Title: Bowling for Columbine
Release Date: 2002
Nationality and Language: USA, English
Running time: 120 Minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Distributor and Production Company: United Artists (MGM) and Alliance Atlantis
Director; Writer: Michael Moore (also author of Stupid White Men, and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation from Harper Collins, 2002)
Producers: Michael Moore, Kathleen Glynn, Ji, Czarnecki, Charles Bishop, Charles Bishop II, Michael Donovan
Cast: Michael Moore, Charlton Heston, Marilyn Manson, Dick Clark, George W. Bush, James Nichols
Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site: can others be held strictly accountable for their own actions?
To talk about this film, you have to maintain a bit of an intellectual disjunction between politics and film-making. As history, this documentary is both graphic and compelling as it creates many tragic events of the last decade with actual clips, some never seen before. These clips include, among others, the actual movement of the Columbine students in the school cafeteria during the April 1999 shootings and footage from New Jersey of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center on September 11, 2002. As far as I know, this is the first film from a mainstream American distributor to show the 9-11 attacks on camera. Many whimsical interviews and clips of various people, taken out of context, are made to seem funny. (The film had been a hit at international film festivals including Cannes, France and San Sebastian, Spain). These range from excerpts from our president’s speeches (about “the evil doers”) to various conversations with rather inarticulate members of the Michigan Militia (in the wake of Oklahoma City), the main points being that people of this sort believe that weapons ownership is part of taking responsibility for one’s family and that some of them really do want to overthrow the government. At least one town in Utah passed an ordinance making gun ownership a legal obligation (aka Switzerland).
This kind of rendition of history is a concept that interests me as a future film-maker with my own writings and ideas, and my own preference would have been to let history unroll chronologically rather than functionally. But Moore is trying to build his argument into a crescendo. Documentary filmmaking is about presenting a problem and then showing the arguments rather than just telling them. Why, he asks, is gun violence so much more common in the United States than in other advanced countries. In Canada, for example (Okay, remember “Blame Canada” from South Park?—South Park, as an instantiation of the suburban Littleton, CO paradigm, gets clipped in this film, without Big Gay Al) citizens own guns for sport even more than we do. Moore starts to build his case by recounting all of our foreign interventions over the decades. It’s common for conservatives to defend these interventions as necessary in the war on Communism and now the war on terrorism, but then, you get down to the War on Drugs… and repeatedly when we intervene the puppets we fund come back to attack us (Osama bin Laden)—libertarians have long been right about this. But with this film, the idea is more the notion that we, as a people, should be very afraid of our “enemies” and be ready to defend ourselves, with weapons at home, and by joining militias and militaries (or maybe by joining civilian snitch squads).
The Moore migrates to the conservative idea that media violence (watching shows that are “bad for you”) promotes crime. Okay, the heavy metal, the Gothics, and so on. To defuse this, Moore focuses upon interviews with Marilyn Manson. Gradually, Moore arrives at a more left-wing premise, that in this country we promote more the enormous differences between rich and poor, particular as these tie to race, and then try to “blame the victims” of poverty, bullying, or disease for their own undoing. It is particularly tempting to conservatives to rationalize their arguments by coming up with a way to hold a person completely responsible for his or her own problems—and the indignation and anger that using “words against people” this way is very much to be predicted. In the film, the welfare-to-work programs that “attack” single mothers and that seem to have enlisted corporate America as agents is presented. The full-house audience at the Landmark Uptown theater here in Minneapolis cheered at one point (in support of ending welfare to work) after the story of a single mother living in the streets while working two menial jobs was presented. Okay, you can blame single-parentage on lack of family values and on out-of-wedlock sex, but here the more interesting point would be that “the well off” should prove that they can do the menial jobs of those whose labor they depend upon. That is, you can replace left-wing collectivist arguments with conservative “pay your dues” arguments and still arrive at some idea of social justice.
Moore hits other political points hard, such as national health insurance in Canada (the audience clapped on that one). Heston and the National Rifle Association are weaved into the story, with questions posed about the appropriateness of the NRA’s activities in Denver and then Michigan shortly after tragedies. Along these lines, the film takes a particularly disturbing turn, showing two young male Columbine victims up close, one of them paralyzed, both covered with scars and sallow skin and in poor health since their catastrophic injuries, as it then builds a case against K-Mart for selling bullets for sport. No, folks, I don’t buy that, K-Mart is not responsible for school shootings or, for that matter, the recent sniper attacks in the D.C. area. People are. But after viewing the film and visiting Mr. Moore’s website (above) one gets the feeling that Moore very much supports group protests and activism, and sees social injustice as a class or wealth issue as much as a behavior matter.
The film concludes with a “show down” between Moore and Charlton Heston in Heston’s home. Heston looks weak, at loss of hormones, and he babbles incoherently as he is interviewed. He has come down a long way since he parted the Red Sea in VistaVision.
I have been critical of Moore’s onesideness in some of the film, but at least one actor replied to me, “but we already know the other side!”
The Columbine tragedy has given rise to the potential harm of violent or extremist (not necessarily sexual) Internet content, as posted by some groups or in an unsupervised fashion by some individuals. A similar tragedy occurred on the Chippewa reservation at Red Lake MN where a 16-year-old Jeff Weise killed nine persons (some in the reservation high school) on March 21, 2005. Weise had visited Nazi websites and, in an odd ideological twist, adopted its ideology. Similar problems have been posed by books like Hit Man (see “Deliberate Intent” below).
The Columbine tragedy, and the publicity given to the perpetrators (their having been victims of school bullying for being "different"), has been mentioned as an influence on Cho Seung Hui, who killed over thirty people at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007. Hui's video manifesto railed against rich people and against people who don't share the suffering of others. (In comparison to Columbine, however, there is no evidence that fellow students "bullied" Hui.) The incident seems to come out of a deep shame, and a desire to make others experience the shame. In this respect, both Columbine and Virginia Tech resemble the suicide bombings in the Middle East (particularly Palestinians blowing themselves up in Israel), which seem motivated by a personal shame (over having lands, property and personhood expropriated by force) as by religion. Shame is a most unacceptable emotion, and leads to masochistic (masculine) or sadistic (feminine) outburst.
Fahrenheit 9/11 (prospective note at http://www.doaskdotell.com/movies/m911.htm )
Review: I saw this film at its first showing on 6/25/2004. There is a lot to talk about. First, on the campaign ad issue, give me a break! This is just whining.
And then, the filmmaking itself. It is mostly grainy video, some of it grizzly enough to be distracting. The photo-ops and extracted one-liners are clever. But I would have shown 9/11, not simulated the sounds with a blank screen, and I would have shown the whole 7 minutes of the president’s reading to second-graders, literally (“My Pet Goat”). There are a lot of other points (despite Bush’s paid vacations) that could have been covered—the films shot from New Jersey apparently by Israeli intelligence. Or maybe the fact that in the days before 9/11 ordinary citizens got some strange emails. Some of the shots later do blend into comedy, such as the shots of public officials with chest hair (Dick Cheney? I don’t think so—he belongs to the zipper club, anyway).
So, is this a one-sided left-wing propaganda film? Certainly Moore succeeds in making the Bushies look self-serving. It’s pretty easy to imagine right-wing conspiracies to rule the world, take away personal freedoms (aka Patriot Act), herd non-conformists into boot camps for a free market cultural revolution, if not restore the draft. In fact, Moore gets pretty far into the issue of the “volunteer” military, how it recruits the poor, who are sacrificed (the scenes of the civilians’ and soldiers’ wounds are graphic) while the rich kids make money on Wall Street or in Hollywood. He never gets around to visiting “don’t ask don’t tell.”
The morality of all this may translate back to our own personal ethical practice as well as conventional ideas about “class struggle.” I write things that step on people’s toes, even though I don’t accuse people. But if I was too much of a sissy or too chicken to date, marry, and have my own family (instead, choosing the upward affiliation of male homosexuality) why should I be believed? If I did not pay my dues, I am as much a moral scapegoat as George W Bush. But, I get it, I am a minority member, so I am supposed to show solidarity with someone, be it family or my own oppressed group. Some parts of my life starting going downhill about the time of the Florida butterfly ballot (as the film opens) but I remain bullheaded and independent.
As to the accuracy of the account of flying Bin Laden family members back before reopening air space, I’ve gotten mixed reactions so far. No definite conclusion. But at least one credible person tells me some left before the air space was open to the public on 9/14.
According to AOL news, Sgt. Peter Damon, a National Guard member from Middleborough MS is suing Michael Moore for using portions of a television interview without permission. This could be a copyright issue or a right of publicity issue. AOL has the story (requires AOL membership or subscription) on June 1, 2006 at this link.
In June 2006 the media reported the combat death in Iraq of Marine Raymond Plouhar, who was portrayed as an aggressive military recruiter in Moore's film; the family does not consider this characterization accurate.
Watch for Michael Moore's next film, an indictment of the fractured American health care financing system, "Sicko," probably in 2007. As of May 20, 2007 it is reported to have been shown to acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival.
"Sicko" was previewed (with at least three extensive clips) on Oprah on Tuesday June 5, 2007. Rescission problems in private companies were discussed on ABC Good Morning America June 18. Here is a blogspot writeup of the TV appearances.
Here is another blogger writeup of the full film.
Capitalism: A Love Story (2009, Overture/Paramount Vantage/The Weinstein Company, dir. Michael Moore, 127 min, R). Blogger.
CNN has a related one hour documentary by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, "Health Care: Critical Condition," (2008) blogger review here.
Dick Morris (President Clinton’s former advisor) has written a counterweight video documentary to Moore’s film, Fahrenhype 9/11, dir. Alan Peterson, 75 min, Overstock/Savage Pictures. Morris presumably is a Clinton centrist and no right-winger. The film starts with a recounting of the 7 minutes that morning in Florida when President Bush was interrupted while reading “My Pet Goat” to second-graders. It proceeds to debunk or rebut most of Michael Moore’s claims, especially the connections to The Carlyle Group (which many Democrats belong to, also), and the “early release” of Saudi nationals on Sept. 13, whom Morris claims were completely checked out. But most of all, Morris digs in on what he sees as Moore’s contempt for our own military, and on Moore’s indifference to the long term nature of the terrorist threat itself. Michael Moore is shown in retrospect, being quoted as saying “there is no terrorist threat…” There is an interview where some of the Patriot Act is defended; the film maintains that Zacharias Moussouai was allowed to escape (after his Aug. 2001 arrest in Eagan, MN for suspicious behavior at a Northwest Airlines flight school and illegal immigration) because legal constraints, previously supported by President Clinton, prevented the FBI from connecting the dots without a judge’s consent. Objectively, there may more to this—the technological and bureaucratic deficiencies, as well.
CNN has a related one hour documentary by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, "Health Care: Critical Condition," blogger review here.
Michael & Me (2005, Wellspring/Maiden Voyage, dir. Larry Elder, 90 min, sug PG-13) is a documentary answering Michael Moore's pontification about guns in his Columbine film. The film is a good explanation of the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, and some of the people interviewed cannot state it. (One person says, "the Pursuit of Happiness" -- ironically a major film in 2006). Many case stories are presented where people needed personal weapons to defend themselves at home or in a small business, or on the open road. If you can't defend yourself, what does the right to life mean? Likewise, if you cannot protect your family (at least when you have chosen to have children), what does "family values" mean? The point is made that the Second Amendment was originally conceived as a way of giving people protection against a potentially tyrannical government, but slaves did not share the right. The argument about gun control comes down to individualism v. some kind of vision of collective security or well-being. One argument purported for gun control is, "if only bad people have guns, we know who the bad people are." Of course, guns at home present another threat, when children find them, or they could make a home a target for burglary. There is a comparison of the U.S. and Britain. America always had more violent crime than Britain, even before Britain had gun control. But in recent years, as Britain has increased gun control (disarming the public), violent crime in Britain has actually increased, but some of this could be attributed to terrorists.
The film discusses the Appalachian law school shooting at Grundy, VA, where other students with guns subdued the gunman. (I visited Grundy in the summer of 2005.) This fact was not presented by journalists because of their "groupthink." There is an animated confrontation between Larry Elder and a likeness of Michael Moore, with counter arguments about black-on-black violence and suicide in Canada. The idea that citizen gun ownership could help homeland security is presented, as it was used during WWII for citizen militia at home. Technically, all males between 17 and 45 are still members of "the militia."
Michael Moore Hates America (2004, HCW/MMHA, dir. Michael Wilson, 93 min, USA (MN), p-8,r-3,a-3) is another documentary to answer Michael Moore, this from a Minneapolis filmmaker, known to ifpmsp. This film hits his supposed personal hypocrisy. Early on, he is quoted as touting Canada as a model, because everyone there is in the same boat. They cover his obsession with Charlton Heston. Other people resent the idea that Moore maintains he can speak for them. One soldier who has lost both arms in Iraq is interviewed as says that his life is better because he joined the military despite his wounds, since his life was going wrong before. Moore himself is said to be intolerant of open debate on the very issues that he raises; in that sense his egotism is relentless. He has a feud with The Pantagraph. In some of the normal wide screen shots early, the pictures seem artificially widened.
The Big One (1997, Miramax, dir. Michael Moore, 91 min) is a television-style documentary consisting mostly of Michael Moore’s interviewing executives and conducting love-in’s to question the practice of corporate downsing and outsourcing. At one point, he berates a shoe company executive, who insists Americans don’t want to make shoes anymore. This is like a programmer saying he doesn’t want to do nightcall any more; companies outsource that to India now. Individual fortunes can vary, of course. Some people take advantage of the efficiencies of globalization to start their own business ideas and pursue their own ambitions. But what about those who can’t, or who have heavy family responsibilities that get in the way. A lot of people make cameos as themselves as Moore goes city to city, such as Richard Jewell as the Innocent Guy. Government collusion is part of the problem. Moore also makes the point, if profits are all that matter, why don’t we just all sell marijuana?
An independent film, Urban Warriors (2001), by Matt Ehling, shown in part soon on an IFC program on the Central Standard Film Festival and independent film in Minnesota, makes a good comparison. I have seen the complete film as it is now privately. Ehling’s documentary explores how military-style tactics have become more common in civilian law enforcement, especially in the “War on Drugs” and in quashing riots or protests (such as the WTO protests in Seattle over globalization in first in 1999). The trend is really exacerbated now with the War on Terror. Ehling discusses Posse Comitatus (1878, which was supposed to keep the military out of civilian domestic law enforcement. Simulated fast-knockdown residential drug raids are shown (burglar bars offer no defense), with innocent citizens holding pistols in self-defense shot with no questions asked even when wrong houses are entered. There is one shot of the second plane hitting on 9-11, before the discussion deepens into the mixture of civilian and law enforcement for domestic security. I would have added that this mixture raises potential questions about the scope of the military “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. At the end, at least one major government official is quoted as having said that security and liberty are incompatible, a comment that seems to cave in to aims of terrorists. After all, Patrick Henry had said, “Give me liberty or give me death!”
Ehling plans an alternate version with more of the police arguments available for a balanced presentation, and the legal problems now raised in the War on Terror would add even more material. I hope we can see this film someday in widespread art-house commercial release.
The Corporation (2004, Zeitgeist, 145 minutes, dir. Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott, Joel Bakan, starring Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Keith, Howard Zinn, Milton Friedman) has its greatest moments when Michael Moore explains that commercial studios will release his work that condemns corporate America, because “they believe in nothing.” Only $$$. Michael also makes an important end statement about personal responsibility – when he in his wife worked in an auto factory in Flint, MI, they were making a living doing something that would eventually melt the polar ice caps. He also makes a statement that the most of the students at Columbine worked for a defense contractor making weapons. (Hence, Waterworld.) Now let’s backtrack to the beginning of the documentary, which focuses on the idea of the corporation as a legal person, a judicial doctrine that arose out of the 14th Amendment. However, if a corporation is a person, its typical behavior is that of a psychopath. Well, maybe some companies. Companies do cover things up and commit egregious sins sometimes because bureaucracy covers up individual culpability. (There is one episode where a television channel gets out of a whistleblower lawsuit on appeal because after firing its writers for no cause when they wouldn’t participate in a coverup, which was technically not illegal.) Then there is the debate about private property, because some companies try to privatize everything—air and water. There is also plenty about offshoring, and the exploitation of cheap labor in poor countries. But do the jobs gradually bring up the living standards in those places? Where are they in the process?
The trouble with this film is that it does not propose a better alternative. Maybe the workout means holding “successful” people accountable for how they get there—and dinging them if they worked for a company breaking the law. Download accountability to the individual. Make sure everybody pays his dues. Some people want to do that by using family responsibility, but leaving a lineage can be as egotistical a goal as anything.
The film (mostly digital video) shows one quick shot of Ground Zero right the evening of 9/11.
Supersize Me (2004, Samuel Goldwyn/Roadside/The Con, dir. Morgan Spurlock) is a satirical documentary of how the fast food industry, specifically McDonalds, allegedly contributes to obesity in this country. Morgan tries an experiment. At 6 feet 2 and 185 pounds and rather attractive and a supportive girlfriend, he takes a battery of tests, starting with the electrocardiogram leads and then the blood work and numbers, and then embarks on a month of McDonalds meals. He gains 24 pounds, a pot belly, and almost has a heart attack. After his first Big Mac meal, in one amazing sequence, he sits in his car, growing numb, and then vomits out of the car window, on camera. It looks chunky. He travels around the country (from New York), even taking a cameo of Hamburger University, where franchise owners are trained. Now, my own experience with McDonalds and other fast food restaurants is that generally there are salads and healthier menu items if you want them; they just don’t sell really well. I waited for the DVD rental to see this movie, because I just felt turned off by the idea of watching an attractive man get fat. Apparently, it took him nine months to lose all the lard back. There is one sequence in Houston where a man is given gastric bypass surgery, with the surgical details shown on camera, as if you were a med student watching from the observation deck. You just don’t have to scrub down.
Spurlock has some other films in the queue. "Chalk" ("Somedaysoon productions / Morgan Spurlock Presents") is opening now in limited release as a "mockumentary" (previewed on CNN on 6/10/2007) with a claim that the average teacher works 9.5 hours a day in a recalcitrant environment; half of all new teachers quit within three years; he also has, in planning or some production stage, "The Republican War on Science", "United Hunt for Osama Documentary", "What Would Jesus Buy? (below)", "The Third Wave."
Fast Food Nation (2006, Fox Searchlight/Participant/BBC, dir. Richard Linklater, book by Eric Schlosser, 116 min, R, UK/USA) was at the 2006 Cannes festival. It started a moderately wide theatrical US in the November 2006; it combines the issues of “Supersize Me” with the storytelling of “Thank You for Smoking.” Somewhat a meandering docudrama, it purports to be through the eyes of food executive Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear), who attends a rah-rah board meeting at a suburban executive suite, only to be told later that "Mickey's burgers" have animal feces in them. He does an investigation, which, through a loose, Robert Altman-like series of scenes, documents the abuses of the meat packing industry, especially its abuse of illegal immigrants from Mexico. The story wanders among characters not that closely connected by any real plot or story, but nevertheless the viginettes are effective. Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine) is his charismatic self as a teen fastfood worker plotting a heist, which never comes off (the film would be more cohesive if it did). Paul is usually a good guy, and even here he is. Some big stars make their guest appearances (Bruce Willis, Kris Kristofferson, Ethan Hawke), where the script plays devils advocate. One of the immigrants gets a leg chewed off on camera in a horrible accident at the plant, and human resources for the company accuses them of methamphetamine use. Then some other kids (led by Lou Pucci (Thumbsucker) plan a cattle rustling, to open the fences to let them out. The most patriotic thing to do, he says, is to violate the Patriot Act. Kinnear hardly appears in the last forty minutes of the film, which seems very loose dramatically in its earnestness to make its political points. It could have just been a documentary.
The Future of Food (2004, Cinema Libre/Lily, dir. Deborah Koons Garcia, 88 min, sug PG) documents the politics of genetically engineered food. Until 1978, no biological genes or processes had been patented. Monsanto developed a patent on certain grain seeds, and then sued farmers (for patent infringement) in the upper midwest and Canada as their products cross-pollinated with natural grain. Amazingly, the company won. Gradually, corporate America could force family farmers out of business and back into a feudal relationship with the companies. The film goes on to document the way both individual and corporate farmers depend on government subsidies and pork barrel. The moral and political solution is decentralization. Nebraska considers a law to require that all farms be family owned. The economies of scale and consolidation in corporate America defeat the diversity needed in food production.
Black Gold (2006, California Newsreel/Sundance/Speak-it, dir. Mark Francis and Nick Francis, 78 min, USA/UK, sug PG, website) is a digital video documentary about the coffee business in Ethiopia and (as with Di Caprio's film for Warner Brothers, Blood Diamond) designed to make the consumer conscious of the corrupt background behind many commodities that she takes for granted. Four big sisters control the coffee market: Nestle, Kraft, Proctor & Gamble, and Sara Lee. The film showed up close a coffee growing cooperative in southern Ethiopia (after an opening shot of Addis Ababa, which bustled surprisingly), and then ventured to discuss the manipulation of coffee prices and the meager third world incomes of the manual workers. The price in London and New York is very low, so growers sometimes resort to illegal drugs (like chat), which provide more income for the rural peasants, whose home life was shown, as was a feeding station. The feeding scene was quite graphic, with the medical guidelines for eligibility (having to do with edema, weight, breast feeding, etc). In the United States, the job of a store manager for Starbucks (in Seattle) was shown as an career for an enterprising upwardly mobile person with sales and people skills. Commodity trading was also shown, as a cutthroat job.
In elementary school, we learned in the 50s that the leading coffee producer in the world is Brazil (South America, not Africa). I recall a 4th grade geography project, where we drew pictures of a typical coffee plantation. That would be an odd assignment when we weren't old enough to be allowed to drink coffee (let alone alcohol). We did drink lots of tooth-dissolving carbonic acid-laden pop and coke (that is Pepsi or Coca Cola), which contains caffeine (and around the turn to the 20th Century it actually contained cocaine!) Kids aren't supposed to get pop in public schools any more--thanks to concerns about obesity and dental caries. The first time my peers drank coffee was on a Science Honor Society field trip to New Hampshire and Mount Washington my senior year. How times have changed. But nobody dared mention the real economic foundations of our consumer society in school in the 50s. I wonder how much better it is (or isn't) today.
I had a good friend in the coffee business in Minneapolis, and he worked for a couple of coffee pit stops on the Skyway. I did hear a few of the stories about the business.
King Corn (2007, Balcony / Mosaic, dir. Aaron Woolf, 88 min, G). Two friends (Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis) from Boston go to Iowa to set up a one acre "farm" to document America's big agricultural crop. The economics of farming become apparent, as operationally they would show a loss, but earn subsidies put in place in 1973 during the Nixon administration by then Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz. Before that, the government had regulated how much corn could be grown and had paid farmers not to produce. By the 1980s, the government manipulation would harm farm prices and drive many farmers out of business and into foreclosure, resulting in large corporations buying up and running many farms. Large companies used corn to feed cattle (the practice became widespread in the 1970s) resulting in fatter cattle which made for cheaper meat. The practice of restraining animals, for "surgery" or to make veal, is shown. Corn would become so widespread in cheaper processed foods that it would contribute to the overconsumption of sugar or fructose and an increase in obesity and Type II diabetes. One man is interviewed who started losing toes and then parts of his legs to diabetes. Besides cigarette smoking, excess sugar consumption (with harm to circulation) may well contribute to the unsightly "going bald in the legs" as men get into middle age.
At the end of the film, which covers over a year, the friends are playing cricket in their "field of dreams." There is an on-location shot of the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD early in the film; I visited it in May 1998.
Morgan Spurlock could have made this one.
The Price of Sugar (2007, Mitropoulos / Uncommon Films, dir. Bill Haney) is a documentary of the exploitation of Haitian workers on sugar cane plantations in the Dominican Republic. Father Christopher Hartley fights for the workers and then fights to stay alive in this dangerous environment. There is a lot of underlying moral here. Blogger entry here.
What Would Jesus Buy? (2007, Arts Alliance America / Palisades / Warrior Poets, dir. Rob VanAlkemade, produced by Morgan Spurlock, 90 min, PG) traces "Reverend Billy" (Bill Talen") and his "shopapocalypse" bus tour of the US, stopping especially at the Mall of America in Minnesota, and at Bentonville, AK, home of Wal-Mart. There is actually a bus accident in the film. Blogger.
Giuliani Time (2005, Cinema Libre, dir Kevin Keating, 158 min, digital video 1.33 to 1, sug PG-13) documents the career of former New York City mayor Rudolf Guiliani. The video is long and detailed, and starts with his boyhood in Brooklyn, where his dad had done prison time. He grew up a devout Catholic and was well-educated intellectually in Catholic schools, and applied himself enough to become U.S. attorney for New York in 1983. Physically, he looked quite attractive and virile as a young Mediterranean Italian-American man. He won the New York City mayoralty from David Dinkins in 1993. He implemented (sounds like OOP, doesn’t it!) a philosophy called the “fix broken windows policy” or “quality of life policing” where law enforcement cracks down on minor violations (loitering, litter, graffiti) on the theory that this helps reduce major crime. The practice was controversial, to say the least. It tended to target the poor, black, and homeless. With the blessing of “republicrat” Bill Clinton, he put in the welfare-to-work program whereby welfare recipients had to perform menial jobs for their welfare checks and could easily be cut off for technical violations. But the most disturbing practice may have been his attempt to put self-employed street artists (presumably without permits) out of business. The police would arrest them and confiscate their work, often not returning it. The artists sued and won in the 2nd Circuit, which maintained that visual art demanded strong First Amendment protection because it is more universal than word-based language. Giuliani contested that in a Supreme Court brief, but in June 1997 the Supreme Court turned down Giuliani’s appeal (refusing to hear it). Here is a link with the Second Circuit opinion, and discussion of another case in Boston: http://communityartsadvocates.org/saalegalCtBeryappeal.html The film hints that the prosecution of these cases was politically motivated: that large media companies did not like competition from artists with no “costs”. If so, the logic behind these prosecutions could well be imitated in Internet cases with downstream liability or enticement legal theories, a dangerous idea. (The mayor was also involved in a “right of publicity” case:
The mayor would also draw controversy for his withdrawal of funds from the Brooklyn Museum, which had sexually explicit art, and an African religious painting with dung on it (that would have legitimate meaning in African tribal culture).
Giuliani was going to run against Hilary Clinton for the New York Senate, but was sidetracked by personal issues and prostate cancer, which apparently he chose to treat aggressively. His reported appearance in a drag show does not appear in the film. The film ends with a brief reenactment of the planes hitting and felling the Twin Towers on 9/11, and shows Giuliani walking with the people. Giuliani almost lost his own life in the attack.
I recall living in NYC in the 1970s, when the 1975 financial crisis (when the New York Post reported: “Ford to City: Drop Dead”) might have led to total strikes and federal troops. Law and order then sounded like a good thing. Yet the gay community was scared when Abe Beame was elected mayor in 1973, predicting the gay bars would be closed down (as they had been for the World’s Fair in the 1960s). It all blew over.
Another interesting note: there is some general history about the FDR years early in the film, when FDR talked about a "second Bill of Rights" (probably in connection with "The Four Freedoms") which I have called "Bill of Rights 2."
On the street artists, see my discussion of zoning issues at http://www.doaskdotell.com/content/smallbiz.htm
Battle in Seattle (2008, Redwood Palms, dir. wr. Stuart Townsend, 100 min, R, Canada) is a docudrama about the riots in Seattle at WTO in 1999, with a middle section with a fiction story including Woody Harrelson as a rogue cop. Blogger.
This Is What Democracy Looks Like (2000, Independent Media Center, 72 min) comprises amateur footage of the WTO demonstrations in Seattle in November 1999, and includes interviews with Noam Chomsky and Vandana Shiva, along with a short of the Cancun demonstrations in 2003. Blogger.
An American Carol (2008, Vivendi, dir. David Zucker) is a satire of filmmaker "Michael Malone" who is hired by terrorists to make a film trying to end the 4th of July. Blogger discussion.
Related reviews: Life and Debt, Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed. x An Inconvenient Truth, Various 9/11 films (incl. Suicide Bombers) Deliberate Intent With all Deliberate Speed Blood Diamond Thank You for Smoking; Bright Leaves
Note: Somehow an extra character got in here in the conversion from Word, and on Mozilla the whole table displays as a link. It doesn't on IE. Please ignore and just use the links shown. This is a technical/coding/programming issue. I am looking at it.