The Big One

. As a member of the Online Film Critics Society, CV could not ignore the society’s award to The Big One for best documentary film of 1998. To be perfectly honest about it, we hadn’t even seen this film, no less voted for it. Since Miramax was kind enough to send on a review copy, we took a look.

First of all, it must be clearly established that what Michael Moore does can be labeled "documentary" only by a stretch of critical generosity. Mr. Moore’s technique is to stage a selection of situations in an effort to make predetermined points. There is no discussion of issues. What he does is not "fiction," but it isn’t objective film reporting either, in any sense of the term. Indeed, Moore’s films probably fit the category of propaganda more precisely than they do documentary.

As it happens, CV’s politics are not so distant from Mr. Moore’s. I think there is ample evidence that many major corporations benefit from "corporate welfare," using their high paid lobbyists in Washington to obtain tax breaks and direct or indirect subsidies, enhancing their profits at the expense of American taxpayers. I don’t doubt that corporations don’t spend a penny more on the good and welfare of long term employees than they absolutely must, as they export jobs to third world countries, exploit cheap labor in those places under conditions which were outlawed in the United States generations ago, and lay off the more expensive workers at home.

But, Mr. Moore doesn’t give us substance. He doesn’t lay out a case with facts and cause and effect. Instead he makes a manipulative, glib, gimmicky, self promoting film, based on a tour he made to hustle his book, Downsize This! The book was published by Random House, a major corporate publisher, which brags on its web site about how it "streamlined its operations" – dontcha just wonder how many jobs were lost? Helloooo, Mr. Moore?

Moore made his reputation a decade ago with Roger & Me, a "documentary" film in which he used similar techniques. Then, it was fresh and novel; it seemed a clever way to offer his point of view with a light, satirical touch, backed up by, if memory serves, a lot more focused and factual reporting than we are offered in The Big One.

Success has spoiled Michael Moore. He makes a pretty good standup comic as he preaches to the converted, and The Big One is easy to watch, mildly amusing from time to time. But with so many fine documentaries being made by young filmmakers today, it seems a shame to waste awards and accolades on shallow, commercial rehashes such as this. Let’s hope the Academy exhibits better taste this year than OFCS did.

Arthur Lazere

San Francisco, CA
Mr. Lazere founded culturevulture.net in 1998 and worked tirelessly to promote its potential as a means for communicating a distinctly personal yet wide-ranging selection of arts reviews. Under his leadership, the site grew in esteem as well as in “circulation", and is well-regarded nationally and internationally as a source for up-to-date, well-written criticism. Arthur passed away on September 30, 2006.