I first saw Bowling For Columbine (a documentary by Michael Moore about gun violence in America and the 1999 Columbine High School Massacre) in a Film Studies lesson when I was a naive fourteen year old. At the time, it seemed like the answer to my prayers. I was in favour of gun control in a big way back then and still am to an extent, and here was an intelligent and entertaining film about gun violence that made a lot of good points. Then just a few months ago, during one of my usual 1AM trawls of the internet, I discovered that it’s about as truthful as Bill Clinton’s claim that he “did not have sexual relations with that woman”.
Unlike a credible documentary maker like Louis Theroux’s approach which is to observe and ask neutral questions, thus letting the audience make up their own mind about the issue, Michael Moore’s approach to making a documentary is “The facts don’t match my opinion? Oh well, I’ll just cut and edit it so it looks like I’m in the right and then just lie a lot to get the rest of the footage I need”. This is despite the fact that the definition of a documentary is “A work, such as a film or television programme, presenting political, social, or historical subject matter in a factual and informative manner and often consisting of actual news films or interviews accompanied by narration.” With that in mind, here are five reasons why Bowling For Columbine isn’t a real documentary…
1. The Guns In A Bank Sequence
Bowling For Columbine opens with a sequence where Moore goes to bank to take advantage of one of their offers: open an account, receive a gun. Various sources including the bank itself have stated that this sequence is a wholly inaccurate depiction of what a customer would go through if they actually took the bank up on their offer. As the above copy of the advertisement shows, the gun is not free (to receive it, you have to deposit a certain amount of money into the account for a certain period of time and by receiving it, you agree to surrender all of the interest from your account until the gun is paid off), and is only one of various “Instant Interest” items available to customers. The bank itself has stated that the customer would have to fill in two sets of paperwork, one of which is the information required for a background check. The gun is then shipped to either the bank or a gun shop from a different location.
The lion’s share of the sequence is fake since acquiring a rifle from a bank is nowhere near as quick and easy as Bowling For Columbine depicts it to be. And because it’s a fake, it immediately breaches both the spirit and definition of what a documentary is. The puzzling thing about this sequence is that it doesn’t help Moore’s overall point that poverty, fear, and the US’s social climate is the reason for a high rate of gun murders, not the presence of guns. So what was the point of going through the hassle and expense of staging it?
This article was first posted on September 17, 2012