Documentary: 97 minutes
Director: Kevin Leffler
I’ll admit it from the beginning. I have never trusted Michael Moore. From his very first aw-shucks days filming Roger and Me, that sly and ultimately savage depiction of corporate America, I have found his irreverent film making approach shallow and self -serving. At the time the documentary was released however, not many Americans agreed with me. Moore, as country bumpkin, cleverly springing traps for General Motors CEO Roger Smith, was regarded in many circles as the late 20th century cinematic answer to Mark Twain, skewering self-important businessmen and politicians and taking delight in exposing their foibles.
But subsequent Moore directed documentaries proved my hunch correct. Farenheit 9/11, Bowling for Columbine and Sicko, all with their trademark boffo humor, increasingly revealed Moore to be a sensationalist, generally more interested in a punchline than either truth or balance. Yet possessing a keen sense of what hot button issues and raw footage would sell popcorn, he has been able to pack them into the theaters, oblivious to the impact of his hucksterism on impressionable minds.
With all that said, I still didn’t expect Moore to be a shyster too, who, as a film maker, would prove himself blithely disinterested in the welfare of his film subjects, while in his private life conducting himself as much of a money grubbing capitalist as the Wall Street bankers, corporate raiders and conservative kingpins he so gleefully pillories in his films.
But that is the indeed the image that remains upon a vewing of college professor Kevin Leffler’s profoundly disturbing Shooting Michael Moore. Adopting Moore’s now famous technique of seeking out his prey through relentless stalking, Leffler sets out to find the “real” Michael Moore – not the baseball hat-graced figure of his numerous films, but the fat cat multi-millionaire who has left dreary Flint, Michigan far behind for a swank apartment on New York’s Upper Westside.
And he finds him alright, but not before uncovering an extraordinary trove of information that would, if publicly known and accepted, transform Moore into the great American anti-hero. For this is a Michael Moore who cheats on his taxes, maintains a non-profit organization that invests in such “malign” corporations as Exxon Mobil, Pfizer and Halliburton; whose $2 million property in Michigan is in violation of innumerable environmental ordinances; who pays the impoverished main subejects of his films (remember the “rabbit lady” from Roger and Me?) a pittance while his films rake in millions; who edits his films in such a way to take his subjects’ quotes out of context and distorts the representation of their beliefs.
No greater evidence of Moore’s fraudulent approach to film making is offered than his decision to use the British and Cuban health systems as the measure to judge the American. In Sicko, Moore takes us to the U.K. to witness the supposedly beneficent free health care system operated by the Brits’ NHS – the National Health Service. Immigrants are shown to be beaming with the good fortune of having landed in the U.K. A couple, leaving the hospital with their new born child, relate the great service they received, sharing a good laugh about how free it all is.
Leffler also travels to Britain but reveals a very different state of affairs. Over crowded hospitals and long wait lists strain the system, forcing the elderly to wait months, if not years, for scheduled operations. Pregnant women can’t find beds at local hospitals and there are reports of some delivering their children on bean bags. The NHS itself is shown to be on the verge of bankruptcy, forced to shutter innumerable hospitals in impoverished areas for lack of funding.
But Leffler reserves his greatest bile for the way Moore represents the Cuban system. Far from the utopian, patient-oriented welfare system presented in Sicko, Cuba’s universal health care service is revealed to be a cesspool of neglect and avarice, with patients in elderly hospices forced to lie on filthy cots for days in their own excrement and routine check ups impossible to schedule without the right connections. Moore, it is speculated, could not have conducted his interviews and filming in Cuba without the direct assistance of the Cuban government, who in turn, would only have given permission for the tour if it believed that the film maker’s ultimate product would prove useful as anti- American propaganda.
Ultimately, Leffler, who grew up in the same town as Moore ( Davison, MI – not Flint, MI) , went to the same school and even knew him as a child, comes to know the grown up version of his schoolmate in a more substantial way than Moore has ever known any of his subjects. Because public tax records, evidence of local citations and other written materials by Moore himself, don’t lie and cannot be manipulated, without the most grevious consequences. They all go to prove that the Michael Moore of public acclaim, is not the humanitarian and defender of the “little man” whom his admiring public thinks him to be, but an unrepentant con-artist and raconteur, who, since his earliest days, allowed his quest for for “truth and justice” to be overwhelmed by his infatuation with fame, wealth and himself.
There is an ironic injustice that with each sensationalistic documentary, bathed as they are in anti-Americanism and self -reverence, Moore gets richer and his films win more awards. But the good news is that there do exist “little men” such as Kevin Leffler who are willing to take such true fat cats to task for their hype, hypocrisy and hubris and then lacerate them with the same stinging observations that these doyens of the far left once applied to others. For anyone out there thinking of following in his footsteps, I have just two words: Al Gore.