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At the time of this writing, students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, are mourning the deaths of fourteen of their classmates and three faculty members, all of whom a nineteen-year-old is accused of shooting on Ash Wednesday, February 14, 2018, with a legally acquired semiautomatic AR-15 rifle.
Moore’s success may invite more scrutiny, but there’s no doubting his sincerity in calling for reckoning and change in America, or his thoroughness in gathering evidence to support the need for that call.
Furthermore, it’s fair to assume that Bowling for Columbine has defined the documentary form for a large section of the moviegoing population, who are likely unconcerned by its simplification of certain matters, neglect at moments to signal when it is collapsing time, and uneven sparing of its subjects.
They’re baldly calling for stricter gun regulations, and they’re specifically calling out the National Rifle Association (NRA), one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the country and a generous benefactor to legislators who’ve opposed strengthening regulation.
Made in the aftermath of the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colorado, where twelve students and one teacher were killed by classmates Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the film takes an expansive look at America’s obsession with guns and its impotency when it comes to dealing with gun-related violence.
Playing a one-liner-throwing David ready to take on the next Goliath has helped Moore reach a mainstream audience. That kind of success can foster resentment, especially when so many documentary filmmakers struggle for solvency and distribution.
His follow-up film, 2004’s Fahrenheit 9/11, in which he took on President George W. Moore’s budget on Bowling for Columbine (.9 million) still dwarfs those of 99 percent of documentary films (the rights for the songs alone, which include the Beatles’ “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” would eat up the entire budget of most indies).
He dropped out of college to pursue independent journalism, starting a Michigan alt-weekly before serving a short, controversial stint as editor of the lefty investigative magazine Mother Jones.
Moore’s on-camera persona not only reflected these bona fides, it also functioned as something of a rebuke to TV-newsmagazine-style dispatches, offering his own sneakers-and-street-smarts profile in place of a suit-and-tie 60 Minutes correspondent.
The character is based on the real Moore, of course, but the films isolate only those aspects that the topic at hand can utilize, broad strokes in a selective self-portrait.
In Bowling for Columbine, it’s that he grew up a precocious marksman in a gun-loving state (“I couldn’t wait to go outside and shoot up the neighborhood,” he says about getting his first toy gun), and he uses footage of himself with firearms as both an admission entitling him to a critical angle on gun ownership and a sight gag.