Friday, June 22, 2007

I'm Feeling SiCKO

* * * * (Four Stars)

Yes, I was one of the guilty parties that got a hold of the high-res, bit torrent copy of Michael Moore's SiCKO last week. It was given to me, but I won't say by who. So, there, I admitted my crime. Sue me.

Ok. That said, let me now say something about Michael Moore. He's basically one of the reasons I became a documentary filmmaker.

I returned from a two year service mission to Venezuela in December 2000 where I had experienced a crash course in international politics living in the land of President Hugo Chavez. I had seen the worst examples of poverty and despair, yet also some of the best examples of hope and the human spirit. I assisted in the rescue efforts after mud slides, in the state of Vargas, killed thousands and literally wiped out entire cities. I walked down a street in Trapichito that was literally soaked with the blood of teenagers that had been killed by blind police retribution because gang members had killed one of their own. One of the kids was sitting next to his mother watching TV, when the cops broke down the door and blew his head off. He was 16. I was 19.

So I return home to Maryland after two years to find my best friend, John, was studying video production and documentary filmmaking at an art school. One of the first documentaries he showed me was Michael Moore's Roger and Me. And then he showed me Errol Morris' The Thin Blue Line. It was at this point that I said, "That's what I want to do." Seven years later, I'm still making documentaries. Thanks, Mike. Thanks, Errol. (It should be noted that my first big documentary is about Michael Moore coming to Utah right before the 2004 election and all the Apocolyptic Republican chaos that ensued over Mike's right to speak.)

But, I digress. Let's talk about SiCKO.

I was only about 15 minutes into Moore's new documentary about health care in America when tears started welling up in my eyes. But I expected that. Michael is really good at pulling the heart strings. A young woman talked about working at a call center for an HMO where people would submit applications for health coverage. Having worked there so long, she knew immediately whether someone would get denied or not just from reading the application. So, a young married couple submits their application and then the husband gets up to rush back to his job, obviously stressed out. The wife turns to him and says, "Don't worry, honey. Everything will be OK, now. We're going to have health insurance." The young wife had a big smile on her face. It was at this point that the girl telling the story starts to cry. "They were so happy, but I knew that their application would be denied just from looking at it. I didn't say anything to them, but I knew they'd get a phone call sometime that weekend and that they'd be devastated." Tears started pouring down her face. And down mine.

Oh yes, there will be tears.

This is just one of the many gut-wrenching moments of SiCKO. And it's not Michael Moore's poetic narration or dramatic editing that pulls the emotion. It's simply a very raw sit-down interview with someone telling a story, and that is the method to establishing most of SiCKO's narrative structure. It's just everyday people telling their health care stories while Moore fills in the gaps with historical context and infuriating facts.

There was so much about SiCKO that seemed very "un-Michael-Moore," given Moore's history of heavy-handed editing and cinematic polemicism. Recently, I've had serious issues with Bowling For Columbine, which contains scenes that I would label unethical documentary filmmaking. The bank sequence at the beginning of the film was edited as if Moore simply walked into a bank, filled out paper work, and walked out with a gun. That simply wasn't the case. Moore's editing of Charlton Heston's speech in Colorado was absolutely unjustified. If you read Heston's speech transcript, he actually serves up some good points. Moore edited those out unfairly.

But Moore let's the people do the talking for the most part in his latest documentary, which I consider to be he most mature and disciplined. Of course, there's the typical Moore narration throughout the film, with quips of humor and cutting ironies. But I don't think Moore is shoving anything down our throats, he's merely confirming the obvious: That a health care system, whose primary motivation is financial profit, is inhumane and inexcusable.

I felt that the faith I had started to lose in Michael Moore was renewed with SiCKO and I hope some of the bridges he burned with his previously polarizing films are rebuilt by those who would normally oppose Moore's ideology, or by politicians who might be afraid to have their names associated with anything Moore-sque. SiCKO attempts to reach across the aisle and unite all of us as a body politic. Hopefully, his previous reaching across the aisle to slap some sense into people doesn't turn them away from this very important, if not historically essential, film.

And don't worry Michael, I plan on actually going to the theater to see it again. You'll get my eight dollars.


Warren said...

Yeah, I started the film and felt disgust for our health system, but I fought back the tears for almost 2/3 of the movie. Then, when they went to Cuba and the lady was able to get her inhalers for 6 pesos...I lost it, I broke down and cried hard at how horribly our government has screwed its citizens. Don't be surprised if I move to Canada or France within the next 5 years. Nice review Steve!

Willy said...

Unlike you, Steve, I rarely agree with Eric Snider's reviews, I find him silly, trite, and basically stupid. So, I wasn't surprised at all see him on the anti-Moore bandwagon. He seems to agree that our health care system is fucked but doesn't like Michael Moore's anecdotal style of relaying the message. It's the same old bull-shit critique that he, Moore, dismisses data and relies on personal narratives to get his point across. But isn't that the most effective type of documentary? It's not Frontline for God's sake! It's supposed to be entertaining. Besides that, he gives the most important statistic: people in other countrys live longer than us.

The thing that really confuses me about guys like Snider is how they can cling to the status quo when they are those getting screwed. If you work for an insurance company, by all means hate this movie, but if you're a regular joe wake up, God damnit!

Like Warren, when I saw the look on the 911 rescue worker as she uttered "it's an insult" I couldn't control myslelf any longer. What an insult that our corporations dare profit from those who volunteered selflessly.

Speaking of anecdotes, My second daughter was born in a hospital in Barcelona, Spain. There were complications, and I was scared shitless. We were living in the country illegally and did not qaulify for their free health care. However, the doctors and nurses gave us their full attention, and I sincerely believed they saved my daughter's life. There were no long lines, the care was remarkable, and it didn't cost us a dime. Socialized insurance makes perfect sense, and Sicko gets it dead on.