Bush basher, big mouth, filmmaker. That’s the usual order of descriptives attached to Michael Moore.
But even though Moore gets our attention by blasting the president from the Oscar stage or taking 9/11 rescue workers to Cuba, he holds it through skilled filmmaking and, more specifically, humor. Even those on the right have to admit he’s a funny guy. No? OK, so moving on ...
(Weinstein Company; US theatrical: 22 Jun 2007 (Limited release); 2007)
During a recent telephone interview, Moore talked about filmmaking, the movies he likes and maintaining a sense of humor about himself.
With “Sicko,” why did you focus on people who have insurance but are in trouble rather than on the many uninsured?
May I speak as a filmmaker first?
Because I think people would expect me to do the opposite, and any writer, filmmaker, playwright ... any artist probably, doesn’t want the viewer, the audience, the reader, to be 10 steps ahead of him. ... If you know what’s going to happen in the next five pages, you become bored, and you put the book down and you don’t pick it back up. When the author takes various twists and turns that you don’t expect, it’s a funny thing: You don’t get mad at the author—“you tricked me!”—you actually like it. And you like that in a movie.
What kinds of movies do you like to go see?
That does seems right up your alley.
It’s a great film. (Laughs.)
And kind of a populist, like yours are.
Yes, and very subversive. ... I am looking forward to “The Simpsons Movie.” You know, I generally don’t go to movies about (subjects) that tell me things I already know. And certainly that would mean a lot of documentaries where I know just by reading one sentence what I am going to see for two hours. That’s not very interesting to me, and ultimately, I am going to the movies to be entertained.
Now, if I am concerned about that particular issue—say, the (Iraq) war—I may go to a political rally ... (or) a Web site for activists against the war. But that’s different. Once you’ve decided to be a filmmaker and decided to make a movie, you have made a commitment to the art form first and foremost, and that you have to as a filmmaker try to make a really good movie that people will find exhilarating.
I want what all filmmakers want, which is after the credits start rolling, for people to skip up the aisles going, “That was incredible.” I haven’t seen anything like that in so long ...
You should see “Once,” the Irish musical.
Oh my God, that’s great.
Weren’t you skipping up the aisles?
Oh yes, are you kidding? I was ready to get up and start skipping during the movie. (Laughs.) And here’s a guy who hates musicals.
Did you get wary of being the anti-Bush guy? Was the decision to make a different kind of film in response to that?
Well, um, I don’t think it’s good for people to say, “Oh, just leave it up to Michael Moore.” Or Cindy Sheehan—I mean, look what happened to her, she sent a letter (recently) saying that she’s done. I don’t blame her in some ways. It can take a lot out of ya.
But no, it’s not that. I mean, I’ll still speak about how I feel about Mr. Bush, but (“Sicko”) is not so much a response to that. I do think that what happened, or how a lot of people came to know me as (anti-Bush), was because of the Oscars, maybe more so than “Fahrenheit.” Here’s a guy who just won an Oscar (for 2002’s “Bowling for Columbine”), and instead of being happy, he looks like he’s got his underwear in a bunch. ...
Oftentimes, I’ll go speak some place and they’ll play that tape before they introduce me, and the crowd goes wild. But I’m looking at it and I think, “Geez, dude, take a chill pill.”
You include very sad stories in “Sicko,” yet the film also provokes a lot of smiles. That seems like a tough balancing act.
I focused a lot on the humor in this film because I knew people would need comic relief throughout the film. The worst thing that would happen is if at the end of the film, people would leave the theater depressed. (Then) nothing’s going to happen! They need to leave angry. ... Humor is the way that sort of helps them get out of the depression and go to anger.