Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Review: Manufacturing Dissent

In 2003, intrigued by his controversial Oscar speech, documentary filmmakers Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine turned the camera lens on Michael Moore. What was to be a biography by a pair of Moore fans, in time became Manufacturing Dissent, a critical look at Michigan’s most controversial son.

Unlike most of Moore’s critics, Melnyk and Caine are not conservatives, a point they emphasized at the film’s Canadian premiere this weekend at the Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto. They agree with Moore’s politics and enjoy his movies (Canadian Bacon aside). Shedding their initially favourable view, the film can be enjoyed from either one of two perspectives – that of the documentarian, dismayed with a propagandist masquerading as one of their own; and that of the citizen aghast that one of their own could be such a complete asshole.

Labeling Michael Moore a propagandist wouldn’t cause him to lose any sleep, but to the documentary filmmaker, his casual approach to the truth is a capital crime. Manufacturing Dissent puts the lie to Moore’s winded Oscar acceptance speech about “fictitious times”. In Roger & Me, a film about GM President Roger Smith’s refusal to speak with him about the plight of the American autoworker, Moore omitted out the fairly salient fact that Smith met with him twice during filming including a lengthy interview, the transcript of which was published in a national magazine. Most galling is Moore’s hypocrisy. Having made a fortune pillorying business people and performers for refusing to talk to his camera, Melnyk and Caine chase him with interview requests for years and are repeatedly stonewalled by Moore and his entourage.

Aside from employing Moore’s own questionable editing style (turnabout is fair play, I guess), one fair criticism leveled against the directors by a couple of true believers in Sunday’s audience its possibly excessive focus on his personality. Moore is a boor. His mistreatment of those close to him – friends, colleagues, political allies – is appalling. Roger & Me could just have easily been called Me, because that’s what it’s always been for Michael Moore – shameless self-promotion and profiteering through the misery of the down-and-out.

For me, the film put Moore in perspective – the left’s version of Ann Coulter: shrill, intellectually lazy, and dishonest. I was anxious to gauge the reaction of the progressive Toronto Annex art house crowd to a film casting him in an unfavourable light. More than all the nicks the film inflicts, it’s in the amused and approving reaction of that audience, the most loyal of Moore’s constituencies, that would cut Moore, a thin-skinned narcissist, the deepest. With that kind of endorsement, on a go/no-go scale, I give Manufacturing Dissent a “go”.


webber said...

I echo Dave's comments... it is makes it to your town, go.

Anonymous said...

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