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The Reeler Blog

Captain Mike Across Toronto

By S.T. VanAirsdale

Waiting in line Saturday to check out the Kevin Macdonald doc My Enemy's Enemy, a Weinstein Co. publicist approached me to ask my impression of Captain Mike Across America, the new Michael Moore mash-up composed of vignettes from the filmmaker's Slacker Uprising Tour-- a six-week, cross-country stump voyage on behalf of vote mobilization before the 2004 presidential election. "The single largest-scale vanity project since Caligula," I said.

Michael Moore with TIFF documentary programmer Thom Powers at Saturday's press conference for Captain Mike Across America (Photo: STV)

It was neither a joke nor a dismissal. The publicist replied with her hope that I would like Macdonald's film better, but in fact, I probably prefer Captain Mike if only for its emphatic, unapologetic worship of Moore's cultural influence, arguably the only (and easily the most) unifying factor in American liberal politics today. That Moore himself originated and directed the film is only a testament to its honesty -- and his own. "This is a film for the choir," he told TIFF documentary programmer Thom Powers at today's press conference for the film, which enjoyed a standing ovation at its Toronto premiere Friday night. "This is specifically for people who want change in the United States. It's a film for my fans, to kind of rally their spirits -- people who have been very depressed for the last seven years, who don't like what's going on in the United States."

Captain Mike Across America features Moore welcoming those crowds to rallies in more than five dozen cities, dueling with shout-down saboteurs in Middle America and hosting old-fashioned revival-style performances by Eddie Vedder and Steve Earle. He introduces Iraq War veterans and families of fallen troops, all calling for the incumbent George W. Bush's ouster for his bungling of Iraq, among other things. He chronicles the efforts of Republican business leaders attempting to buy off student governments and other organizers to cancel their local events. Moore makes the rounds as ringleader, coach, propagandist -- his own Riefenstahl, as much message as messenger. The result is reminiscent of Al Franken: God Spoke, last year's documentary following the comedian and former Air America host's own pre-election tour -- particularly in its exploration of the dynamics of preaching to the choir and America's complex reception to liberal ideology. ("One thing you have to admire about Republicans is that they have something to say, and they’ll shove it in your face," Moore said. "Our side doesn't have those balls, and America doesn't want to go into the voting booth and elect a weenie for president.")

But at the end of God Spoke, its subject's idealism has a cost -- Franken turns inward, contemplates the next step, maybe even a Senate run. At the end of Moore's tour and Captain Mike, despite the election results, idealism survives. Republicans won't be so lucky in the 2008 election, he insists as the film closes, a not-so-convincing attempt to rally the troops around a cause that, in part, failed. I asked Moore how he, as a filmmaker rather than an ideologue, determined that the choir would be willing and able to revive that cause.

"I'm an optimist at heart -- I'm not a cynic," he told The Reeler. "I really believe that people are good at their core and will do the right thing when you give them the chance. America, you know, sometimes we're a nation of slow learners. We want to believe what our leaders tell us. ... I sat on this for almost three years because I wasn't sure, but after the November election last year, I thought, 'People do want change - they do want to get involved now, and they do want to throw these guys out. And I mean really out. I heard someone say the other day, 'When Bush leaves on Jan. 20, 2009, he should be made to walk home."

As far as vanity goes, Moore chuckled. "Trust me," he said, "the last thing you want to do is make a film about yourself and see yourself up on the screen when you look like this. I was watching it last night, sinking down in my seat going, 'This is so... painful.'" It's not false modesty -- at least not as false as the allegations his right-wing nemeses cite as infesting his work. But what Captain Mike Across America demonstrates more than anything -- more than America's liberal lean or Democrats' almost pathological failure to present an electable candidate -- is that Michael Moore knows who he is: his own biggest, most important fan.

Posted at September 8, 2007 12:35 PM

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