BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE
Driven by moral agitation, Mike Moore explores the culture of violence in an America traumatised by terrorism, teenage killers and economic inequality. Moore puts the hard questions to trigger-happy suburbanites and militia members, alongside the likes of National Rifle Association spokesman Charlton Heston, shock rocker Marilyn Manson, South Park co-creator Matt Stone and surviving students of the Columbine High School shootings.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Have you ever wondered why so many American films find their resolution in the final shootout or fistfight? I have. Is this just lazy writing and filmmaking, or is American society incapable of any other negotiation than the blast of a gun? I often yearn for the films that I otherwise enjoy to find a better ending: to portray men who prove their superiority by their intelligence and humanity, their nobility and their willingness to live and let live. Shooting or bashing a baddie seems a little weak to me: is that the best you can do? Is that a fully evolved homo sapiens? So it is with that mindset that I sat through Bowling For Columbine, a documentary that is opinionated about its subject matter, interventionist in its approach and in your face with its style. I wish I’d made it. Americans live in a state of fear, Mike Moore posits, whether of death by muggings or death by muffins. Deeper still, he touches on the eternal wounds on the American heart that are the result of slavery and vicious discrimination. Guilt, fear, imbalance . . . everything that Moore finds rings a disconcertingly truthful bell in our innermost concept of American society. This is not a doco by a purist; he gets in there and shoves. He makes Wal-Mart agree to take handguns and ammo off its shelves, on prime time tv, for gorsakes. So never again imagine that films are always ‘just movies’. Bowling For Columbine sheds light on the darkest corner of America’s soul – and the man with the torch is the unlikely figure of a shuffling, bespectacled and overweight and underpaid filmmaker in baggy jeans.
Review by Louise Keller:
A powerful mix of humour and tragedy, Bowling for Columbine is a stunning documentary in every sense. With his satirical, investigative approach, Michael Moore takes the serious issue of violence and explores it from every angle. Why is America obsessed with guns? And why is its death toll from guns the highest in the world? We are reminded how TV violence conditions us all, together with governments that endorse military action. How easy it is to buy a gun, and ammunition can be freely purchased from K-Mart. We learn some staggering facts. Did you know that if you open an account at North County Bank, you get a free gun? The bank is a licensed firearms dealer, we learn, as Moore opens an account, and is told that there are 500 guns in the vault at any one time. Then there are the pro gun rallies by the NRA and we meet its president, Charlton Heston whose opening words of “From my cold dead hands” are chilling. With a potent emotional arc that strips our emotions bare, this is a must-see documentary. Moore never fails to ask the hard questions, albeit at times couched in mischievous terms. His style is reminiscent of Andrew Urban’s in the SBS documentary series Front Up – never confronting and always enticing the subject to reveal their innermost thoughts. In our journey as laughter turns to tears and complacency turns to anger, the seriousness of the issues are never compromised, even though real-life footage and actual recordings of tragic events are intermingled with tongue-in-cheek cartoons. The comparative deaths in America and Canada are canvassed; could it be that South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone turned their anger to making cartoons? The starting point is the Columbine High School massacre, when 12 students and one teacher were shot to death in Littleton, Colorado. We talk to people at Columbine, visit the empty classrooms and witness some disturbing real-life footage of the event when over 900 rounds of ammunition were used. We also meet two disabled students in whom the bullets are still lodged. In an extraordinary sequence, Moore and the two students take a stand at the K-Mart store where the bullets were purchased, asking for a refund. When they purchase all the bullets from K-Mart and return them in a bid to stop the store from selling them, the result leaves Moore speechless. But without doubt, the piece de resistance is the sensational interview with Charlton Heston at his Beverly Hills home. In a brilliant example of interviewing, Moore treads softly at first, displaying his NRA life membership card, reassuring Heston of his commitment. As the questions get tough, Heston’s eyeline wavers and his discomfort shows. The questions become even tougher, and Heston eventually walks out. Won’t You Be My Neighbour plays the song… You will make your own mind up, when you see this interview. Entertaining, moving, funny and tragic, Bowling for Columbine is brilliant filmmaking. It’s a rare, unforgettable treasure.
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BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE (M)
CAST: interview subjects include Charlton Heston, Marilyn Manson, South Park co-creator Matt Stone and surviving students of the Columbine High School shootings.
PRODUCER: Michael Moore, Jenipher Ritchie
DIRECTOR: Michael Moore
SCRIPT: Michael Moore
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Brian Danitz, Michael McDonough
EDITOR: T. Woody Richman (associate)
MUSIC: Jeff Gibbs
PRODUCTION DESIGN: n/a
RUNNING TIME: 121 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2002
Special Jury Prize, Cannes Film Festival 2002 (first documentary in 46 years to be selected for Competition)
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: 21st Century Pictures Video
VIDEO RELEASE: June 25, 2003 [Also on DVD]