02/06/2006: And speaking of Frey....
Over at ReelThoughts, James Berardinelli makes some interesting and well taken comparisons between James Frey (author of the "memoir" A Million Little Pieces) and Michael Moore (alas, no permalink; navigate to the entry for February 4, 2006).
That brings us to the movies. On one side, there are the documentaries: fact-based explorations of one subject or another. On the other side, there's everything else (a category dominated by, but not exclusive to, narrative features). It's easy to explain the exaggerations, omissions, and additions of "based on true story" fictional films - their primary reponsibility is not to history or the truth, but to the entertainment and/or enrichment of their audience. As I have often said, never let the facts get in the way of a good story. And that's fine as long as it's understood that what we're viewing is a fictionalized interpretation of real events.
Documentaries, on the other hand, must be truthful and fact-based. That doesn't mean they cannot have an opinion or point-of-view, but they cannot lie or distort the facts to promote that perspective. Like news pieces or articles, documentaries need to be rigorously fact-checked to ensure that they are not knowingly or unknowingly providing false or misleading information. And that brings us to Michael Moore.
Moore is guilty in the cinematic realm of being as untruthful as Frey is in the literary realm. In all of his films, but most especially Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore wilfully and knowingly violates the tenets of documentaries, distorting the facts and employing staged events. This wouldn't be a problem if Moore's works were presented as propeganda or op-ed pieces, but they are universally accepted as documentaries. (Bowling for Columbine won an Oscar in the documentary category.)
I would never discourage anyone to discount Moore's films outright. Indeed, I highly recommended Bowling for Columbine (despite the Charlton Heston bushwhack). Moore makes good points and challenges people to think. But he doesn't play fair, and those who view the movies need to watch them with a healthy degree of skepticism. Even back in the time of Roger and Me, Moore was not a documentarian. Many of the events depicted on screen in that picture were either staged or re-created. From the beginning, he has been in the business of propeganda. That's the thing to remember when you put one of his movies in the DVD player or sit down to a future theatrical screening of Sicko.
Len on 02.06.06 @ 09:01 AM CST