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Michael Wilson is a not-so-famous filmmaker who decided to produce a documentary on the very famous filmmaker Michael Moore. He followed the approach that Moore himself took in Roger & Me, a film in which Moore tried in vain to get an interview with multimillionaire General Motors CEO Roger Smith. Moore made this pursuit in order to demonize both the man and his money. By this method he turned his strange critique into a new, and highly-praised, art form. From there Michael Moore went on to win an Oscar for another documentary, wrote several best-selling books and in general made millions while appearing to be the friend of the downtrodden. What I seriously question, and this film made very clear to me, is whether or not you can honestly call Moore's films documentaries.

My view is rather simple—a really good documentary tries to provide ways to see the complexity of an issue by telling the viewer the truth, or at least mostly the truth. Editing requires choices and these choices limit the storytelling. Since the filmmaker does cut and paste clips and interviews this genre is admittedly fraught with serious problems and is very often abused on both the left and the right. Most documentaries have a fairly strong viewpoint—i.e., the presupposition of the filmmaker—and that viewpoint is admittedly very liberal politically and socially, or at least it is in the majority of documentaries. In Michael Moore's work this is always the case. One wonders if Moore could have made his millions without George W. Bush in the White House as his foil for eight years. One also wonders what he does next, since Barack Obama is now the president. He lives a fabulously wealthy lifestyle in New York City and I doubt we have seen the last of him. And he did promote Ralph Nader but then I doubt he will go after Obama as he did Bush. (Without Bush to bash what will many of these types do in the next four to eight years?)

Wilson, who is the documentarian in this 2004 film, set out to make Moore his big fish by pursuing the multi-millionaire guy just as Moore pursued people in his films. Moore proves to be as elusive, if not more so, than all of his film subjects. This makes for a film that Ebert & Roeper give "two thumbs up" as you can see on the DVD cover above. The St. Paul Pioneer Press says of Wilson's 96 minute film: "One of the country's most polarizing figures gets hoisted on his own petard in Michael Moore Hates America."

Does Wilson land the interview with Moore? I will not spoil the fun here (the video is rated R for language, which is definitely rough in tone) but let's say that he goes to great lengths and this made for some extremely amusing moments. He shows up at a University of Minnesota public appearance of Michael Moore and gets some microphone time to ask him a simple question, which Moore answers without really answering at all and then attacks Wilson, whom he does not know at all. Wilson also heads to New York, where Michael Moore lives, and tries a number of funny ways to land the appearance.

In the University of Minnesota segment Wilson interviews about five students outside the U of M arena by asking them what they make of Michael Moore. Their responses are enough to make your realize that the "dumbing down" of the minds of many college educated young Americans is quite real. I have no love for the far right but when college students keep responding the way they do to questions like those Wilson poses it makes me fear for our collective cultural future. Most of those interviewed openly said that even if Moore lies in his films that is fine with them since he takes the right position on the important issues. But if he is lying how do you know he takes the right position? Do these students enjoy being brainwashed? It appears that way but I leave to your viewing of this troubling insight your own decision. Believe me it is haunting. 

Viewers will readily see that Michael Wilson is not a right-wing nut job at all, just an interesting filmmaker seeking some measure of truth in a documentary film form. The end result spares no one, right or left. (He has a clip that makes former liberal professor David HorowitzDH
look almost as bad as Michael Moore!) But Michael Moore, being the major subject, is clearly shown for who he really is. If you love him or despise him you owe it to yourself to see Wilson's very cute and very well-done film, especially if you like documentaries as much as I do. (I will always watch such films with more caution, and honest skepticism, after seeing this one.)
Jeff Strickler, of the Star Tribune, is right when he says: "This film isn't about ideology as much as accountability."

Is Michael Moore just a brilliant liberal with an edge or is he actually a very dishonest hypocrite? My view is that Wilson's film makes it plain the answer is the latter. Michael Moore is, if Wilson gets it right, a truly disgusting person who has made millions by selling hate and hopelessness. The biggest fraud of all has to be the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) that gave him an Oscar for his work, a choice that casts real doubt on their whole process. If you doubt this conclusion then watch Michael Moore Hates America. It is really an entertaining and excellent film.

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  1. J. R. Miller February 15, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    I generally don’t watch any of these films for the reasons you cite in your post, but maybe on your recommendation i will have to give this one a try.
    Your point about kids embracing the “truth” despite the fact it was based on a lie is a keen observation. I posted on this issue a while back when Oprah did the same thing on her show.
    This trend to let ideology trump truth is disturbing.

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