Bowling for Columbine (Canada/USA; 120min.)

directed by: Michael Moore

Bowling for Columbine
Greg says: "Em and I saw this film at the Toronto Film Festival and it got like a 10 minute standing ovation after it screened. It's more in-depth and serious than his other films, as it tackles the perplexing and perpetually shocking amount of violence that takes place in America and tries to come up with some answers. I was especially stuck by how it doesn't really resort to any easy, trite answers (the film points out that thousands of Canadians own guns but there is only a fraction of the violence, so gun control can't be the only solution), while resolutely trying to expose the many disturbing traditions and attitudes in America that may begin to explain why this is such a huge problem in this country. This movie is so relevent now, especially since Columbine, and now that snipers are on the loose in DC, and even since Sept. 11th, as violence has become such a palpable reality to everyone. See this movie and find some comfort in the fact that there are many people like yourself seriously concerned and dedicated to first finding an explanation for this problem, and then hopefully some kind of solution. You will hopefully leave moved and angered and maybe even changed.
Laura says: "Activist/Documentarian Michael Moore (ROGER & ME) tries to identify the cause of gun violence in America in his Cannes award winner, BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE. The film opens in the United States just as Maryland authorities search for a murderous sniper.

"The persistently disheveled Moore begins his journey by opening an account at a Midwestern bank that offers free rifles to new customers. 'You're a bank AND a licensed firearms dealer?' Moore asks incredulously, questioning the logic of handing out guns in a bank. Moore has a scary visit with James Nichols, brother of Timothy McVeigh partner Terry Nichols. He talks with a state trooper who tells of the accidental shooting of a hunter who had dressed his dog as one while expressing admiration for the resultant photograph. He visits Columbine and uses the school's security tapes of the massacre that took place there.

"Moore attempts to form threads, such as noting that Terry Nichols went to High School in the town next to where he had and interviewing a kid who used to make bombs in that same town (Oscada). He notes that the world's largest weapons manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, is located in Littleton and revisits them when he learns they sponsor the 'welfare to work' program that the mother of a 6 year old shooting victim was in. Ironical perhaps, but what exactly does this prove?

"Moore's crusade to KMart headquarters with two Columbine victims to request that they stop selling handgun bullets is a retread of his earlier work. His surprise when they capitulate may mask disappointment at not being able to serve up yet another American corporation as the bad guy.

"Moore does serve up many surprises though. American Bandstand's Dick Clark turns out to be not such a nice guy while Marilyn Manson is thoughtful and eloquent. Moore has a conversation with Charlton Heston, revealing the man as racist while revealing himself as a card carrying member of the NRA. An animated history of America hilariously skewers our national blood lust, while providing a neat segue to his most cogent exploration and contrast - that of fear in America and the vast difference between us our northern neighbor, Canada, where 7 million guns are present in 10 million households but murder is practically nonexistent. (His schtick testing the statement that Torontans don't lock their doors made me wonder how many received unwelcome visits after this film was shown at the Toronto film festival.)

"Ultimately, however, BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE is scattershot. While Moore raises many questions, he fails to find a definitive answer, and he often revisits ideas that he'd already dismissed earlier. Still, "Bowling for Columbine" is certainly thought provoking and oddly entertaining. " 3 1/2 cats
Michael says: "BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE was the film that got such an impressive crowd out to the OFF THE COUCH series at the Coolidge. Michael Moore's liberal propaganda plays well to this New England art-house crowd. And more, it's both disturbing and incredibly entertaining! That said, BOWLING is powerful... in the way that a sledgehammer is powerful. Moore is skilled at making dramatic, emotionally involving points, making the audience feel something, quite often anger, then turning around and getting us to laugh.

"In BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, Moore seeks the reason why the U.S. is so violent. He states with statistics that there are substantially more murders to do guns in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world. The Columbine shootings, the NRA, Africanized killer bees, Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma bombings, Al-Qaeda terrorism and more are explored in Moore's jigsaw puzzle of a film, that addresses many valid concerns, but doesn't really seek out an answer... not that one could readily be found. Basically Moore wants to get people mad, or at least make them aware of what's going on. In my opinion this is a good thing. Most of us live our lives, ocassionally outraged or horrified by the things that go on in the world, but for the most part doing the best we can and living happily. It's good to see a film like this that reminds us about the things that go on in this society. Things that don't have to. Things that could be better.

"Like I said, BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE is like a sledgehammer, or as the member of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society said last night, Moore is like a bull in a china shop, wielding his camera like a weapon, making us laugh, gasp and cry. It's a powerful experience, if not a great documentary." 3 1/2 cats
Nathaniel T. says: "Michael Moore is a genius. This is essentially a propoganda piece, but its quality is stunning, and its effect is undeniable. I cried twice, once during the Columbine footage, and right before during the "What a Wonderful World" sequence...let's just say I've always had a strong aversion towards guns. My favorite scenes would include The young man disaapointed to be #2 on the list and the attack upon Target. A very well made film that is sure to be on my mind come nomination time." 4 1/2 cats
Robin says: "Moore travels across the US, with forays to our neighbor to the north, to try to get to the bottom of the burning question: Why does the United States have a murder rate of over 11000 per year when Canada, for example, with higher unemployment and 7 million guns shared among 10 million households, has a kill ratio that is a small fraction of that in the US? Moore examines the answers to this and other related questions, at length, in a usually serious but frequently funny manner.

"The title stems from the events that took place on that fateful day, 20 April 1999, in Littleton, Colorado when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went for an early morning string of bowling just before they began their notorious killing spree at Columbine High School where 12 students and one teacher were left dead. The entire country was aghast and shocked at the thought that two teenagers would and could muster the firepower necessary to accomplish such a mass killing. With the help of a pair of the surviving Columbine victims, Moore invades K-Mart headquarters (one of that company's stores supplied all of the ammunition used by the murderers) and was able to get the company to commit to cease and desist selling ammo in all of their stores. This portion of the documentary was the meatiest and, from Moore's reaction to K-Mart's almost immediate capitulation, disappointedly unexpected.

"The rest of the film is made up of a series of vignettes. Moore spends time with the Michigan Militia shooting guns and talking about the right to bear arms (and meets the models of their Militia Babes calendar); he interviews James Nichols, the brother of the Oklahoma City federal building bombing accomplice Terry Nichols (giving the film some of its most chilling moments); he compares murder statistics of other countries - which number in the hundreds or less per year - to the 10+ thousand the US chalks up annually; he contrasts the American media's penchant to focus on violence and fear in news programs with the more benign way other western countries inform their citizenry on their night news reports; and, he provides a clever, poignant animation explaining that fear of others drove the white rulers of America to take up arms against those different from them, like the British, Native Americans and the black slave population and their descendents.

"Moore has a lot to say on his subject of violence in America and he tends to meander from one aspect to the next. It's all very interesting but the wealth of statistics and varied opinions makes the film seem plodding when it should be energetic. One of the problems is the coda-type interview with NRA prexy, Charlton Heston. Moore tries to corner the thesp into making a statement as to why America is so in love with guns and why there is so much violence. Heston, who obviously isn't a fierce creature, couldn't answer Moore's questions to the documentarian's satisfaction and the interview degenerated to a badgering session. While having the head of the National Rifle Association as one of his subjects is a boon for Moore's project, the lack of a definitive answer makes the big finale fall flat.

"There is a lot to chew on, intellectually, in "BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE with all the requisite drama, personal suffering (as when Moore tries to make sense out of recent incident when a six year old boy, toting his uncle's loaded gun to school, shot and killed a little classmate) and humor. But, the answer to the question I stated earlier - fear drives Americas murder frenzy - is too glib to be the one answer. The food for thought that Moore feeds us is still potent stuff " 3 1/2 cats

Shannon says: "I had the opportunity to see Moore present BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE at the Denver International Film Festival's closing night film. To be in Denver and view this was, I must say, quite powerful. I was a bit nervous as the film started that it would not go over too well because it was going to hit so close to home for many in the audience. I was pleasantly surprised, though. At many many points during the film the audience broke into applause. The film is incredible. It had me in tears a number of times but was also very funny in that Michael Moore kind of way. That said, I did have a number of problems with the film. It was very scattered and I felt that the film needed some kind of cohesive focus or argument. Like in Roger and Me, where he uses the theme of trying to locate the CEO of GM as a device to broach a lot of various topics. BOWLING did not have any overarching 'glue' to hold the film together. I agree with Michael (I mean Colford, not Moore :) about the film exploring a lot of various arguments without trying to give an "answer". And it's nice to have all of that out in the public sphere for discussion and/or exploration. That, I think is the film's strongest asset.

"I found it interesting that Moore's habitual approach of trying to get the bigwigs to speak to him and- when they refuse- letting that speak his point, doesn't work so well anymore. People know him, they know how he will use their unwillingness to speak to him, and they now will grant him 'face time.' Which waters down his approach. I am thinking specifically of when he gets Charlton Heston to grant him an interview. I didn't think this was a necessary part of the film or a valuable part of his argument, for that matter. But if it would've been Heston refusing to give an interview, or seeing Heston guarded by his PR folks, that would have been a classic Moore 'point.' What was more telling about Heston was the footage from when he was here w/ the NRA just weeks after the Columbine shootings. Conversely, the footage where Moore goes to Kmart w/ the Columbine kids was effective, especially because through this visit he was able to successfully get Kmart's bullet-carrying policy changed. After the film, Moore commended the students and gave them the credit for being able to get this policy changed.

"I also wonder how much of the film was completed before 9-11. It seems in some ways that the scope of the film was broadened after this event. Interestingly, this mirrors how much more difficult it is now for leftists in our current environment. There are now so many differing issues to focus on that the movement has become more diluted.

"On a side note: Moore said that he is currently working on a doc film called FAHRENHEIT 911, as well as an animated film with Tom Tomorrow.

"I would strongly recommend seeing BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, if only to open up discussion and debate surrounding his arguments and assertions. Everyone I know that has seen it has inevitably had a great discussion after the movie- always the mark of a noteworthy film." 3 1/2 cats

Scot says (in response to Shannon): "I agree with you completely, Shannon. I was pretty mystified about the Dick Clark scene, myself. The only reason why I can think that Moore kept that scene in the film was that Clark is recognizable, very rich, and didn't have time to be bullied. Which, of course, was the whole reason Moore caught him at that moment - so Clark could shun him. If Clark had said, 'Oh sure, I have ten minutes to spare. Let's talk,' what could Moore have leveled him with? Giving a woman a job? You know that scene woulda been a great big waste of celluloid.

"Still, I really enjoyed the film, despite its obvious manipulations. It's propaganda, of course, but for all the right reasons. So I found it very entertaining and engaging - especially in the cringe-worthy moments like the Heston interview. As an entertaining film I give it 4 cats. As a documentary, I give it a high 3."

Emily says (in response to Shannon): I have to disagree on several points Shannon makes about Bowling for Columbine. Greg and I saw this introduced by Moore at the Toronto Film festival, another interesting (though imminently more potentially positive) audience, since Moore makes Canadians look so dang good in the film...intro established, my bones with Shannon are the following:

"1.) I absolutely think Moore's new 'access' to his intended interviewee CEO types is fabulous and indeed expands his ability to let us see the absurdity masking as rationality amongst these select few cultural/financial 'leaders' - I thought the scene with Charleton Heston at his home was one of the most powerful in the film, because so bizarre and revealing. I would much rather see Moore get access to his nemesi than simply let their refusals speak for themselves. Think what a let down DownSize This might've been if he hadn't gotten access to Nike's president. These moments of letting these guys literally speaks for themselves (instead of just letting their refusals speak for themselves) are priceless, and I think Moore captures just as much hypocrisy - if not more- now that he has gained some access to the actual persons he targets.

"2.) I also think that there was indeed a cohesive theme that glued all the pieces of his questions together (though not everyone in the canadian audience read this as easily as Moore thought it stood out this came out in the Q&A) - that being the question of 'why the strong relation in the US between the proliferation of guns and violence (versus the Canadian context where there are just as many guns, but nowhere near as much violence). His answer was the second half of the equation the whole movie was meant to demonstrate - FEAR. I.E. His thesis was that because we live in a culture that uses fear as a mechanism of social control, the way guns are used, and the way people treat each other and act out their various frustrations in society takes a violent turn. I thought that was a magnificent and oft missed point in the public discussion about gun control, especially with the stark contrast of the Canadian hypothesis looming in the background here - i.e. its not JUST the presence of guns that makes our (or any culture) violent. In the US, it really is the manipulation of its population through fear, propagated by the media, the gun manufacturers, the prison industries, the government, etc...

"All that said, needless to say I HIGHLY recommend seeing this film - like Shannon, it made me both cry and laugh, in Moore's traditional style. Thank god he's alive and making films!