Bowling For Columbine

Bowling for Columbine is a documentary film directed by and starring Michael Moore. It won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Features, and has received praise, controversy, and criticism, both for the genre of the film (creative documentary), and the claims Moore makes in it. The film opened on October 11, 2002, and internationalized Moore's previously cultish American status.

The film won the 55th Anniversary Prize at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, and received a 13-minute standing ovation at the end of its screening at the festival.

The film's purpose is to explore what Moore suggests are the reasons and causes for the Columbine High School massacre, and other acts of violence with guns. Moore focuses on the background and environment in which the massacre took place, and some common public opinions and assumptions about related issues. The film looks into the nature of violence in the United States, focusing on guns as a symbol of both American freedom and its self-destruction.

In Moore's discussions with various people, including South Park co-creator Matt Stone, the National Rifle Association's president Charlton Heston, and musician Marilyn Manson, he seeks to answer the questions of why the Columbine massacre occurred, and why the United States has higher rates of violent crimes (especially crimes involving guns) than other developed nations.

The film title originates from the early myth that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the two boys responsible for the Columbine High School massacre, went bowling early that morning, at 6:00 am, before they committed the attacks at school starting at 11:18 am. However, that assertion has turned out to be a myth that originated from several testimonies of distressed witnesses who accidentally forgot that they had been absent that day. Moore suggests that it is as reasonable to blame their actions on bowling as it is to blame them on violent video games, movies, and music (during the aftermath of the shooting, many used the opportunity to denounce Marilyn Manson and The Matrix, claiming a connection between violence in the media and violence in schools).

Moore incorporates the concept of bowling in other ways as well (beyond the 6 am rumor). Ironically, a militia in Michigan uses bowling pins for their target practice. When interviewing former classmates of the two boys, Moore notes that the students took a bowling class in place of physical education. Moore notes this might have very little educational value and the girls he interviews generally agreed. The girls note how Harris and Klebold had a very introverted lifestyle and a very careless attitude towards the game and nobody thought twice about it. This calls into question the state of the school system (a fact strongly reinforced by Matt Stone). Moore asks the question of whether the school system is responding to the state of today's troubled youth or if they are simply reinforcing the concept of fear to the children and allowing the youth to wallow in this façade. Moore also interviews two young residents of Oscoda, Michigan, in a local bowling alley and in the process learns that guns are relatively easy to come by in the small town. Eric Harris spent some of his early years in Oscoda while his father was serving in the U.S. Air Force.

An early scene narrates how Moore discovered a bank in Michigan that would give you a free hunting rifle when you made a deposit of a certain size into a term deposit account. The movie follows Moore as he goes to the bank, makes his deposit, fills out the forms and awaits the result of a background check before walking out of the bank carrying a brand new Weatherby hunting rifle. In March 2003, John Fund reported in a Wall Street Journal diary page that the bank employee who handled Moore's account, Jan Jacobson, claimed that Moore had arranged the transaction weeks in advance, and that customers have "a week to 10 days waiting period" before collecting their guns.

Moore later responded to these criticisms, writing,"Nothing was done out of the ordinary other than to phone ahead and ask permission to let me bring a camera..." He also states that the background check took less than 10 minutes and he was handed the rifle 5 minutes later. To back up his version of events, he posted out-takes from the documentary. The video shows Jacobson explaining the process to Moore, including that the rifles are held in the bank's vault. The footage in which an employee states that the guns are stored in the bank's vault appears in televised broadcasts of the film.

Early in the movie Moore links the violent behaviour of the Columbine shooters to the presence in Littleton of a large defence establishment, manufacturing rocket technology. It is implied that the presence of this facility, and the acceptance of institutionalized violence as a solution, contributed to the mindset that led to the massacre.

Moore conducts an interview with Evan McCollum, Director of Communications at a Lockheed Martin plant near Columbine, and asked him

"So you don't think our kids say to themselves, 'Dad goes off to the factory every day, he builds missiles of mass destruction. What's the difference between that mass destruction and the mass destruction over at Columbine High School?'"

McCollum responded:

"I guess I don't see that specific connection because the missiles that you're talking about were built and designed to defend us from somebody else who would be aggressors against us."

The comment then cuts to a montage of questionable American foreign policy decisions, with the intent to contradict McCollum's statement, and cite examples of how the United States has, in Moore's view, frequently been the aggressor nation. McCollum has later clarified that the plant no longer produces missiles (the plant manufactured parts for intercontinental ballistic missiles with a nuclear warhead in the mid-1980s), but rockets used for launching satellites. Indeed, the plant was also used to take former nuclear missiles out of service, converting decommissioned Titan missiles into launch vehicles for satellites. Moore later added to his statements from the movie, to say that satellites were equally responsible as nuclear missiles for US-instigated violence, to maintain this point.

It should be noted that McCollum, in the part of the interview that is shown, does not refute Moore's statements about Lockheed's weapons manufacture, which implies Moore is attacking (and McCollum is defending) Lockheed in general, not specifically the Littleton plant. As of 2005, Lockheed was still the world's largest defense contractor by revenue, which Moore states in the film.

Moore's central theme is that the Columbine massacre is not merely a product of the easy availability of guns in the US, but also of the 'climate of fear' that he contends is engendered by American media and society. He illustrates this with news clips, each tending to indicate the prominence given to violence and crime in news reports. Interviews also illustrate the 'security-minded' attitude of US residents.

Moore attempts to contrast this with the attitude prevailing in Canada, where he states that gun ownership is at similar levels to the US. He illustrates his thesis with by visiting neighbourhoods in Canada, near the US border, where he finds front doors unlocked and much less concern over crime and security.

Another major highlight of the documentary is the interview between Moore and rock star Marilyn Manson, in which the "soft-spoken" side of the singer is revealed. When Moore brings up the mention of the Columbine shootings, Manson agrees that parents blame the subject matter of his songs for the violence in schools. However, it is purely for media and sales, not for encouraging people to engage in violence. He states that if he could have spoken to the killers and the students that day, "I wouldn't say a thing. I would just listen to them," proclaimed Manson. "And that's what nobody did."

In one segment of the film, Michael Moore lists a series of military, clandestine, and diplomatic actions by the United States (set to the song "What a Wonderful World" performed by Louis Armstrong). The segment is a satirical response to the comments which immediately precede it: those of a Littleton defense contractor claiming that there is no connection between the inherently violent manufacture of weapons of mass destruction by the parents of Columbine students and the violence of the students themselves, because, he claims, the United States isn't aggressive towards other countries.

On the website accompanying the film, Moore provides additional background information.

The following is an exact transcript of the onscreen text in the Wonderful World segment:

1. 1953: U.S. overthrows Prime Minister Mossadeq of Iran. U.S. installs Shah as dictator.
2. 1954: U.S. overthrows democratically-elected President Arbenz of Guatemala. 200,000 civilians killed.
3. 1963: U.S. backs assassination of South Vietnamese President Diem.
4. 1963-1975: American military kills 4 million people in Southeast Asia.
5. September 11, 1973: U.S. stages coup in Chile. Democratically-elected President Salvador Allende assassinated. Dictator Augusto Pinochet installed. 5,000 Chileans murdered.
6. 1977: U.S. backs military rulers of El Salvador. 70,000 Salvadorans and four American nuns killed.
7. 1980's: U.S. trains Osama bin Laden and fellow terrorists to kill Soviets. CIA gives them $3 billion.
8. 1981: Reagan administration trains and funds "contras." 30,000 Nicaraguans die.
9. 1982: U.S. provides billions in aid to Saddam Hussein for weapons to kill Iranians.
10. 1983: The White House secretly gives Iran weapons to kill Iraqis.
11. 1989: CIA agent Manuel Noriega (also serving as President of Panama) disobeys orders from Washington. U.S. invades Panama and removes Noriega. 3,000 Panamanian civilian casualties.
12. 1990: Iraq invades Kuwait with weapons from U.S.
13. 1991: U.S. enters Iraq. Bush reinstates dictator of Kuwait.
14. 1998: Clinton bombs "weapons factory" in Sudan. Factory turns out to be making aspirin.
15. 1991 to present: American planes bomb Iraq on a weekly basis. U.N. estimates 500,000 Iraqi children die from bombing and sanctions.
16. 2000-01: U.S. gives Taliban-ruled Afghanistan $245 million in "aid."
17. Sept. 11, 2001: Osama bin Laden uses his expert CIA training to murder 3,000 people.

Critics point to a passage saying that the US gave $245 million to "Taliban-ruled Afghanistan". Although literally correct in the sense that the US did give the aid, its placement in a list of evil acts by the US and its careful wording suggest that the US gave the aid to the Taliban, when in fact this was humanitarian aid that was sent through the UN and nongovernmental organizations, and was intended to bypass the Taliban.

In the same "What a Wonderful World" sequence Moore claims that the United States trained and gave money to Osama bin Laden's terrorist groups. However, the bipartisan 9/11 Commission concluded in chapter 2 of its final report that the United States gave bin Laden himself little or no money or training. They cite a passage from Ayman Al-Zawahiri's biography Knights Under the Prophet's Banner in which he denies accepting any money from the US. Bin Laden has also denied receiving money from the US. Large factions critical of American Foreign policy have maintained that the United States government in all probability supported and even funded bin Laden's Maktab al-Khadamat organization following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (as the MAK and the United States both opposed the Soviet presence there), though the US government and the CIA have denied this, claiming they gave aid only to Afghan fighters, not the MAK. Former support of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan by the American government during this time is likewise common knowledge and widely accepted by most.

Towards the end of the movie Moore secures an interview with NRA president Charlton Heston, who gave a speech in defense of gun ownership at Littleton very shortly after the Columbine incident. Moore describes himself truthfully as an NRA member when securing the interview. He questions and challenges Heston about the speech and its appropriateness. Heston reacts to these challenges by walking away from the interview (with the cameras still rolling). Moore leaves a photograph of one of the Columbine victims in Hestons house when he departs.

Despite being praised by most professional film critics, Bowling for Columbine is highly controversial.

The gun-rights lobby believes that Moore unfairly portrayed lawful gun owners in the USA as a violence-prone group.

Moore argues that high gun ownership is not responsible for violence in America, and instead argues that there must be something about the American psyche and the media that makes the nation uniquely prone to high rates of murder and shootings. In support of his claims, Moore argues that Canadian gun ownership levels are as high as the U.S. Ben Fritz in Spinsanity considers this misleading because "Moore ignores the fact that Canada has significantly fewer handguns and a much stricter gun licensing system." The 1996 International Crime (Victim) Survey from the Canada Department of Justice found that handguns were owned by 6.02% to 16.07% of households, depending on the province (the remainder being shotguns or long guns). By contrast, gun deaths in the U.S. are generally related to handguns in inner cities. It is easier to legally purchase a handgun in the United States than in any other industrialized nation. In Bowling for Columbine, Moore claims that it is easy to buy guns in Canada too, and attempts to prove this by buying some ammunition.

The American Prospect published a piece by Garance Franke-Ruta criticizing the movie for ignoring the role that municipal governance plays in crime in America, and ignoring African-American urban victims of crime to focus on the unusual events of Columbine. "A decline in murders in New York City alone—from 1,927 in 1993 to 643 in 2001 — had, for example, a considerable impact on the declining national rate. Not a lot of those killers or victims were the sort of sports-hunters or militiamen Moore goes out of his way to interview and make fun of."

Bowling for Columbine includes a brief interview with South Park co-creator Matt Stone, who suggests that South Park was largely inspired by Stone' s childhood experiences in Littleton, Colorado. Stone presents a vision of Littleton as painfully normal, and highly intolerant of non-conformist behavior. While publicising the 2004 film Team America: World Police, Stone explained that Team America depicts Moore as a suicide bomber, because of a segment that followed his interview in Bowling for Columbine. The animated segment, written by Moore and produced by FlickerLab, depicts the National Rifle Association and Ku Klux Klan as interchangeable evil organizations. Stone, and Team America co-creator Trey Parker, believe that because the segment follows Stone's interview it may lead people to think that they were involved in producing it. They also believe that the segment is animated in a similar style to the South Park cartoon that may also lead people to think they were involved in creating the cartoon.

Awards and nominations:

* 2002 Winner, 55th Anniversary Prize, Cannes Film Festival
* 2003 Winner, Cesar Award, Best Foreign Film
* 2003 Winner, International Documentary Association (IDA), - Best Documentary of All Time
* 2003 Winner, Academy Award, Best Documentary Features

With a budget of only $4,000,000, Bowling for Columbine grossed $40,000,000 worldwide, including $21,575,207 in the United States. The documentary also broke box office records internationally, becoming the highest-grossing documentary of all time in the U.K., Australia, and Austria. These records were later eclipsed by Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home