FFLCH at USP. She is the author, among other books, of reading and rereading (Senac/Gold over blue).


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