Michael & Me
How I was stood up by Michael Moore but conducted an interview anyway
It's not really Michael Moore's fault. The cancellation of our interview, long scheduled to take place last week at the Ritz Carlton Hotel on Nob Hill in San Francisco, was clearly not due to any breach of faith on Mr. Moore's part. I realize that. After all, Michael Moore has no control over the speed and reliability of the airline industry. He surely couldn't have foreseen that his flight from L.A. to San Francisco would be delayed, forcing him to cancel dozens of interviews all up and down his daily planner. So nobody's blaming him.
Sure, he may be a bestselling author (Downsize This!; Stupid White Men); an immensely popular filmmaker (Roger & Me; The Big One); a certified television grand fromage (The Awful Truth; TV Nation); and a world-class rabble-rouser who strikes fear in the hearts of conservatives and greedy capitalists all over the country, but he's not God, right? He can't do all that and be expected to show up for every one of his interviews. I understand completely.
After all, Michael Moore is a very busy man, with an important, high-profile new movie out, Bowling for Columbine--about guns and fear and violence in modern America--and it's had him hopping all over the country doing important and probably fairly exhausting things.
Still, I prepared some really good questions for Michael Moore, and the editorial staff of the Bohemian was really counting on running this interview, so we've decided to follow Michael Moore's own example when in Roger & Me he finished the movie despite the fact that its main subject--General Motors chairman Roger Smith--never actually showed up. Who needed him anyway?
In that spirit, we present the following insightful Q&A with Michael Moore--minus the input of Michael Moore.
David Templeton: Michael Moore, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule. Let's begin. First, I gotta tell you, Bowling for Columbine is an extraordinary film. Wow! May I just say thank you for taking on the difficult and controversial subject of guns and violence in America, and for doing it in such a compassionate and consistently entertaining manner. Once again, thank you.
DT: As usual, the film is a tour de force, in which you travel the country, looking for answers about why Americans are so violent, fearful, and addicted to guns. Actually, you travel to more than one country, don't you, since you do that bit in Canada where you open a bunch of people's front doors without asking, just to prove that Canadians don't lock their houses like Americans do.
Along the way, you talk to a bunch of really spooky people, like the social misfit in the video parlor who proudly describes making napalm in his kitchen, and James Nichols, the brother of Oklahoma City co-bomber Terry Nichols, who goes all weird and nutty and puts a gun to his head during your interview. And of course there's Charlton Heston, who gave me the willies.
Tell me, after spending so much of your career chasing after corporate presidents and CEOs, were you ever frightened or fearful of your life while hanging out with such dangerous people?
DT: Personally, I don't known what freaked me out more, the pool-side interview with Charlton Heston or the backstage chat with Marilyn Manson. On the one hand, it was pretty disturbing watching Heston sitting there like an angry deer in the headlights, repeatedly sputtering the words "Constitutional rights! Constitutional rights!" and "From my cold, dead hands!" while obviously wanting to break your neck with his own presumably still-kinda-warm hands.
On the other hand, I was simply not prepared to see Marilyn Manson, sitting there in his dressing room talking like a normal person. Man, that was scary! He still looked like himself, all monstered out with the one pale eye and the Frankenstein makeup, but when you ask him about the Columbine shootings--for which he's been partially blamed, since the shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, were Marilyn Manson fans--and what he'd say to the students who survived the massacre, he says, "I wouldn't say anything. I'd listen to what they have to say. It doesn't seem like anyone has been doing that."
Who'd have guessed that the most compassionate, thoughtful, and sensible remarks of the movie would come from the mouth of Marilyn Manson?
DT: The Columbine massacre, obviously, was a major inspiration for the film. The title of the movie comes from the odd revelation that Harris and Klebold went bowling just before heading off to school to launch their shooting spree. You even make fun of those social critics who've blamed Manson's music for the shootings by pointing out that since the killers went bowling right before the event, maybe bowling was the actual cause of the violent tragedy. You're kidding of course, but it made me think: Who hasn't gone bowling and wanted to kill someone before the goddamn game was over?
DT: One of the most moving parts of the film is the sequence where you meet the two Columbine survivors. One of them is now in a wheelchair, having been disabled in the shooting; the other has bullets still lodged in his body, one right near his heart. After discussing the fact that those bullets were purchased at a Kmart store, you accompany the boys to the Kmart main headquarters, in Michigan, where the guys attempt to "return the merchandise." You pointedly ask them to put an end to the sale of automatic weapons ammo.
The next day, a Kmart VIP shows up to announce that the chain will discontinue the selling of all ammunition at all of its stores, and you look like, well . . . you look like you're about to cry. Is it true that, after dozens and dozens of similar actions you've attempted over the years, this was the first time one of your stunts had the desired effect?
DT: In the film, you repeatedly mention your NRA membership card. You even display it for Charlton Heston when you interview him at his house. Then you confront him about his NRA support, ripping into the NRA's habit of staging rallies in communities where Columbine-like shootings have recently occurred. You ask him to apologize to those communities for the NRA's callous behavior.
That's when he goes all sideways on you.
So let me ask you this: I've read that you joined the NRA as a way to start some sort of revolution from the inside, to infect that community with a sense of liberal compassion. I know that it's dawned on you that that was a hopelessly optimistic goal, which you have since abandoned. I even heard you say, during an NPR interview, that you kind of regret supporting the NRA with the $750 you paid for a lifetime membership. But isn't it kind of hypocritical that you still keep the card? That you flash it around to gain access to people like Heston? How do you feel about that?
DT: Tell you what. Let me give you the opportunity, right here and now, to take out your membership card--and rip it into tiny little pieces. It'll be your way of saying, "Hey NRA. You may have my $750, which you've already used to stage one of those offensive progun rallies in Columbine or even my own home town of Flint, Mich., where that six-year-old boy shot a six-year-old girl at school with his uncle's constitutionally protected death machine. Maybe you do have my money, but you can't make me carry your damn card anymore!"
Go on. Tear it up right now as a hard-hitting social statement. What do you say, Michael Moore?
DT: One last question. In the press notes supplied to those at the advance screening, you are described as having a sense of, and I quote, "savage empathy." What exactly is savage empathy, and isn't it weird that it sounds so much like Compassionate Conservatism? What's with that?
'Bowling for Columbine' plays at Rialto Lakeside Cinemas.
From the November 7-13, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.