Bush and post-9/11 warmongering, raked in a mind-boggling $222 million worldwide. Some have found the filmmaker’s ambition to bring awareness about his issues to as wide an audience as possible to get in the way of following the norms of traditional journalism.
But the fact is, Moore operates at the nexus of journalism, activism, and entertainment, and he merits evaluation from all three angles.
At the time of this writing, students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, are mourning the deaths of fourteen of their classmates and three faculty members, all of whom a nineteen-year-old is accused of shooting on Ash Wednesday, February 14, 2018, with a legally acquired semiautomatic AR-15 rifle.
Stricken and angry, the students have begun to organize, holding rallies, marching on the Florida capitol in Tallahassee, and staying on message when talking to the media.
And that style was matched by the substance of his progressive political ideology, which has remained relatively unchanged—despite the personal evolution and pop-cultural success that Moore has experienced.
In Moore’s films, it’s clear that he’s playing a character: the schlubby, sneaky, astute, smart-aleck, Chaplin-worthy Tramp from Flint.As modeled from the outset of that first film, he wasn’t just a defender of the working stiff—he was the working stiff.That wasn’t merely effective shtick, as Moore grew up working-class in Flint, Michigan, the son of a secretary and an autoworker.Bowling for Columbine was just the third documentary feature for Moore, after his sleeper hit Roger & Me (1989) and national temperature check while on book tour The Big One (1997), which were interspersed with two television series, the Emmy-winning TV Nation (1994–95) and The Awful Truth (1999–2000).All these projects featured Moore on camera, in his signature baseball cap, conspicuous glasses, nondescript jacket, jeans, and white sneakers, cozying up to common folk or interrogating persons in power.The character is based on the real Moore, of course, but the films isolate only those aspects that the topic at hand can utilize, broad strokes in a selective self-portrait.In Bowling for Columbine, it’s that he grew up a precocious marksman in a gun-loving state (“I couldn’t wait to go outside and shoot up the neighborhood,” he says about getting his first toy gun), and he uses footage of himself with firearms as both an admission entitling him to a critical angle on gun ownership and a sight gag.It also allows for the free-for-all sequencing that follows, progressing from Moore’s voice-over biographical sketch to his name-dropping of his fellow Michigander Heston, complete with a cut from the rifle-firing thespian to the rifle-firing filmmaker—savagely foreshadowing the film’s final sequence—before alighting on an official’s unintentionally hilarious account of a gun-toting dog, on the way to in-the-field interviews with members of the Michigan Militia and wild-eyed James Nichols, the brother of convicted domestic terrorist Terry Nichols. In both a formal and tonal sense, Moore is establishing a culture in which anything goes, any texture or method belongs.And we haven’t even gotten to the caustic American historical montages scored to the aforementioned “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” the foulmouthed animated section conflating American racism with gun ownership, or the Roger & Me–like petitioning-the-king scene at Kmart’s corporate offices starring two Columbine survivors.Whereas the massacre at Columbine captured the attention of the world to such an extent that a film released three years later still felt raw and vital, these kinds of shootings have since become horrifically commonplace.In a conservative estimate, the Washington Post recently determined that, beginning with the Columbine massacre, nearly two hundred thousand students attending at least 193 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus.