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BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, 2002
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BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, MOVIE POSTERBOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, 2002
Movie Reviews

Director: Michael Moore
Stars: Michael Moore
Review by Mark Engberg


SYNOPSIS:

Michael Moore explores the motivations leading to the Columbine High School massacre and America’s obsession with armed violence.

AWARDS: Won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

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REVIEW:

After bludgeoning his audience for two hours about the murderous nature of the trigger-happy Home of the Brave, Michael Moore closes “Bowling for Columbine” by nabbing a clean strike in a bowling alley in Littleton, Colorado.

The shot is representative of the rebellious filmmaker’s success in this stunning documentary. As a matter of fact, this film received a thirteen-minute-long standing ovation from the audience when it premiered at Cannes Film Festival in May 2002. It was also the first documentary to compete in that festival’s main competition in 46 years.

Some people may also remember Moore’s controversial acceptance speech in 2003, when he blasted President Bush and prepared his audiences for more in “Fahrenheit 9/11”. Many people denounced the documentarian for saying “Shame on you”, but consider: Wouldn’t it be more of hypocrisy if he hadn’t?

Referring to the mistaken claim that Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris attended a bowling class on the morning of the massacre, the title suggests that the film’s content will explore the motivations and reasons behind the two teenagers’ horrific acts of homicidal slaughter. However, this is not the case. This is not a picture dedicated to any one singular topic of America’s brutal history of civil violence.

Throughout the film, Moore’s speculations are rampant and even somewhat unfocused. He points his finger at the media, corporate America, and even Dick Clark (still not entirely sure what triggered that one). The NRA. The KKK. The rich. The media. K-Mart. Lockheed Martin. The political powers washing their hands from the wreckage of Enron. Like so many of Moore’s other works, this film is loaded with outrage and evidence of shady businesses and interviews of people who will probably never let themselves be interviewed on camera again.

And the overall content is exposed in a manner that is clear, emotional, and completely funny.

Many film critics accused Mr. Moore of lacking a specific and coherent argument in his quest for information. Desson Thomson of the Washington Post wrote, “A lot of this is amusing and somehow telling. But what does it all add up to?”

Mr. Thomson may have a point regarding the frivolous nature of these sporadic examinations and boisterous accusations. But responding to his question, the material in this movie adds up to one central question: Why are there so many more violent murders in America than the rest of the world?

And again, like so many of his other controversial films, he is unable to deliver a believable answer. While examining the genuine friendliness and tamed sense of security which seemed to be existing somewhere in Sarnia, Canada, Moore speculates that government officials and news media are to blame for installing paranoid thought in the American public. Furthermore, he implies that it is American acceptance of institutionalized violence that is responsible for the country’s destructive behavior and xenophobic identity.

There are definitely elements in “Bowling” that, to me, are well worth an argument. For instance, despite pleas from the mayor’s office, Charlton Heston had the temerity to host the NRA’s annual meeting at the Colorado Convention Center less than two weeks after the Columbine killings. When first-grader Dedrick Owens shot fellow first-grader Kayla Rolland dead at Buell Elementary School one year later near Moore’s hometown of Flint, Michigan, Heston did the same thing and staged another rally.

For a climactic ending, this warranted an impromptu interview at Heston’s own poolside house, which was granted by the former NRA president without any conduct from his own people (which completely baffled me until I discovered that Heston was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease at the time of the interview).

Approaching under the guise of a card-carrying member of the gun-toting organization, Moore abruptly changes his tone and forces Moses into the hot seat. When Heston ejects himself from the interview, Moore confronts him with a photograph of the young and slain Kayla. As Heston feebly exits, I was wondering if this was entirely a fair confrontation. Was it bad judgment to bring the NRA to these towns so soon after these horrendous incidents? Unquestionably. But does that mean the man deserves the sole weight of Kayla’s murder?

Does he blame Owens’ family for enabling the six-year-old to bring a loaded gun to school? No, because the Owens family was among the many members of Michigan’s impoverished. With his father’s incarceration for a parole violation and his mother’s recent eviction, Dedrick and his brother were living in a gun-trading crack house operated by his uncle. Does he blame his mother Tamarla for missing the clues that could have prevented this tragedy? No, she was working multiple jobs, one of which was at Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Grill.

So who does Moore go after to answer these questions? Dick Clark. Is this a valid connection? Should it seem sinister that Mr. American Bandstand avoided the interview at all costs and in fact sped off in a minivan when Moore aimed the cameras in his direction? Or was he just being protective? Did he even have anything to do with this?

What makes Michael Moore a great filmmaker is not the fact that he has the balls to ask these kinds of questions but the fact that he entices his audience to do the same. Regardless of your own opinions about the man’s political beliefs and conclusions, it must be acknowledged that he has played a monstrous role in popularizing the American documentary. It seems impossible to walk out of a Michael Moore picture and still have nothing to talk about.

And there are several elements in the mosh pit that are engaging, entertaining, and quite beautiful. Moore’s interview with Brian Warner (better known as Marilyn Manson) is insightful and eyebrow rising due to the Antichrist Superstar’s thoughtfulness and intelligence. Terry Nichols’ brother James makes a frightening appearance as a “radical” member of American gun-owners and militia members. A home-security consultant named Denny Fennell breaks down and cries when he recollects Columbine.

But the sequence that is sure to break your heart is the actual video footage from Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. An acoustic guitar provides the lonely background score as Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris enact their carnage. Recorded 911 calls are intercut with footage of sobbing witnesses and worried parents. The entire sequence is the saddest and most disturbing moment I have ever experienced in a movie theater.

But there are also laughs. Particularly funny is an animated segment called “A Brief History of the United States of America”. Narrated by a high-pitched talking bullet, the cartoon summarizes America’s history of violence as being born out of paranoia of the surrounding population. The pilgrims fled their homelands out of fear of religious persecution, arrived in the New World, and slaughtered the Native Americans because they were different. Then they went to Africa and began collecting slaves. The information is ridiculous and one-hundred-percent accurate.

Though he was politely interviewed in the film as a former Columbine student, “South Park” co-creator Matt Stone was enraged at the insinuation that he and Trey Parker produced “A Brief History”. The mistake is regrettably easy to make. The segment is introduced almost immediately after Stone’s interview, and the voice of the talking bullet sounds an awful lot like Stan and Kyle.

This is the reason why Moore is a portrayed as a donut-gobbling terrorist pundit two years later in Parker and Stone’s “Team America: World Police”.

Another crowd-pleasing scene occurs when Moore confronts the executive honchos at K-Mart Headquarters for distributing firearms and bullets to kids like Klebold and Harris. Bringing along two surviving victims from the Columbine massacre and a legion of press reporters and cameramen, Moore and his team are actually victorious in persuading the corporate administrators to phase out their policy of selling firearms. Moore’s point of hysteria-obsessed media is unintentionally exposed when a local news anchor leads this incident with a story of dangerous snakes loose in the area. The effect is subtle and undeniable.

Fans of Moore’s other features always seem to bring up “Fahrenheit 9/11” or “Sicko”, but if you’re really interested in his work, check out “Roger & Me”. Once again centering in Flint, Michigan, this older film is based on Moore’s inability to interview Roger E. Smith, whose summary action at General Motors terminated 30,000 jobs. Equally sarcastic and witty, but watch out for the woman holding the rabbit. Trust me.

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