Urban Cinefile
"I'm now turning my back to this gorilla that's going to rip my head off my shoulders any fucking second"  -Bryan Brown recalling a moment in the making of Gorillas in the Mist
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Wednesday March 25, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Fear makes Americans the gun-lovers they are, says filmmaker Michael Moore, in his latest and most compelling film, Bowling For Columbine, which rips to shreds the idea that gun ownership in America is just for self protection. Andrew L. Urban reports.

Michael Moore's previous – and much acclaimed – documentary, Roger & Me, focused on one town and the one company that destroyed that town. This time, he’s upped the ante. “Bowling for Columbine is about something much larger - an entire society gone slightly mad by arming itself with a quarter billion guns at home."

"Fear is the predominant social condition"

And why? Because Americans are all living in fear, he maintains. Fear is the predominant social condition, and has been, ever since the white trash arrived.

"You see, the very first sentence you learn about U.S. history as a child is, 'The pilgrims came to America because they were afraid of being persecuted.' They were afraid. Then what happened? Pilgrims come here, in fear, encounter the Indians and are afraid of them, so they kill them; then they become afraid of each other and start seeing witches and burn them; then they win the Revolution, but they're afraid the British are going to come back. So someone writes the Second Amendment that says, 'Let's keep our guns because the Brits could come back.' What happens? The Brits come back! What's the worst thing to do to a paranoid? Have their fears come true!"

On a roll, Moore continues.

"Meantime, everybody's saying, 'Damn, good thing we kept those guns!! Whoaaaa Second Amendment, good idea!' " Moore's approach to history is profoundly entertaining. Rather than offering up an arid, academic rendition of facts, he believes an audience will be more receptive to new ideas if they are laughing. A hilarious cartoon in the film is testament to that.

"The early genesis of fear in America," Moore explains, "came from having a slave population that, in just 86 years from the time of the Revolutionary War in 1775 to the Civil War in 1861, grew from 700,000 to 4 million. In parts of the rural south, blacks outnumbered the whites by a 3 to 1 margin, and there were a lot of slave rebellions, a lot of uprisings, and a lot of masters' heads cut off. 

“The whites were freaking out that the blacks were going to get loose. So, in 1836," Moore says, linking history. "Samuel Colt invented the 6-shooter. Before this, we had never been able to fire a weapon more than once. In the previous 10,000 years, you always had to reload something. The Colt was portable. And cheap. So the white people down south got themselves what was called The Peacekeeper and that's how they contained slavery for the final 25 years."

"a compelling yarn"

It’s not the textbook version of US history, but it’s a compelling yarn. "The US Army was issued these guns and, in the next 40 years, finished off the Indians because the Indians only had rifles that fired one bullet at a time. When the South lost the Civil War, the whites became really afraid, so in 1865, the Ku Klux Klan came into being. In 1871, the KKK was made illegal and a few months later another organization is formed called the National Rifle Association (NRA), to promote gun ownership to whites only. It was illegal for blacks to own them. So the gun was used for the next 80 years to keep so-called free blacks in their place -until the 1950s when they finally had had enough and rose up.

"What did whites do then? They ran in fear to the suburbs. And once in the suburbs, still afraid, they bought millions and millions of guns. That's what we have- most of the quarter-billion guns in the U.S. are owned by white people who live in safe neighborhoods where there are virtually no crimes. That's why our murders are mostly domestic: husband-wife, boyfriend-girlfriend,

Scary. But is Moore right about fear in America? Is that all there is to it? He doesn’t delve into why that fear also drives scriptwriters and movie makers to resolve differences and arguments with guns – and with the good guys always the better shot. Maybe fear is just one pf the reasons for American owning guns, and maybe it’s just a part of a larger social malaise. But Moore doesn’t have time in this doco to muse about that.

"the ultimate patriot"

His producer, Michael Donovan, is quick to underline the most positive of Moore’s motives. "The one thing you have to realize about Michael is that he is the ultimate patriot and therein is the reason why he is critical. He loves his country .It is ironic that one of America's leading social critics is also one of its leading patriots.”

That is no surprise. What is a surprise is that Michael Moore is himself a card carrying member of the National Rifle Association – and has been for a while. It wasn’t just a way to get an interview with NRA top gun, Charlton Heston, providing the film with its most compelling few minutes. 

Earlier, we see Heston take the stand at an NRA convention, his right hand raised in a fist as if holding a rifle, as he utters the chilling words, “From my cold, dead hand….”

Published December 19, 2002

Email this article


© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020