Last week, the Michigan Theater hosted a revolutionary.
Even those not familiar with the man himself know his name. His face has appeared on countless book and magazine covers. There are a handful of films dedicated to his quest for political and social reform. He’s as much a pop culture icon as he is a political figure.
I’m speaking of Michael Moore. Last Thursday, he premiered his latest film, “Slacker Uprising,” in Ann Arbor. The film, available as a free download online, details Moore’s 2004 cross-country tour in support of John Kerry’s presidential campaign. The fact that Kerry lost is not something to be brushed aside. In fact, it’s the whole reason this film was released.
As the 2008 election approaches, Moore is casting his hardened gaze to all those angry Americans out there and basically saying, “Not this time; we won’t let this happen again!”
I’m not necessarily one of those angry Americans. And I don’t like Michael Moore the man. But I can’t help but admire the tenacity and vitriolic nature of his work. Here’s a schlub from Flint who just so happens to be the most controversial filmmaker of our time. I think it’s wonderful.
So even though our politics differ, and even though I think the man himself is obnoxious, I did not greet “Slacker Uprising” with an indignant attitude. On the contrary, I was joyous. Like his past films, “Slacker Uprising” will upset people. No, it’s not as combative as some of his others, but the very fact that Moore is in it will upset people. The man’s like a hot plate: He boils people’s blood. He can’t help it.
And you know what? I’m fine with that. There’s nothing I savor more than a controversial artist, and whether you like him or not, Moore is definitely an artist. Very few modern filmmakers understand the incendiary potential of the craft like he does. His films are able to achieve wide-reaching success, win awards and anger millions of people in one fell swoop. No other contemporary filmmaker — except for maybe Mel Gibson, thanks to “Passion of the Christ” — can claim that kind of enviable artistic victory. While Martin Scorsese was cranking out epic snores like “Gangs of New York” and “The Aviator,” Moore was angering and empowering people in equal measures with “Bowling for Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 9/11.”
It’s not even that I think his films are great. In fact, I despised “Bowling for Columbine.” I thought it was heartless, a piece of fluff that put more focus on Moore than it did on the issues it claimed to be raising. That’s why, over the course of the film’s 120-minute running time, we saw more of Moore than we did anyone or anything else. But whether you like it or not, his technique works. He gets a rise out of people. And once you’ve seen his films, you don’t forget them. That’s more than I can say about any of the other recent films I’ve seen.
So why did I refer to Moore as a revolutionary? Do I really think he’s the rabble-rouser for a new generation of liberal ideologues? Not really, but I know he wants to be. It’s no surprise that Moore changed the title of his newest film, originally called “Captain Mike Across America,” to “Slacker Uprising.” For the first time in his cinematic career, he has truly embraced his status as a revolutionary figure for the Left. “Slacker Uprising” glorifies him. It puts him on a stage amid seas of cheering people, all there to see and hear just him.
In times of political, economic and social crises such as these, we need bold artists who make bold works of art that anger and speak to people. For better or worse, Michael Moore is the only popular filmmaker I can think of us who’s willing to make them.
So thanks, Mike. Really — I mean it.