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Awful Truth Season 2, The
Michael Moore has gotten some bad press lately for sending out an e-mail criticizing US business policies a little to close to September 11th's tragedies. It's a shame he couldn't wait a little longer since many of the issues that he has made it his life's work to expose (unfair labor practices, government pandering to big business) are integral to our current situation and to our future. Also falling into the category of bad timing is the release of the second season of his Bravo show The Awful Truth onto DVD.
The Awful Truth (which is very similar in style to Moore's previous show TV Nation) uses humor to expose some gross hypocrisies in our country. Each episode contains two 10 to 15 minute skits focusing on one issue at a time, like lobbyist favoritism in Washington or BMW's refusal to pay reparations to slave laborers from World War II. But the style is unique. Usually Moore uses simple editing and the subjects' own words as his weapon, like a fashion designer claiming that sweat shop workers love their jobs because "all their friends are there" or a politician who wants the ten commandments posted in every public school but can't name (or even paraphrase) a single one.
The problem with Moore's quick-cut activism is that it usually exposes stupidity and creates great entertainment (as well as a lot of head shaking disbelief) but it often can't delve deep enough into the material that it could change someone's mind. He's mostly preaching to the choir, since fans of his show are likely to already agree with him on most issues. Some of his ideas are great oversimplifications. For example, he doesn't explain whether or not the fashion designer interviewed has any connection to the sweat shop that his camera crew visits, so this segment isn't good for much more than a laugh. Also, his condemnation of New York taxi drivers for neglecting to pick up black customers (which spawned one of the best segments on TV Nation as well as a very funny one here) doesn't include any information about the rash of cold-blooded cabbie murders or the fact that African immigrant cab drivers express the same bias. This sort of wrinkle would detract from Moore's ability to make a point (and a joke) in a short amount of time, so it's ignored, and the issue becomes a little less complex than it really is.
Similarly, not all segments work. Moore's protest of then-NYC Mayor Rudy Guiliani's puritanical "Quality of Life" campaign finds him opening a Times Square sex shop that obeys the 60% wholesome / 40% naughty split that Guiliani mandated by selling lots of items bearing the mayor's face. While it's a funny idea, there isn't anything funny about a Guiliani buttplug after you've already seen a Guiliani dildo and a Guiliani vibrator.
On the whole, however, the segments are entertaining and politically provocative. A faux newsreel declaring "War is over!" refers to the war on abortion providers with anti-abortion crusaders gleefully advocating murdering doctors in pursuit of their goals. Even actor Ben Stein pipes in with his "abortion is murder" opinion (unless the statement was another one of his famous deadpan jokes, in which case he's a comic genius!)
Similarly, the show kicks off with a blockbuster sequence that finds Moore traveling the 2000 Presidential primary trail with a portable mosh pit looking to endorse the first candidate willing to take a stage dive to Rage Against the Machine. This is an extremely funny segment, sometimes so only for how long Moore is able to engage politicians like Orrin Hatch. When then-Governor Bush tells Moore to "Go get some real work," the intrepid filmmaker's reaction is funny, true, and a sad reminder of a time when it was so easy to point out our future president's glaring flaws.
So, you can't really get your news from The Awful Truth, but you can stare in amazement as Florida Death Penalty supporters say things like "I don't see any reason why Florida can't execute two inmates a month. If Texas can why can't we?" or as a northern California judge wholehearted endorses the notion of railroading the accused straight to jail without trials because it frees up his time for fishing.
But the main sense one gets from The Awful Truth is that Michael Moore is pissed. He's pissed enough to send goodfella Sal Piro to collect for Holocaust victims from BMW, pissed enough to sell oil for 60 cents a gallon in the name of Saddam Hussein to collect packaged food for starving Iraqi children harmed by UN sanctions, and pissed enough to enter a ficus plant into a congressional election in a New Jersey district where the unopposed candidate was so confident in his win that he didn't bother opening a campaign office and didn't even come home for election day. The fact that the ficus (a write-in candidate due to some sketchy maneuvering on the part of the local board of elections) may have actually won except for the vote counters' refusal to count the write-ins (a major constitutional violation) just proves how right he can be.
The full-frame video looks fine, if unremarkable. Most of the material was shot on video for TV broadcast and, with six half hour episodes per disc, looks fine.
The Dolby 2.0 stereo soundtrack is also fine. Field mics are used for many segments but the production is surprisingly clear. This is not a audiophile's show, but the track is well produced.
The main extra is commentary from Moore on four of the episodes from the first disc. His commentary is fun to listen to ("Look at him," he says while watching Hatch contemplate the mosh pit. "You know he just wants to jump in.") But for the most part the episodes serve as their own commentary.
The discs also feature extra "Lenny the Awful Truth Bookie" odds sequences, but these are by far the least funny segments of the show.
A lengthy Michael Moore biography and assorted descriptions and trailers for other Docurama releases are also included.
Michael Moore has a built-in fan base from his previous work. These viewers will definitely enjoy his brand of sarcasm. More casual viewers may find some of the skit hilarious, but no one with an opposing viewpoint is likely to find Moore's opinions entertaining or convincing; Trying to discuss the segment on prayer in school with a Republican friend reminded me of that. Still, anyone with a healthy distrust of our one-party political system should find much to love about Michael Moore's version of the truth.