Manufacturing Dissent
R4 - Australia - DV1
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak and David Cormack (4th September 2007).
The Film

Niccolo Machiavelli, in his piece de resistance "The Prince", suggested that for a Prince to gain power or to maintain power, one must be willing to do whatever is necessary to get that power. In a nutshell what Machiavelli was saying is that in most situations, the ends will justify the means. If one subscribes to this theory then "Manufacturing Dissent" will not bother you. If however, you believe that the means should be moral then prepare to be upset.
Michael Moore has crafted an image of being the left's poster boy, of working for the working man and looking after the little fellow. He rose to prominence on the back of "Roger & Me" (1989), his 'documentary' on the economic problems facing his hometown of Flint, Michigan when General Motors started pulling its factories out of its hometown. It detailed Moore's fruitless attempts to talk to Roger B. Smith, then chairman of General Motors. Moore's next big splash was "Bowling for Columbine" (2002), the expose on America's obsession with guns, he won an Oscar for this film and gained further notoriety when his anti-Bush acceptance speech at the Academy Award's ceremony was booed; then came "Fahrenheit 9/11" (2004), Moore's attack on the Bush presidency and its accusations of election skullduggery; and finally, he's about to release "Sicko" (2007), his latest film about the state of the American Healthcare industry.
So what's "Manufacturing Dissent" about? It's the turning of the tables, where the cameras are pointed at Moore and he becomes the subject of his hijack documentary tale. Toronto-based documentary filmmakers Rick Caine and Debbie Melnyk chase Moore across the United States and Canada on his 'Slackers Uprising' Tour prior to the 2004 Presidential Election. The point of their chase is to get an interview with the man. As they continue their chase they learn more and more about Moore's techniques when making his films. From his selective editing, to his chronological disordering to his out and out misrepresentations (his scene in "Bowling for Columbine" where he claims the gun from the bank has come under heavy fire from a number of sources, see Moorewatch.com). According to sources, Caine and Melnyk started out as avid Moore supporters and were roused into making a film on him after watching "Fahrenheit 9/11". Their original intention was to make a biography of Moore but as they dug deeper and deeper they found a lot of things they didn't like.
It's hard not to remain skeptical that perhaps they've committed some of the same crimes they accuse Moore of; whenever this hijack style is used we can never be sure what gets left on the cutting room floor. Secondly, it's important to ask - does it really matter? That depends on what you view Moore as. If you view him as an entertainer then no it doesn't. If you view him as a deliverer of a message then again, no it doesn't; the reason this should be considered important is that Moore purports to be a documentary maker.
He won an Academy Award, his industry's highest honour, in the Documentary category. So if he's misrepresenting facts is he really a documentarian? The viewer's answer to this question somewhat dictates whether or not they enjoy the piece.
The biggest criticisms I can level at this film is that it's really a film for filmmakers. The documentarians at no stage level any serious criticism of Moore's films, that his subject matter is wrong or that his overall message is a lie, rather, the tactics he employs are underhanded and deceptive. Tut-tut Mr. Moore.
The other criticism is that by using Moore's style on Moore himself, rather than appear clever they just appear plagiaristic. I'm not a fan of Moore's style of accosting subjects without notice and of emotionally hijacking films with his own slant (see this review of "Jesus Camp" (2006) for a better analysis of putting a documentary director's views in his/her work) and we get the same thing in this piece. Ultimately, it feels as though the two producers have fallen victim to what they claim is the ultimate criticism of Moore. Rather than deliver an effective message, they, like Moore, are just interested in celebrity.

Video

Presented in a widescreen ratio of 1.78:1 this anamorphic transfer isn't the best, but it's adequate considering the film is a low budget documentary. Shot on mini DV the footage is at times soft, sharpness is not always consistent and colours are also a problem. Skin tones appear natural most of the time and black levels are adequate. I spotted no major compression problems considering the transfer was likely struck from the original digital source.

Audio

A single English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is included on this release, the film is a documentary with the primary focus on interviews and dialogue so there isn't anything to say about this track other than the fact it presents the audio clearly and without distortion. Sometimes the filmmakers were not able to plug their camera into the soundboard at Moore's appearances so the audio during those scenes can be a bit muffled but this is not entirely a fault in the audio track.
The film does not include any optional subtitles.

Extras

First up we've got a "Discussion with Filmmakers", this featurette runs for 7 minutes 31 seconds and includes a collection of documentary filmmakers that dislike Moore's films but mostly dislike his tactics, style and use of footage out of context. Also a fair amount of Moore-bashing is also done during this clip.

A collection of 11 deleted scenes is also included on this disc and presented in the menu one after the other without a 'play all' option which would have been useful:
- "Michael on the School Board" runs for 1 minute 24 seconds, this looks at what Moore was up to during his school board days.
- "Michael the Boy Scout" runs for 1 minute 21 seconds, a retelling of something Moore did while out during survival training in the Eagle Scouts.
- "Pat Clawson's Tour of Flint" runs for 43 seconds and is a look at the boarded up houses in Flint.
- "The Coney Island Dog" runs for 1 minute 18 seconds, and is a look at the famous hot dog made in Michigan.
- "Faked Documentaries" runs for 2 minutes 11 seconds, this is an animated clip that exposes a couple of faked documentaries.
- "Larry Stecco" runs for 1 minute 20 seconds, Stecco comments on how he was misrepresented in the film "Roger & Me".
- "Ray Bardbury" runs for 43 seconds, the writer comments on not having any political interests.
- "The American Film Renaissance" runs for 1 minute 59 seconds and takes a look at a conservative film festival.
- "Getting into Heaven" runs for 45 seconds, and is about a quote Moore uses often.
- "Traverse Bay Freedom Film Festival" runs for 2 minutes 50 seconds, takes a look at an anti-Michael Moore film festival.
- "Controversy at the Carpet Barn" runs for 3 minutes 17 seconds, and is about how Moore tried to censor an ad from a local carpet retailer.

Overall

The Film: C Video: B Audio: B Extras: B Overall: B-

 


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