Monday, 8 February 2010

Today's Viewing & Review: Roger & Me

Roger & Me

There’s not really a lot to add to the debate surrounding the films of Michael Moore. To criticise them as being one-sided, agenda-driven and left-leaning is missing their raison d’être – they’re fully intended to shape opinion and highlight Moore’s own political bugbears. I don’t have a problem with this as long as the audience is savvy enough not to blithely accept everything they’re told without question. I don’t mind the fact that Michael Moore chooses to give a face (his own) to his documentaries and use himself as a prism.

Unlike his more recent general attacks on obvious targets like Republican America, the gun lobby and US healthcare system, what sets this apart is the personal slant it’s given. This is an issue which is clearly very close to Moore. The fate of his hometown Flint, Michigan is directly linked with that of its primary employer, General Motors. When the decision is made to close the GM factory there, no-one is left unaffected. Moore himself is only one generation, or alternative life-choice, away from the effects of this closure being life-changing. Noting the negative effects on his place of birth, he seeks an audience with the vilified Roger Smith, CEO of General Motors, to highlight the troubles faced in Flint when the town effectively shuts down.

It’s easy now that we’re jaded by the prevalence of this type of documentary (not least Moore’s own diminishing returns) to forget that this was the first of its breed. Unlike the works of Nick Broomfield, who also appeared on-camera, this was coloured by an injection of humour and irreverence which flew in the face of its sober subject. Stock footage and 1950s promotional films are used to highlight the engulfing chasm between the prosperous town of yesteryear and the impoverished reality of 1989. It’s these inclusions which help make the rapid-fire delivery of facts and figures more digestible.

As with all Moore’s films it trips itself up with diversionary strolls down dead-ends and a reliance upon stunt confrontations. Stopping ‘Miss Michigan’ mid-parade for a sneering vox pop serves no purpose other than to highlight her vapidity for a cheap laugh. Similarly, the attempts to access GM headquarters, or Smith’s other haunts, which pepper the film are fruitless and seek merely to highlight Moore as a dauntless rebel figure. Despite the title, it’s as much about Moore’s actual interaction with Roger as Waiting For Godot is about what happens when Godot shows up.

The film’s not without powerful scenes, such as the intercutting of GM’s buoyant Christmas speech with scenes of a family being turfed from their home. Where it highlights the absurdities caused by the poverty (especially proposed new means of employment or locals’ makeshift sources of income) it’s more powerful than many of the more sincere scenes – and I would certainly be prepared to look away if you’re a rabbit lover.

The biggest problem is that despite the obvious parallels with the current financial situation it has dated badly. It’s hard to relate it to the world we currently reside in, even although it should resonate loudly. The cultural references are US-centric and liable to pass-by most other viewers. The film’s fractured nature and that it keeps returning to Moore’s empty CEO-seeking quest is alienating and takes away from what could be an illuminating cultural, and personal, case-study.


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