All the negative hype surrounding Michael Moore post-Fahrenheit 911 has made me skeptical when it comes to approaching his work. Each time however, I have been struck by how funny, compassionate, informative, and simply reasonable he appears in contrast to how a lot of the media portrays him. To me, the man who, in the eye of mainstream America, carries the label of some sort of anti-American, raging, left-wing extremist, instead comes across as a patriotic, outspoken moderate who only leans left in these times.
The most enlightening section of Moore’s new film Slacker Uprising – first released for free over the Internet, and now on DVD – is the portion which examines his detractors. The movie itself is a simple travelogue of his 62-city, get-out-the-vote, speaking tour of battleground states leading up to the 2004 US Presidential Election. About halfway through, the film addresses the pro-Bush protesters who showed up to most of his rallies. Several amusing, ignorance-exposing interviews with protesters are followed by some interesting statistics, providing insight into the origins of the extreme Michael Moore hatred that reached a fever pitch in 2004.
The statistics state that 44 percent of polled Republicans viewed Fahrenheit 911 positively and that 30 percent of those thought that the film was fair to George W. Bush. The film follows the stats with a few sound bites of George Bush, Sr. referring to Moore as a “despicable character”, a “total asshole”, and a “slime ball” among other insults. Suddenly the Fahrenheit 911 controversy comes into perspective and the anti-Moore campaign feels much larger than the product of a few angry right-wingers. It becomes apparent that certain individuals within the controlling party of the United States government felt threatened enough by a film to warrant launching a smear campaign against its maker. It is a historic testament to the power of art to see some of the most powerful people in the world fearful that the work of an ordinary civilian was convincing enough to derail their reign.
In fact, it is the footage of Slacker Uprising which examines the various responses to Moore’s rallies that proves more valuable than the documentation of the actual rallies themselves. Old news footage is utilized to chronicle the various antics some resorted to in attempt to suppress Moore. Efforts ranging from a Michigan Republican Party lawsuit claiming that, by jokingly offering ramen noodles and clean underwear to non-voters in exchange for registering to vote (the “slackers” from which the film draws its name), Moore was engaging in some form of bribery.
I had the privilege of attending one of the Slacker Uprising events four years ago. The rally footage in the film is basically an annotated version of what I witnessed, spread across a large number of similar events. For most tour-stops, Moore was accompanied by some sort of special guest. Those guests included Eddie Vedder, Steve Earle, R.E.M., Tom Morello, Joan Baez, Viggo Mortensen and Rosanne Barr; their generally worthwhile contributions consume a large portion of the rally footage.
It might appear as self-aggrandizing statement for Moore to release this film, which pays a lot of attention to the power of his own influence, but I don’t think he is that kind of person. My assumption is that he believed releasing a free movie about his ultimately failed campaign to change things would reach more people in 2008 than a recreation of his 2004 tour. This election cycle is also dramatically different in the fact that the charisma and ability to motivate within the Democratic Party lies not in its celebrity supporters, but in its actual candidate.
The beauty of the DVD version of Slacker Uprising lies in the extras. With the exception of Moore screening his hilarious Swift-Boat ad parodies and footage of his ability to silence yet infuriate audience protesters by speaking to them in a respectful, albeit sarcastic, manner. I was pleased to see the inclusion of several memorable moments, such as when Moore recited cringe-inducing sex-advice excerpts from Bill O’Reilly’s embarrassingly hilarious children’s book; and Moore providing a phone number set up as a “Michael Moore sighting” report-line for employees of the giant pharmaceutical corporation, Pfizer.
The problem with Slacker Uprising is that it feels too much like an amateur travelogue as opposed to a documentary made by one of the best artists in the medium. It lacks the clean editing and production quality that have always been Moore’s strengths as a filmmaker. His trademark, entertaining narration has been replaced by on-screen text. The picture quality of the film is extraordinarily low. The frame-rate is so slow that the myriad, choppy quick-pans induce headaches. Somewhat oddly, it feels as if the DVD version was created straight from the compressed internet-download version of the film instead of from original source material.
It’s clear that the release of this film was intended to have an immediate effect on the state of the current election cycle. It just might. However, unlike other Michael Moore films, this one will experience a significant decline in relevance after the November 4th election. Fahrenheit 911 sent an extraordinarily powerful group of people into an ostensible scramble. Sicko’s impact appeared to have greatly intensified dialogue associated with health care reform within the mainstream media as well as among politicians. A dearth of such eye-opening potential signifies that Slacker Uprising’s legacy will become merely a side-note in the career of one of the most influential and controversial figures of this generation.