August 08, 2007
Michael Moore Takes on another Goliath
In February of 2006, Michael Moore urged people to e-mail him their personal health care horror stories. The filmmaker was inundated with 25,000 responses the first week.
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Nearly two years later, 500 hours of footage, and enough frequent flyer miles to circle the entire globe 100 times over, Sicko arrived at neighborhood multiplexes.
Branding himself "a satirist" from the Mark Twain/Will Rogers' school of thinking, Moore channels his David vs. Goliath trademark approach towards the issue of American health care, taking particular aim at the HMOs and pharmaceutical companies prioritized by profit and greed.
During a recent interview, the robust Moore ditched the scruffy baseball cap, opting instead for black designer threads that made the most of a 35-pound weight loss.
Apologizing profusely for showing up 45 minutes late, Moore is clearly overextended and overcommitted attempting to extract every line of print or sound byte he can generate in support of Sicko.
Like the barker at the circus sideshow, Moore knows that facts alone aren't sufficient to inspire change or fill those theater seats. Instead one needs a gimmick and shtick. In Moore's case it's controversy and the "Wow" factor.
He elaborates on the latter, "I'm not a political figure or a preacher, I'm a filmmaker. So first and foremost I'm trying to make a film that people are going to love to go see on a Friday night. We all feel that when we go to the movie, we want to leave thinking, 'Wow, that was something I haven't seen in a while.'
"Hopefully, it will start a few thinking and maybe doing something about it. I'm satisfied if they have a good laugh, or a good cry, get angry. I'll take you to a place you've never been. I will take you on a boat into Guantanamo Bay. I will show you Mr. Richard Nixon talking about how HMOs got their modern day beginnings. Things that you're not going to get on the evening news and I hope it's funny."
As for the controversy, Moore contends that the Bush administration sent him a certified letter 10 days before the Cannes Film Festival stating intentions to conduct a civil and criminal investigation over a violation of the Trading with the Enemy Act. This action was sparked by Moore's trek to Cuba seeking medical treatment for 9/11 rescuers. He further contends that a duplicate of Sicko was stored in Canada, should the government decide to confiscate the negative. Yet under mysterious circumstances a master print of Sicko ended up being uploaded to the Internet two weeks prior to release.
Who was responsible? Volleying back with a question, Moore replied, "This is an inside job. Now if you were a police detective one of the first questions you'd want to ask – who has a vested interest in destroying the opening weekend's box office of this film? Having said that, I'm not a big believer in copyright laws." An anecdotal footnote, Sicko disappeared from cyberspace by the following morning.
Sicko does boast a fair share of personal healthcare horror stories – the carpenter forced to decide which one of his severed digits should be reattached; the car accident victim, whose ambulance ride to the hospital wasn't pre-approved. Yet Moore spends the bulk of the two-hour running time seeking "a better way," serving up the government-provided care of France, Canada, England and even Cuba. By comparison, a graph slots America at No. 38, just above Slovenia, in global health care.
Despite the nation's wealth and technology, 50 million citizens are without insurance, nine million of them children. Moore interjected, "Conservatives and liberals alike would say that those children deserve the right to see a doctor and not worry about paying for it. I think everyone agrees to that across the entire political spectrum, so why do those few remaining voices in support of the war and in support of Mr. Bush continue to attack me?
"If I didn't exist, they would have to invent me, because what else would they do on their talk radio and cable news? Four years ago, I was booed off the Oscar stage for daring to say we were led into the war for fictitious reasons. People didn't want to hear that at the time. Here we are in 2007, when 70 percent of the country is against the war, so I'm actually in the mainstream majority. It feels weird," he said.
"That is the story of my life as a filmmaker, from General Motors when no one listened to now when they're near bankruptcy, to Bowling for Columbine where we're forced to face another high school shooting only weeks ago, to Fahrenheit 9/11, that's my lot."
Will Sicko make a difference in the long run? "I do these movies because in my heart of hearts I really think it can change things. In fact, when the American people have had enough, they do make their feelings known.
"Sometimes things happen when the people will it to happen and I feel the American public has had it with this broken health care system and they are just waiting for the moment to rise up and demand change. I hope this film provides the spark."