I was struck watching Michael Moore promoting his latest cinematic screed, Sicko, earlier this year. The guy seemed almost contrite -- eager to confront the Bush administration head on about his trip to Cuba, yes, but otherwise very low-key in his approach to spreading the word about his film on America's ailing health-care system. Matter of fact, Moore doesn't even show up on screen until almost 30 minutes in -- it's a change of pace for the filmmaker who dominated (and some would say self-sabotaged) his earlier works like Bowling For Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11.
Moore's role in the political arena has always been a contentious one; the famously left-leaning director hasn't met a conservative yet that he wouldn't snipe at, whether it be on film or at numerous political rallies for various presidential candidates. But is Moore's power a result of jerry-rigged filmmaking, a cunning distortion of truth that marginalizes the facts in favor of maximum impact? After viewing Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine's fascinating film Manufacturing Dissent: Uncovering Michael Moore, I have to say I was moved to go back and re-examine most of Moore's major films, approaching them with a far more skeptical eye.
What's most astonishing about Manufacturing Dissent: Uncovering Michael Moore is its unwavering fairness; in this age of searing sound bites and venomous confrontations over issues big and small, Melnyk and Caine strive to present all the sides that will sit for an interview, actually achieving a sense of objectivity about a man who, through various ways and means, seems determined to be right, no matter the cost. Using clips from Moore films (Roger & Me all the way through Fahrenheit 9/11; this doc was completed before Sicko got rolling), press clippings and interviews with a colorful array of characters from Moore's past and present, the filmmakers fashion the portrait of an insecure, temperamental man whose devotion to instigation often trumps his need for factual accuracy and fairness. More than once in Manufacturing Dissent, Moore is shown playing around with his narratives, making edits that infer events which never transpired and even going so far as to manipulate documented timelines -- in essence, shoehorning the facts into whatever needs he has.
It's disturbing stuff and parallel to the revelations about his body of work (the most damning of which suggests Moore actually met Roger Smith and had a five-minute exchange with the head of GM, which would radically alter the premise of his debut, Roger & Me), Melnyk and Caine doggedly pursue Moore on his "Slacker Uprising" tour, attempting to get the man to sit for an interview about the ever-mounting pile of allegations and accusations. It's gripping stuff, as these Canadian filmmakers turn their cameras on a man all too accustomed to ambushing interviewees. Moore squirms like a man with a lifetime of dark secrets hidden away from view; it certainly makes you think twice about wholeheartedly buying into his brand of liberal agit-prop and for that, if nothing else, Melnyk and Caine's Manufacturing Dissent is necessary viewing. The DVD
A run-and-gun indie documentary, Manufacturing Dissent: Uncovering Michael Moore isn't a crisply produced piece of filmmaking, but not because the filmmakers aim to deliver sub-par product; rather, the covert nature of piecing together their expose forces this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer to be a bit fuzzy at times, lacking sharpness and vivid colors. That said, it looks about as good as it probably ever will, blending newly filmed interview footage with vintage clips and sequences from Moore's films. The Audio:
The sound is as spartan as the visuals: a fine Dolby 2.0 stereo track is included, one which delivers Melynk's often deadpan narration without any notable defects or drop-outs. There are moments in the film when the sound becomes muffled or unintelligible -- fortunately, forced English subtitles provide the dialogue that's missing. The Extras:
Tragically, there's not a supplement to be found. I would've loved to hear the filmmakers' tales of working on the project, as well as Moore's reaction to the final film (although I'm sure he's not going to rush right out to see it). Final Thoughts:
Is director Michael Moore's power a result of jerry-rigged filmmaking, a cunning distortion of truth that marginalizes the facts in favor of maximum impact? After viewing Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine's fascinating film Manufacturing Dissent: Uncovering Michael Moore, I have to say I was moved to go back and re-examine most of Moore's major films, approaching them with a far more skeptical eye. Recommended.