Slacker UprisingReviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 09/23/08 23:11:14
What is it that Michael Moore wants to say with his new film, “Slacker Uprising”? The documentary follows his get-out-the-vote rally tour of late 2004, where the commitment to change the nation excited countless young people who’d never voted before. The enthusiasm of these events played a part in bringing a record number of 18-29 year old voters to the polls - only to have the whole thing fall apart on election day.Moore is not trying to offer spin on these rallies; indeed, the film’s introduction winkingly describes the tour as his “failed effort” to mobilize the young left. Why, then, mention this stuff at all, so close to the next election? One could easily view this footage with a bitter, cynical eye: all that energy, all that hope, all that unity, and they still lost. Why bother this time?
But that’s why Moore is releasing this movie now, actually. Even at the bitter end, with footage of Bush’s second inaugural, “Slacker Uprising” remains wildly optimistic about the future, a sort of feel-good antidote to Moore’s own “Fahrenheit 9/11”. If that film showed Bush as the cause of a troubled present, this new film shows us college kids and Gen-Y rebels as the bright new future. (The 2008 campaign is never mentioned, yet it’s easy to read Moore’s underlying message about the power of youth and change as an unsaid endorsement for a certain presidential candidate. You know, the younger, changier one.)
The rallies and the speeches and the performances may be four years old, but Moore, realizing complaints about the economy and the Iraq War are still valid, hopes to recycle these old rallies into a new movement. The film ends with title cards in big, bold capital letters informing viewers that the fight goes on, so get out there and vote, and while he won’t say for whom, you can probably figure it out. The theme here isn’t so much So Close, And Yet So Far but If We Came That Close Last Time, Then This Time We’ll Really Win.
To promote this movement, Moore has released the film online for free, asking his fans to pass the movie around, arrange screenings, etc., all royalty-free. It’s a clever means of reaching out to the free-download-loving youth of 08, while also thumbing his nose at the right-wingers who said they wouldn’t watch “Fahrenheit” because they didn’t want to spend money on Moore, but now don’t have that argument to excuse them.
So that’s the why. But what about the movie itself? Simply put, it’s good, mostly.
Moore often tiptoes into the ego-booster waters that also occasionally dragged down his 1997 effort “The Big One” (which also followed him on a nationwide tour). That film saw him as a budding celebrity; “Slacker Uprising” sees him infinitely more famous (and infamous), thanks to the scuttlebutt surrounding “Fahrenheit”. At times, Moore’s new film wants to remind us the fact that Moore is now a household name, that he can attract thousands of fans, that he is able to bring in big name guests, that lefties love him and righties fear him. (Indeed, the original title was the clumsy, overly smug “Captain Mike Across America”.)
But that’s just a portion of what’s ultimately an engaging, if repetitive, document of a tour and a snapshot of a moment in time. Moore gives plenty of screen time to guests famous and not-so-famous alike, creating at time a concert film vibe. Eddie Vedder sings a wonderful cover of Cat Stevens’ “Don’t Be Shy”. Indie musician Bob Something gets big cheers for his song about Al Gore. R.E.M., Tom Morello, and Viggo Mortensen stop by to give speeches. And Joan Baez - Joan Baez! - pops by for a song and a chat. (While the tour’s target audience may have wondered who this Baez person was, her presence reminds us that activism isn’t limited to the young.)
It’s equally exciting to watch Moore give the spotlight to everyday folks, some of whom make speeches on stage, while others pause for interviews while waiting in line. On one touching scene, the audience stands to applaud a young veteran, who’s teary-eyed by the response. Later, the film takes great pride in showing us college students working voter registration drives, highlighting Moore’s statements that everyone should not just vote, but volunteer. When Moore turns his camera around and says this film - this election - is about you, not him, the movie really clicks.
The film slips into redundancy here and there as Moore includes clips from local news reports detailing the reaction to his arrival. The overall picture Moore aims to paint is that Republicans everywhere are anxious to do anything to stop his fans from gathering. While this results in the intermittent funny aside (in Michigan, where he jokingly passed out ramen noodles and clean underpants to slacker attendees, local politicians shouted that such a stunt was “buying votes”), this side of the picture tends to drag, and isn’t nearly as captivating as when Moore goes for all-out optimism.
That optimism builds and builds, and by the time Moore gets to his finale, he’s in full-on battle cry mode, and it’s here the movie works best. These final scenes are the cinematic equivalent of a “yes we can!” chant, meant to inspire. For a filmmaker best known for his snark, this upbeat tone is a welcome change of pace.Will it make a difference? No more than “Fahrenheit” did. But then, that’s the point: this movie wants to pass the baton to you. For all his speeches and rallies and famous friends, Moore knows where the real power lies. Not a bad message at all.
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