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Bowling for Columbine

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I had a lot of people write and ask me for my opinion about Bowling For Columbine when it was in theaters but I didn't see it till well after it was out on DVD (10-04). I'd heard enough about the movie to decide that I wasn't going to pay the stiff theater prices to see it and since I had already waited so long, when it came out for rent I decided to wait till I could see it for free.

I eventually found a copy at my local library. By that point I had heard so much about the film and seen so many excerpts of interviews that I already knew about the most surprising parts of the film: The campaign against K-mart's selling ammunition, the interview with Charlton Heston, etc. I already knew that the movie wasn't so much about Columbine specifically as it was about living in a nation where the gun is the rule, or so the film would have the viewer believe.

I have mixed feelings regarding Bowling for Columbine. I have to say after seeing it that it bothers me to know that there are teachers in other countries who use that film to illustrate what American life is like today. It's not how I see America, and I live here. Yes, we have a high level of domestic gun-related violence but every place has some sort of extremes -- and extremists.

Michael Moore, director of 'Bowling for Columbine That said, I did find valid points in the film. It was difficult to watch at times, particularly when they talked with survivors of school shootings. Moore's interview with Kayla Rolland's teacher was particularly depressing.

Kayla Rolland was a first-grader who was just six years old when a classmate - also six - brought a gun to school and shot her while they were lining up to leave the classroom. She died within minutes; she bled to death on the floor of her classroom while her classmates stood over her.

I followed that case back when it happened and was gripped again with just how young the kids were. It was obvious the shooter wasn't even fully aware of the severity of his actions and had no concept of death. As for poor Kayla's parents... I can scarcely imagine what that must have been like for them, to lose a child so young and violently, in a place where a parent's worst worry should be skinned knees and strep throat.

The part of the film having to do with Charlton Heston was also sad. As a child I loved him in Ten Commandments and grew up - like many - sort of thinking of him as Moses. I still have a geeky soft spot for him in Planet of the Apes.

Back in 1999 the NRA was scheduled to come to Denver to hold their convention. At the time I thought it was uncouth and insensitive of them to go ahead and hold it there despite the shooting. Columbine wasn't just some bomb threat at school; people died.

Since then I've done my research and come to understand the nature and logistics of trying to move a rally of that size in under 3 weeks AND get the word out to all the people who've already made arrangements and the legal backlash if everyone isn't informed and, and, and... The short of it: Legal red tape prevented change on such short notice.

However I did think it was out of place for Heston to show up and carry on like the NRA was going to be blamed for the shootings even though no one had even suggested such a thing at the time. I know that Michael Moore carefully chose his footage for the film to portray what he wanted reality to appear. He carefully tailored the footage to drive his points home. But as unfair as that is, it might've been wiser of Mr Heston to give a more somber speech about how the NRA stood for responsible gun ownership and skipped the speech about how people could take his gun away when they could pry it from his cold, dead hands. When children have been killed it's just not the time for posturing.

Watching Moore grill Heston in what the actor had obviously thought would be a fanboy interview was painful in a weird way. It was sad to watch someone I'd thought of so fondly for so long get raked over the coals. On the one hand I wanted Michael Moore to stop picking on him, especially since he'd misled Heston to get the interview. On the other, it was difficult and disappointing to hear some of the answers Heston gave.

But the thing that bothered me most about the film was how Moore was dishonest with the Columbine survivors he roped into the film. Richard Castaldo, Mark Taylor, and Brooks Brown all later said that he lied to them about what the purpose of the film was in order to get them to appear in it. Mark said later that if he'd known what Michael Moore was really doing, he wouldn't have agreed to be in it at all.

As for my opinion on this specific film... it's good for the news clips, interviews and stuff that has directly to do with the school shootings but the viewer should keep in mind that the whole film is a very subjective look at a culture. It's meant to shock and horrify the viewer, not to present a neutral, unbiased look at what America is really like.

An Australian friend of mine told me when he visited: "I expected things to be a lot more dangerous here. I thought there'd be people with guns in their coats around every corner. But being here... it's not that different from Melbourne only you yanks drive on the wrong side of the street."

In short, we're not that different from other civilized English-speaking nations. Anyone can frame facts so they support the conclusion the author wants you to believe. The same holds true for this film. It's supposed to scare you. If you were to pick up a travel video highlighting a trip to America, you'd see a completely different side of things. Why? Because each side is marketing what they want to sell.

Moore's not spotlighting the good side of American culture any more than you would see the homicide rate posted in a travel company's brochure. See this film for the interviews. See it for the news clips. See it for the resolution to the K-mart ammo sales issue. But remember: It isn't 'Eye on America'. It's a personal opinion, just like this review is.

As a side note, I would suggest checking out Michael Moore Hates America, a film directed by Michael Wilson in which he uses Moore's own tactics in an attempt to interview Michael Moore about his dodgy film-making and surprising political connections. It makes a great counterpoint to Bowling for Columbine.

Michael Moore's website hacked
Michael Moore's website was hacked not long after
'Bowling for Columbine' was released.