Roger & Me (1989)

After seeing Michael Moore's most recent film, The Big One, I just had to revisit the film that got it all started, 1989's Roger & Me. When I first saw it back around 1991, it made me completely paranoid of all corporations and their "profit-above-all" ways. It was, as Kathleen Carroll of the New York Daily News put it so eloquently, "...the perfect film at the perfect time". It was released at the end of the devastating "Reagan-omics" era, a time when our economy was at it's lowest point. Times have changed now in 1998, but the corporations stay the same, still doing everything to earn the all-important dollar, even in a time of great wealth, and Moore expresses this notion in The Big One almost as well as he captured the plight of downsizing in 1989.

Moore begins Roger and Me by telling about himself and his history in Flint. He's not some outsider documenting this catastrophe for his own good, he's one of these people, doing this to raise awareness for the downsized people of Flint, Michigan.

The funniest moments are watching Moore try to track down Roger Smith, the chairman of General Motors, who shut down the plants in Flint to move them to Mexico, where the labor is infinitely cheaper. He enters numerous buildings looking for Smith, only to be thrown out moments later by people too afraid to talk to him. It is the same everywhere he goes: asking about Roger Smith and his whereabouts, always ending with the line, "You're going to have to leave. This is a private building."

The tragedy, however, is the deterioration, both of the town and of the people. Watching the houses and the local businesses, all boarded up and evacuated, as we hear The Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice" is a heartbreaking scene.

The deterioration of the people, though, is the worst. Moore documents the rise in crime that comes from unemployment, the awful things people will do for money, such as being a naive, confused color-analyzed Amway saleswoman, an unemployed woman who's forced to raise rabbits only to beat their heads with a bat, strip them of their fur, gut them, and sell their meat to survive, and laid-off auto workers forced to become employees of the local Taco Bell. Selling your blood every day is also a lucrative financial opportunity for unemployed citizens.

Not only does Moore document the people who've been laid-off and how they're coping, but he also tells the lives of some other people in the community, such as Fred Ross, the local Sheriff's Deputy, whose very secure job it is to evict people from their homes. He's a sympathetic man, just as Moore is, and he's a former auto worker who left because he no longer wanted to deal with the system. He evicts twenty people a day, and we're shown a good number of them. It's very hard to watch a family - all of them single-parent families - learn that they have to leave their homes and watch as a small child looks on, unable to fathom what is going on.

The aspect of Roger & Me that affects me the most is Moore's dislike of the rich elite of Flint and of the automobile community. He shows us these people who are telling us how the laid-off workers how they should cope with their situation when they have absolutely no idea what it is they're going through: The rich wives of GM executives playing golf at the country club, telling all the things they love about Flint: "The thing I like most is our friends, our clubs, the shops, those that are left..." Miss Michigan, whose encouraging words to the people of Flint are "I'd just like to tell everybody to wish me luck at Miss America, so I can bring home the crown." The guests at the rich folks' Gatsby party, who accuse Moore of only focusing on the negative aspects of the plant closings and who list the positive aspects: "The ballet,'s a great place to live." Even the people who've gotten out of Flint and become famous, like Pat Boone, Bob Eubanks, and Anita Bryant, have forgotten their past and talk like they've lived here all their lives, though they, like the rich that they're a part of, haven't the slightest idea what they're talking about. It grows worse, though, and much sadder with people like Tom Kay, a middle-class GM lobbyist and Flint resident who vehemently supports and depends Roger Smith and his tactics. It's sad and it's stupid, not even knowing your own enemy, an enemy who laid him off a few months later. The worst and most disgusting, however, is Roger Smith himself, saying in his annual Christmas Message that he gives to everyone, and not to "put silver in his pocket", but for the betterment of everyone. The laid-off worker earlier in the film was right in saying, "Some people know what time it is. Others don't."

Michael Moore is the champion of us blue-collar, regular joes. It's a shame "TV Nation" was canceled so soon, but now his new show, "The Awful Truth" will begin showing in April 1999, another outlet for anti-establishment thought. Roger & Me was the first from a filmmaker who tells stories to prove a point, not just to tell a story. Even if it's every nine years that he comes out with one of his great films, I hold my breath for his next.