Michael Moore's Use of Expository and Interactive Modes in Roger & Me
Derek P. Rucas
In Matthew Bernstein’s article “Documentaphobia and Mixed Modes” Bernstein acknowledges that Michael Moore’s Roger & Me (1989) is a problematic documentary because Moore uses expository and interactive modes to manipulate the text to form a subjective ideology. I would argue that although perhaps unethical, Moore’s hybrid filmmaking strategy is successful in captivating an audience. The framework specific to Roger & Me is the same general framework used in Moore’s Oscar Award winning and financially successful film Bowling for Columbine (2002). Moore incorporates a story narrative that flows like a fiction film. He tells his “story” using a comedic tone that helps the audience engage with the material. Roger & Me is also rich with stylistic techniques that help to emphasize Moore’s thesis without boring his audience. By using both the expository and interactive modes, Moore eloquently tells us a story while depicting corporate greed in America in the 1980s.
In Bernstein’s article, he quotes Moore by stating that, “Roger & Me is not a “documentary…but ‘a movie,’ ‘a documentary told with a narrative style.’” (Bernstein 397) The reason for this is because Roger & Me is neither simply expository nor interactive. It amalgamates both styles to inform the audience and does so with a narrative flow. Moore utilizes the voiceover narration strategy to both 1) assert the claims that he makes throughout the film (regarding the greed of corporate America) and 2) engage with the audience by telling “his story” as he travels through Michigan in search of Roger Smith. The expository-style voice over is followed by a(n) (interactive) convention when Moore interviews the elite class at a party and asks them what they think about the GM layoffs. The dichotomization of the expository and interactive styles of filmmaking distinguishes Moore’s social role in the film, while captivating his audience in the meantime.
The narrative flow of Roger & Me is successful in captivating viewers because of the comedic essence that underlies the textual basis. Bernstein acknowledges that Roger & Me does possess a “comedic tone” despite its formalities. (Bernstein 410) Moore reacts to the serious and sometimes heartbreaking incidences in the film with comedic undertones to maintain the viewer’s attention. This technique is similar to that of comic relief in the fiction film. For instance, when Moore encounters the “Pets or Meat lady”, he is taken aback by the fact that she will either sell rabbits for pets or for food. His bewildered reaction invokes a chuckle from the audience, because of the situation’s unimaginable nature.
Finally, Moore uses the audio/visual technique of juxtaposition to emphasize his thesis in an aesthetically stimulating manner. One of the most prominent examples of this is in the twenty-eight second montage sequence where Moore explains his interpretation of GM’s corporate strategy. He uses still images of graphs, stock footage of cars crossing the U.S./Mexican border and footage of an airborne missile firing into a wall. Moore juxtaposes this with a quick-pace voiceover analysis of why Roger Smith is closing GM plants in the United States when the economy is prosperous. Moore also strategically places this montage segment near the beginning of the film to give his audience a framework for the film’s ideological position. The stylistic montage segment and its quick-pace construction serves as a strategy to maintain the audience’s attention.
Michael Moore’s Roger & Me is successful in conveying Moore’s ideological standpoint while upholding an entertaining framework that is easily receptive. The hybridization of the expository and interactive modes of documentary filmmaking lend to the narrative structure of the film making Roger & Me very watchable. Moore also uses comedic elements to smooth out the intense issues that the film portrays. This comedic undertone lends to the text, similar to how the notion of comic relief lends to the fictional text. The stylistic technique of juxtaposition is another aspect that Moore uses throughout the film to help the audience engage with the film’s text and at the same time, does not bore the audience with its rhetoric. It can therefore be argued that these constructive elements make Michael Moore a successful documentary filmmaker and that Roger & Me can be easily received amongst mass audiences.
Rucas, Derek P. "Michael Moore's Use of Expository and Interactive Modes in Roger & Me." Film Articles and Critiques. 2 Nov. 2003 <http://www.angelfire.com/film/articles/moore.htm>.
by Derek P. Rucas