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Bowling for Columbine

Michael Moore's arrival. After Roger and Me and TV shows like The Awful Truth, Moore was positioning himself to be something America had never seen before. He emerged as a popular Ralph Nader, an everyday Joe just like Americans liked to see themselves but full of righteous indignation about the theft of the political process from the general public and the education to construct and frame his arguments – ironically, considering the slacker persona he cultivates.

He's always seen himself as an entertainer first and foremost, but it's when he's mixing his left wing message with his skills as a comic filmmaker that he's the most effective. The one example of narrative fiction I've seen from him (Canadian Bacon) had too much of his political justice baggage and came across only mildly funny but feeling like it had a chip on its shoulder.

Whether it was through some confluence of unidentifiable cultural factors or that fact that he turned his gaze on something the rest of the world had long been aware of – America's obsession with gun culture – this movie caught on in a big way.

It was coffee table psychology but still effective – America is a violent society both within itself and in its dealings with the rest of the world ('Just another day, [sic] ' he says not long into the movie 'America bombed another country it's people can't even pronounce'), so is it any wonder there's so much gun violence?

But whether you love or hate him (he seemed to fall our of favour through a natural process of decline rather than because of his many attackers and detractors, his last film Capitalism: A Love Story barely making its money back) Moore has the knack of stating the bleeding obvious, or at least structuring and presenting his arguments in such a way they seem bleeding obvious.

In all the comment about the aftermath of the Columbine High School shootings, it was the first time I heard that the kids who killed and died lived in a district where one of the largest employers is a munitions plant whose products end up killing innocent Palestinians and Iraqis. It seems obvious that Dad going to work in a factory that makes products designed to kill shouldn't be too shocked when his children arm themselves and shoot each other.

Moore's rapidly rising star generated his fair share of enemies even on his own side of politics. When I interviewed Matt Stone for Team America he told me how pissed off he was that Moore had followed his onscreen interview with Stone by a sarcastic animation about America's history of gun love. Apparently it made a lot of people think Stone and South Park co-creator Trey Parker were responsible for the video, which Stone found 'offensive'.

Even though it was gripping at the time and made great viewing in a tabloid current affairs show style, the accusations of grandstanding do stand up. No matter what a right wing Republican idiot Charlton Heston came across it was poor form to put him on the spot to explain the killing of a little girl in a gun accident – even if Heston showed a shocking lack of class and made himself look guilty by walking out of the interview.

But it was an example of Moore's biggest talent, proving himself master of the punchy image. The sequence of him getting a bank account that gets him a free gun is as funny as it is acerbic, and (presuming he didn't coach or stage any of it) he uses editing and a little bit of performance to make it shine much brighter than a dry feature article or academic tract ever could.

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