Moore puts gun culture in cross hairs
|Photo Courtesy of Dog Eat Dog Films
Columbine survivor Mike Taylor and director Michael Moore in ‘Bowling for Columbine,’ in limited release this week.
By Chris Coates
Assistant A&E Editor
Don’t expect a rousing media blitz for Bowling for Columbine, even though the film
garnered a 13-minute standing ovation at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Don’t expect to see the film’s producer, director and writer Michael Moore on network
And don’t keep an eye out for the 30-foot billboards along the Edens heralding Columbine’s
Bowling for Columbine, released in Chicago this week, is an utter pleasure to view,
but it will not likely collect attention from mainstream media. According to Moore,
even though his most recent book, Stupid White Men, remains on The New York Times
Best-Seller List after 30 weeks, he has been on only two network programs to discuss
The reason for such ignorance is palpable to those familiar with Moore’s works. He is extreme,
to say the least. He is anti-big-business, pro-gun control, anti-Bush, pro-working-man,
anti-Democrat and anti-Republican. He prides himself on his blue-collar roots. He has been
called a communist and anti-American. In other words, Michael Moore is ill-fitted for, say,
"Entertainment Tonight." And so is his film.
In the tradition of Moore’s earlier pragmatic documentaries Roger and Me and The Big
One, Bowling for Columbine examines the social paradigm of one sect of society—in
this case, gun owners—and its effects on us as a whole.
In typical Moore fashion, however, firearms are only one part of a larger picture: an image of a
bourgeois nation run amok, with citizens terrified of their own neighbors and suburban high
schoolers containing their pent-up frustrations only to resort to violence. In all, Americans
are a paranoid group—a paranoid group with millions of firearms. With expert style,
Moore weaves together this and the events of 9/11, Columbine, the Oklahoma City bombing and
the media’s hunger for making docile situations—like the Southwest’s invasion of killer
bees in 1998—seem life-threatening.
But the brunt of the picture scrutinizes American firearm owners. Seventy million Americans own
at least one gun; firearms kill 35,000 people annually in the U.S.
Comparatively, Canada—with less than 10 percent the population of the United States—has
30 times fewer guns and has almost half the rate of homicides the United States does, according
to the Canadian Firearms Centre.
Armed with these stats, Moore’s foray into Canadian gun culture is the finest segment of the film.
In Windsor—a stone’s throw across the Detroit River from the Motor City—locals admit,
to the astonished Moore, that they don’t regularly lock their doors.
"Why?" responded one woman, at a neighborhood pub. "What do I have to be afraid of?"
Of course, the rhetorical answer is lucid. Canucks simply don’t kill one another with guns—hence
their paranoia is at least subdued, or so Moore makes you believe.
To prove the point, Moore checks the stats. House after Canadian house, he encounters unlocked front
doors. In one case, to his chagrin, Moore encounters a home’s Canadian inhabitants who likewise find
the notion of latching their doors in the middle of the day unimaginable.
"Well," said Moore in response to one open door, "thanks for not shooting me."
As for Americans, Moore checked in with the venerable Charlton Heston, the president of the National Rifle
Association. Without announcement, Moore showed up at Heston’s Beverly Hills estate to discuss the
intricacies of American firearm psychology.
In the confines of his den—complete with The Ten Commandments movie posters—Heston concurs
the country’s obsession with firearms is due in part to our past.
"[Americans] have a history of violence, perhaps more than most countries," Heston said.
Of course, to Moore such logic is nonsense—Germany killed millions of Jews; the British owned
thousands of slaves in their occupation of dozens of territories.
With that, Heston attributed American’s fascination with firearms to, of all things, "ethnics."
Such cloaked language engages Moore to challenge Heston’s blatant bias, a proposition Heston does not take
lightly. He storms out of the interview, leaving Moore confused and alone in Heston’s colossal
Leaving Heston’s estate, Moore leaves a photo of a girl killed by a stray bullet in Moore’s hometown of
Without knowing it, Moore proves his point.
Such is the success of Bowling for Columbine.
Another scene that delivers perfectly on screen is Moore’s grandstanding of two Columbine survivors.
Moore brought the two young men—one confined in a wheelchair and the other suffering from
brain damage—to Kmart’s Troy, Mich. headquarters to "return" the ammunition still trapped in
their bodies. The gunmen in the 1999 shooting in Littleton, Colo. bought much of their ammo
from Kmart. Of course, Moore made the event into a photo op, with dozens of local news crews ready
for the encounter. Much to Moore’s surprise, Kmart agreed to take ammunition off the shelves in
all of their stores. Score one for Moore.
But, with all of its wittiness and novelty, Bowling for Columbine battles against the clock. In
the two-hour-plus film, Moore makes his point early and a good quarter of the remaining picture
acts as a soapbox for the filmmaker’s political agenda.
Moore is also disturbingly utopian; relying on many of the same scare tactics he says the media uses to
convince viewers of their country’s place in the world.
The pluses for Bowling, however, far outweigh the minuses. The piece is superiorly edited, with
musical interludes to offset scenes. His use of archival footage—such as 1960s advertisements
for toy rifles and videotapes of gunshot victims from the nightly news—root the film in realism.
To explain U.S. history, Moore uses a "South Park"-like cartoon, which harkens back to "School House
Rocks" days of yore.
Part of Bowling for Columbine’s quaintness—its cleverness—comes from Moore’s realization
that he doesn’t necessarily have all of the answers.
At the Oct. 5 Chicago premiere, Moore cautioned audiences: "Some of this film may upset you—make you
mad. But we have to ask, what are we going to do when we leave the theater?"
Maleah Moskoff, the Television Department’s equipment manager, said Bowling promotes activism in young
"We’re such an important group of people," Moskoff said. "We can try looking into the U.S. and see what
difference we can make."
And perhaps that’s what Moore was going for.
"The antagonist in this film is you," Moore said. "It’s we. It’s us."
In the end, Bowling is at its center, rhetorical. On its fringes, Moore forces his audience to, at
the very least, get upset at the world we live in. Conservatives beware.
‘Bowling for Columbine’ opened Oct. 18 in limited release. For more information on ‘Bowling for Columbine,’
BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE
Run Time: 119 Minutes
Featuring: Michael Moore, Charlton Heston,
Marilyn Manson, Matt Stone
Director: Michael Moore