And that style was matched by the substance of his progressive political ideology, which has remained relatively unchanged—despite the personal evolution and pop-cultural success that Moore has experienced.In Moore’s films, it’s clear that he’s playing a character: the schlubby, sneaky, astute, smart-aleck, Chaplin-worthy Tramp from Flint.
At the time of this writing, students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, are mourning the deaths of fourteen of their classmates and three faculty members, all of whom a nineteen-year-old is accused of shooting on Ash Wednesday, February 14, 2018, with a legally acquired semiautomatic AR-15 rifle.
Stricken and angry, the students have begun to organize, holding rallies, marching on the Florida capitol in Tallahassee, and staying on message when talking to the media.
Moore’s appeal is rooted in his being a pugilistic everyman who’s fiendishly funny despite starring in documentaries. (It’s instructive that his lone foray into narrative filmmaking, the scarcely seen 1995 movie Canadian Bacon, was a John Candy comedy.) As a work of argument, Bowling for Columbine is often galvanizing, and as entertainment, it’s uniquely, enduringly dynamic.
Moore is an ace at writing for his own voice, and from front to back, he delivers both rueful couplets on ruined American dreams and witheringly sardonic summations of American hypocrisy and greed.
Bowling for Columbine was just the third documentary feature for Moore, after his sleeper hit Roger & Me (1989) and national temperature check while on book tour The Big One (1997), which were interspersed with two television series, the Emmy-winning TV Nation (1994–95) and The Awful Truth (1999–2000).
All these projects featured Moore on camera, in his signature baseball cap, conspicuous glasses, nondescript jacket, jeans, and white sneakers, cozying up to common folk or interrogating persons in power.Bowling for Columbine must also be considered on its own genre-blending terms; evaluating it strictly as journalism would be as inadequate as treating it as simple entertainment.Compare the attention given to Moore’s work with the critical reception of that of English filmmaker Adam Curtis, a similarly morally and politically convicted, iconoclastic polemicist whose editorializing methodology is generally given a freer pass.Bush and post-9/11 warmongering, raked in a mind-boggling 2 million worldwide. Some have found the filmmaker’s ambition to bring awareness about his issues to as wide an audience as possible to get in the way of following the norms of traditional journalism.But the fact is, Moore operates at the nexus of journalism, activism, and entertainment, and he merits evaluation from all three angles.It also allows for the free-for-all sequencing that follows, progressing from Moore’s voice-over biographical sketch to his name-dropping of his fellow Michigander Heston, complete with a cut from the rifle-firing thespian to the rifle-firing filmmaker—savagely foreshadowing the film’s final sequence—before alighting on an official’s unintentionally hilarious account of a gun-toting dog, on the way to in-the-field interviews with members of the Michigan Militia and wild-eyed James Nichols, the brother of convicted domestic terrorist Terry Nichols. In both a formal and tonal sense, Moore is establishing a culture in which anything goes, any texture or method belongs.And we haven’t even gotten to the caustic American historical montages scored to the aforementioned “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” the foulmouthed animated section conflating American racism with gun ownership, or the Roger & Me–like petitioning-the-king scene at Kmart’s corporate offices starring two Columbine survivors.They’re baldly calling for stricter gun regulations, and they’re specifically calling out the National Rifle Association (NRA), one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the country and a generous benefactor to legislators who’ve opposed strengthening regulation.Made in the aftermath of the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colorado, where twelve students and one teacher were killed by classmates Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the film takes an expansive look at America’s obsession with guns and its impotency when it comes to dealing with gun-related violence.That vitality may come as a surprise to those who’ve come to know Moore primarily through his ascendancy as a political pundit—his unconventional, attention-grabbing tactics can get in the way of recognition of his achievements.But while debates around his methodology should and do persist, what is indisputable is Bowling for Columbine’s standing as a cultural landmark.