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ISSUE 116 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/14/2003

Critic's Corner:

By Molly Bayrd
Executive Editor


Friday, March 14, 2003

James Nichols, brother of Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols, stands in his room and holds a loaded gun to his head. Though the camera’s view of his actions is obstructed by a partially closed door, subtitles let the audience in on what is taking place. Minutes later, a wide-eyed Nichols appears on camera again, this time telling documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, “"There are some real wackos out there." Such is the resounding theme in Moore’s most recent documentary, “"Bowling for Columbine.”"

Yes, there are wackos out there –but only in America, Moore posits. Each year, over 11,000 people die from gun violence in the United States; statistics from other “civilized” countries don'’t come close.

Whether it is out of fear, sheer self-righteousness, or our “right to bear arms” that so many Americans own guns and carry concealed weapons, Moore does not know. His profoundly provocative documentary seeks to locate the answer to this question. He explores poverty, the media and America'’s storied history in search of the motives behind American gun violence, but ultimately leaves the audience with no concrete answers. Moore implies, however, that the average person’'s assumptions about America and guns are far from accurate.

“"Bowling for Columbine"” is Moore’'s fifth film and is full of startling and affecting imagery; one compelling segment shows a litany of America'’s historical faux pas. Images from the 1950s to the present day are strikingly juxtaposed with Louis Armstrong’'s “"What a Wonderful World.”" The subtitled clips depict U.S. overthrows of foreign regimes, the American “terrorist training” of Osama Bin Laden and the U.S. provision of arms to Saddam Hussein in 1982 in order that he might kill Iranians.

The last image in the sequence shows a plane, the second commandeered by terrorists on Sept. 11, crashing into the World Trade Center. No one in the audience spoke.

Aside from his powerful imagery and somber subject matter (another startling scene shows actual surveillance footage from the Columbine tragedy of 1999), Moore uses his trademark humor as a means of guiding the audience through the film. He cracks jokes with police officers and bank managers and allows the camera to catch the gag-victims’ confused reactions. At one point, Moore even asks a Los Angeles police officer if there’s “anyone [he] can arrest about the pollution in [Hollywood].” The humor is what makes the documentary work; it gives the audience some much needed room to breathe.

One of the most awe-inducing aspects of the film are the celebrity “cameos.” No one will ever look at Charleton Heston (spokesperson of the NRA) or Dick Clark in the same way. Hearing Heston utter the words, “f"rom my cold dead hands,"” with a rifle poised above his head, is enough to make anyone shudder. Perhaps it isn'’t the words themselves so much but the fact that they were uttered at an NRA rally held in Littleton, Colo., a mere week after the school shooting at Columbine. Heston was asked to cancel the rally; he declined.

In the end, Moore,– a member of the NRA himself, –returns to footage of a Littleton bowling alley where Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris each rolled a few games before they opened fire on their fellow students on the morning of April 20, 1999. Moore suggests that blaming poverty, the media or our history for American gun violence is almost as senseless as blaming the Columbine incident on bowling. Ultimately, says Moore on the movie’'s website, “the title [“Bowling for Columbine”] suggests other metaphors for the state of the nation which are best left to the viewers and their imagination.”

Other than abortion, there is probably no more divisive issue in this country than gun control. There are those who say that handguns and assault weapons are pure and simply for killing people, while a well-funded opposition contends that the Constitution gives them the right to own those weapons. Whatever your belief, it is likely that while this debate drags on, we are left to wonder ... where and when will we experience the next Columbine?





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