Bowling for Columbine, 121 mins, rated M, opens in cinemas 26 December 2002


Don’t be deterred by the title: this film is not about bowling; it is about gun control. “Columbine” is the high school in Littleton, Colorado, where on 20 April 1999 two teenaged kids, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, used high-powered rifles to kill 12 students and one teacher.  It appeared to be revenge for being considered “different”.  And bowling?  The two boys went bowling before they went on the shooting spree.

Michael Moore, who wrote, produced and directed this documentary, is known for his blunt, confrontational style.  His television series, The Awful Truth, was shown recently on Australian television.  His most successful film until now, the documentary Roger and Me, was made 13 years ago.  Moore’s trademark technique is to pursue corporate executives relentlessly, armed with a camera and microphone, demanding explanations.  Roger and Me was the highest-grossing narrative documentary of all time and won many critics awards.  Bowling for Columbine looks set to eclipse that success.

Michael Moore might have made a good lawyer.  He certainly knows how to cross-examine.  He cross-examines Charlton Heston, President of the National Rifle Association, about the Constitutional right to bear arms.  Heston, perplexed, runs away from him.  And when he cross-examines James Nichols, the brother of Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols, the results are scary.

Moore’s style can grate, though.  His logic is all over the place.  He admits that he just takes a story wherever it leads.  Here he starts in a bank (which is also a gun dealership), then examines the circumstances of the Columbine massacre, and moves on to Flint, Michigan where he investigates the “Flint Militia” and a shooting by a 6-year-old in elementary school.  Later he gives us a highly subjective, but amusing, animated history of gun-ownership in the United States, and links all this with Kosovo and K-Mart.  He ends with a horrific montage of gun-related violence, culminating in footage of the 2nd plane hitting the World Trade Centre, with Louis Armstrong singing “What a Wonderful World”.  It’s inflammatory stuff, and many of the connections are spurious. But Moore says that the film is about the culture of fear in America, and how that leads to acts of violence, domestically and internationally.

A final word of warning:  this film is rated M but contains some shocking scenes of violence and death.  You won’t have time to close your eyes.  But then again, maybe we shouldn’t close our eyes to this story.  It could happen here.

© Michèle M Asprey 2003

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