Comfortable and Furious

Bowling For Columbine

First things first. I have not laughed so hard at a movie since South Park; Bigger Longer and Uncut.. Wait – I forgot about XXX, but the point is that this movie is amazingly funny. It’s as funny as anything Moore has ever done and maintains that level of funniness all the way through. I laughed so much that I can remember less than half of what I laughed at. You can disagree with every assertion in this film, but still enjoy it greatly because it is so damn funny. The quality of this film is a huge relief because, after the merely above average The Big One, I was a-feared that Moore would never again approach the level of Roger & Me in a feature length film. .

In some ways Bowling for Columbine is even better than Roger & Me. The earlier film features Moore as something of a know it all. He takes the position that GM owes the town in which it was founded so much that it should never close the factories there. Like most people, I didn’t agree. I figure the social safety net ought to be provided by the government, not corporations. The position Moore takes is kind of simplistic and even though the film is excellent overall and probably a classic, the shaky thesis leaves it open to sound criticism.

In this film, Moore takes a more open minded and refined stance. He asks why Americans shoot each other so fucking much. In countries most like ours, people aren’t wasting each other with the same frequency. They lose from a few score to a few hundred people to gun murders per year, we lose about 11,000. I know gun statistics are subject to debate and interpretation, but nobody would deny that Americans shoot each other a lot. I hear gunfire in my neighborhood perhaps three nights a week. I don’t think that gunfire is that common in any neighborhoods in France or Japan. And I don’t even live in one of the worst parts of LA.

So why do we do it? The standard liberal response is that we are too well armed. Moore learns that there are 7 million guns in Canada, where there are about 10 million households. Canadians don’t pack quite as much heat as we do, but it stands to reason that, if owning guns caused people to shoot each other, the Canadians would be blasting away. They aren’t.

The standard right-wing response is that violence is the fault of the media. Anyone who’s managed to connect to the internet should be smart enough to see the flaws in that reasoning.

Is violence rooted in our violent history, as some, like Charlton Heston assert? Moore refutes this argument with two points. Europe and Japan.

So, what’s the problem? Moore argues, along with a USC professor, that the violence of American society stems primarily from the fact that American culture is built on fear. The news is dedicated almost exclusively to scaring us about killer bees, shark attacks, Y2K, kidnappers. West Nile and mass murderers.

On the cable news channels, regular news updates are now “News Alerts.” Politicians build their campaigns on scaring us about crime, blacks, terrorists, commies, drugs, rock music, teenagers and illegal immigrants. So, we wind up with a violent foreign policy, a violent populace, millions of convicts and a military budget bigger than the combined budget of the next five biggest spenders. We also wind up with an adversarial politics, where we’re happy to spend money to invade Grenada, but not to help poor kids improve their lives and we pay prison guards more than teachers. It’s all based on protecting ourselves from our myriad fears.

Is the film perfect? Is Moore’s reasoning airtight? No, of course not. I disagree with plenty. For example, Moore seems to be preoccupied with pinning the tail on whitey, which irritates me. For one thing, I didn’t hear those gunshots when I lived in white neighborhoods, which is just to say that whites are far from being the only ones pulling the triggers. There’s some self-deprecating racial humor that’s just too easy and condescending. At times, the film gets a bit self-righteous for my tastes. And Jesus Christ, did it irritate me when people in the audience would clap after someone made a statement that they agreed with. Only children, the retarded and Star Wars nerds are supposed to clap at the movies unless someone involved with the film is present.

Still, the film is a nearly perfect piece of entertaining propaganda. It’s much more like a punk rock anthem than a doctoral dissertation, so it doesn’t really matter if the details and nuances are right. And the more you think about it, the more the gist of the film seems to be dead on. When you look at the pernicious characteristics of American society from the prevalence of advertising that is meant to inflame our insecurities to fire and brimstone religion, fear seems to be the common factor.

The most striking thing about this film is that it demonstrates Moore’s ability to play an audience like a harp. One minute, he’ll have you laughing your ass of at the absurd reasoning of gun nuts, then, bam — he edits 911 calls and security camera footage from Columbine with appropriate music and you’ve got chills. Then he tells the story of the six-year-old who shot another six-year-old in Flint – the whole story — about how the shooter was unsupervised because his mom had to take two menial jobs in a rich neighborhood as part of “welfare reform,” and how the places that employed her bagged tax breaks for doing so and you’re so mad that you’re wondering why the terrorist plane headed for the Capital Building had to be the one to crash.

Part of the effectiveness of the film is just due to the way things are. Gun nuts are absurd and wacky. Politicians do evil things and most of them should be executed and buried at the city dump. So the points are often obvious, but nobody can bring them home better than Moore. Many of the critics are being timid about praising this film either because they don’t want to look like stereotypical liberals or because they want the film to be more scholarly, but it is possibly the best film of the year.

Incidentally, my crystal ball tells me that Bowling for Columbine is going to be a minor sensation. It will make way more than any documentary in history. It is of much higher quality than Moore’s Book, and that is in its 31st printing. The time is ripe for this stuff. Chomsky’s a best seller for Christ’s sake. And given the entertainment value of this film, it is just going to explode.

Regular Ratings

  • Rhetoric – 9
  • Direction – 10
  • Laughs – 10

Ruthless Ratings

  • Number of times the movie was paused to do something else: 0
  • Number Of times you wished Carrot Top was in the movie: 0
  • Number of times you considered calling Moore a genius of satire: 8



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