Friday, June 04, 2004

The Moore the Merrier?

Get out your No. 2 pencils.

Michael Moore is to 21st century documentary filmmaking as __________ is to 1990s independent cinema.

Put your pencils down.

If you said Quentin Tarantino, you get a gold star and a pack of Red Apple cigarettes.

Putting aside political beliefs or desire to see truthful facts in a documentary, Michael Moore is inarguably an entertaining filmmaker with a unique voice who does what he does better than anybody. His Bowling for Columbine helped usher in the recent golden age of documentaries and showed mainstream audiences that “documentary” wasn’t a synonym for “dull nature video.” Columbine set a new bar for documentary marketability and box office potential in much the same way that Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction did for indie films. Yet, like Tarantino, Moore may have done as much of a disservice to the genre as a service.

Pulp was followed by a string of derivative copy-cats (an ironic accusation, I know, given that’s exactly what Tarantino was doing in the first place) ranging in quality from painful (so forgettable I can’t think of any) to sublime (The Usual Suspects, Get Shorty and Trainspotting were all, fairly or unfairly, deemed Tarantinoesque). For a while, it seemed that almost every indie felt obliged to ape the familiar elements of Pulp and Reservoir Dogs.

Now, with movies like Super Size Me and that one about the guy trying to date Drew Barrymore, is it only a matter of time before the documentary field becomes inundated with directors cribbing Moore’s style and technique? I saw Super Size yesterday, and while I enjoyed it and found it eye-opening (and surprisingly mouth-watering; in the same moment I both craved McDonald’s and never wanted to eat it again), I couldn’t help worry that its financial and critical success might lead to further over-saturation of Mooresque docs (not unlike the way McDonald’s and its ilk have proliferated over America’s culinary landscape).

Already Super Size “diractor” Morgan Spurlock seems to be following in Moore’s footsteps, inflating his ego almost as fast as he inflated his waistline. Granted, he still seems to be a nice, semi-down-to-earth guy, but remember, that was Moore’s thing for a long time, too. He still likes to delusionally [is that not a word? So says my Microsoft spell-checker] think of himself as a man of the people. However, one need only look at some of the self-congratulatory statements on Spurlock’s blog to see where he might be headed if his doc makes it to $20 million or an Oscar nomination.

[TANGENT ALERT: YELLOW/ELEVATED – Another interesting parallel between Tarantino and Moore is that aside from (and possibly clouding) their filmmaking skills, they are both larger than life personalities – the auteur as writer-director-star-media attention whore – who shill themselves more than their masterpieces.]

So as long as the knock-offs are this good, what’s the problem? The problem is that anytime something as unique as Tarantino’s or Moore’s styles become mass-appropriated, it dilutes the original, fatigues the audience and may crowd future original voices out of the marketplace. Or maybe not. But isn’t preventing Moore’s head from getting any more super-sized reason enough to curb his disciples?


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