Fuzzy on – Bowling for Columbine (2002)
If Bowling for Columbine was a combat sport, it would be unlicensed boxing. Brutal as hell, and no-holds barred. Moore certainly takes the gloves off towards the end.
Essentially, a documentary is an expression of opinion from whoever is behind it, and it is important to keep this in mind when approaching any film of this genre. In this case, the documentary in question is the brainchild of Michael Moore, the notorious left-wing American film-maker. In response to the massacre of thirteen students at Columbine High School in 1999, Moore sets out to question the gun laws in certain states of America; namely Michigan (Moore’s birthplace), and Denver (the state in which the massacre took place).
Throughout this 114-minute, Oscar-winning investigation, Moore uses a good combination of interviews, facts and statistics to present his case. He highlights some ridiculous loopholes in U.S. statute to emphasise that absolutely anyone can own a gun in certain states, regardless of their mindset or intentions. He even demonstrates how weapons are used to entice custom by certain businesses by going in to a bank to open a bank account, and leaving with a rifle (since when has it been a good idea for banks to give out guns to customers?!). He then proceeds to a barber shop nearby where he is offered ammunition whilst receiving a long overdue haircut. Perhaps I should point out at this stage that I am writing this from a British perspective. To me, such laws seem unbelievable in light of events such as Columbine.
Any story there needs a villain, and in the case of Moore’s tale it is the late Charlton Heston (Ben-Hur (1959). Heston was head of the National Rifle Association of America (NRA) between 1998 and 2003. The NRA proceeded to stage a pro-gun rally over the weekend of 1st and 2nd May in Denver, the state capital of Colorado. This is the same state in which the Columbine massacre took place on 20th April – just eleven days apart. Moore rigorously seizes upon this.
The apparent insensitivity of the NRA is presented in conjunction with a slightly biased contextual history of U.S. arms deals during the Cold War, combined with the ongoing scaremongering carried out by the American media. Moore ultimately suggests that it is social paranoia which induces gun ownership among Americans. This is then masked behind the “Constitutional Right” to bear arms by the conservative powers that be.
In an unusual format, the film seems to include not one, but two climaxes, with Moore becoming increasingly confrontational (and true to form) late on. This sees him escort two survivors of the massacre to the K-Mart headquarters (the perpetrators bought approximately 1,000 rounds from their local store to carry out the attack), with an interesting outcome. He then proceeds to confront Heston himself, in his own home. Moore’s accosting of an aged Heston proved nothing short of irritating an old man, however and Moore could be seen to have crossed a certain line during this confrontation by attempting to pin the accidental shooting of a six-year-old girl on Heston and the NRA.
All in all, a very well composed and provocative investigation by Moore. A combination of actual footage of events at Columbine High School and interviews with Marilyn Manson (Shock Rock singer/songwriter) and Matt Stone (co-creator of South Park) aid viewers’ understanding of how U.S. society act and react to events such as this. (Manson is even accused of having influenced the two boys responsible for the shootings through his music. The infamous case of the West Memphis Three also springs to mind here.) Interesting questions are raised about the U.S. arms industry, and welfare-to-work schemes inflicted upon the poor in certain areas, with their effects becoming apparent throughout. This film is typical of Moore, with controversy, confrontation and comedy all utilised to create a very strong argument.
Performance of the film – Without Michael Moore, this investigation would not be nearly as evocative. His unique style is what brought this film its Oscar for best documentary feature (2003).
Quote of the film – Charlton Heston in reference to the Second Amendment – “I’m exercising the right that those old white guys handed down to me.” This sums up the archaic and racist views of the acting legend portrayed in his interview with Moore.
Fact of the film – As a prize-winning marksman in his youth, Michael Moore is in fact a life-long member of the NRA.
Score/Soundtrack – No score here, but an effective soundtrack accompanies Moore’s argument throughout. Perhaps the most notable choice is the acoustic version of Marilyn Manson’s Nobodies which complements the actual footage of the massacre. Very powerful and thought-provoking.
An interesting shot at U.S. gun law, and unbelievable at points. Easily one of the best feature-length documentaries out there. You need to see this. 87/100.
(Last watched 1 week ago. Reviewed by Fuzzy).