A good subtitle for Michael Moore's Academy Award-winning documentary Bowling for Columbine might have been "Fear and Loathing in America." Moore, the schlubby genius behind the now-classic documentary Roger & amp; Me and the highly entertaining television shows TV Nation and The Awful Truth, here asks the question "Are we a nation of gun nuts, or are we just nuts?" Using the April 1999 tragedy at Columbine High School as the thorny heart of a larger dialogue on gun control, Moore first seduces the audience with humor: The film's opening sequence shows Moore visiting a Michigan bank where you can not only get a gun -- but the gun of your choice -- simply by opening a checking account.
"Well, here's my first question," Moore muses, looking down the barrel of his new rifle. "Do you think it's kind of dangerous handing out guns at a bank?"
As hilarious as Moore's hijinks are -- and he's in rare form here -- they're nothing compared to his ability to develop a compelling argument, couched within the palatable medium of film. He juxtaposes the harrowing (security camera film taken from Columbine, archival footage of various U.S.-involved massacres and wars) with the entertaining (an animated segment by South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, a "Corporate Cops" bit that originated on The Awful Truth). His filmmaking style is all setup and punch line, but what's remarkable with Moore is that he's actually going somewhere with it. He explores each of the "usual suspects" in our continuing dialogue about gun violence and asserts that the culprit is neither poverty, unemployment, violent movies, nor even Marilyn Manson, but rather a culture of fear and consumption that is further fueled by the media.
Extras on the DVD include a blow-by-blow account of his incendiary Oscar acceptance speech (the Academy Awards people refused to let him use the actual footage, so it's just Moore and his Oscar on the screen). There's also a lecture he gave at the University of Denver six months after the film's release, a segment of his Charlie Rose appearance, and, in typical "power to the people" style, a commentary by the film's underpaid interns.
Moore is the first to admit that he doesn't have all the answers. But the fact that he asks the questions at all, and so entertainingly, counts for a lot.
Publication date: 08/28/03