For many Americans, laughter isn’t the best medicine it’s the only medicine *
Michael Moore probably annoys more people than not – he frequently annoys me, though not on a personal level – but it would be hard to pick out a more wide-reaching and populist documentary filmmaker. Best known for Roger & Me (big business and unemployment), Bowling for Columbine (gun control and the horror of children killing each other) and Fahrenheit 9/11 (the World Trade Center and Iraq attacks), he has never shied away from subjects stabbing close to the American heart but simultaneously has reached (and influenced, fairly or unfairly) audiences that many a protester or politician would kill for.
What seems to be the problem? *
However, in the past he has tended to follow a strict, and in my opinion strictly flawed format – for example, in a theoretical 90 minute film you would get:
1) 40 Minutes of funny and or dramatic entertainment, followed by
2) 40 Minutes of progressively more bullshit, culminating in
3) 10 Minutes of horribly misguided and deceitfully manipulative emotional string-pulling that makes you want to puke and probably makes his original target feel rather more comfortable than he would have wanted.
His problem, so often, is not the strident, over-emotive narration and treatment he gives his subject, but the lack of faith he shows in the potential impact of “the facts” he has collected. Resorting to anything from cheap tricks to, at worst, a downright dishonesty worthy of his White House nemesis, he chooses to undermine his own work. So, a bit of a jackass then.
This might hurt a little *
I recently watched his new documentally, Sicko, and overall it’s far better than his previous efforts – it may still provoke much anger from those its wandering, critical gaze falls upon, but for the viewer there is much less to be annoyed with. Here he examines the state of the State’s health care industry – not the State’s health care, but the industry that ultimately guides, or controls, or maybe even dominates it, to the great benefit of shareholders and the potentially terrible expense of those most in need: the Medical Insurance Industry.
At times the information is as horrible and angering as anything Michael Moore has shown us in the past – and the voice over, too, is as horrible and angering… forgive me, but he still pours it on a bit too thick. In fact, the first ten minutes is a bit of a struggle, but then it hits its stride and becomes pretty revealing stuff. The notion that doctors should do no harm is familiar to all; the notion that doctors should do no work seems to make a lot less sense, but ultimately every effort seems to be made to minimize the chance that any expensive procedure takes place; in a Tobacco Industry manner, the internal terminology which the insurance companies use to describe their threats and goals beggers belief – and what I shall laughingly refer to as after care for the claims that do slip though the insurance net and force a payment is just plain offensive.
Get well soon *
He doesn’t stop with America though. First up to Canada, then a quick hop across that big pond they call the Atlantic Ocean, and finally he takes one last stop off a little closer to home, all to see how we do things in the rest of the western world, where health insurance or private health care is an option, not a starting point. Most of all, what the rest of the world seems to do is laugh – not at America, but at the very idea of what Americans are put through for something most of the “First” world can take for granted.
So how does Sicko compare to the previous Michael Mooeuvre? This time there is a sag is in the middle instead of a downward slope towards the inevitably over-emotive end, but it makes an amazing difference. The finale remains somewhat contrived, but it is a contrived reality instead of a contrived unreality (the fucking travesties which close Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling For Columbine are, well, just that). Instead, he trusts the closing situation he’s set up to work and it does. He keeps his face off camera almost all the way through, AND he ends the whole thing on a joke – a pretty good joke too.
The chances are that, in time, we’ll find out three-quarters of Sicko represents yet Moore massaged facts; but until that foot drops and the other one kicks Mikey square in his own arse, Sicko is good for a dose of healthy infotainment.
* all taglines for the movie…