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Filmmaker Moore turns lens on himself in funny, moving memoir

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Here Comes Trouble

Stories from My Life

By Michael Moore

Grand Central, 448 pages, $27

 

After taking on General Motors, U.S. gun culture and George W. Bush, American filmmaker and lefty journalist Michael Moore, the guy who made documentaries cool almost a decade ago, turns the lens on himself in his first major publication in eight years.

In a prologue -- for some reason he calls it an epilogue -- Moore, 57, reminds us of his infamous Academy Awards speech after winning best documentary for 2002's Bowling for Columbine, in which he uttered the words "fictitious war" and "fictitious president" -- a brave move, but not a popular one in the days following the start of the Iraq war.

What followed was a Hollywood backlash, a series of death threats and, ultimately, his most popular film, Fahrenheit 9/11, still the highest grossing documentary film of all time.

The film was such a success that, for a short time, it looked as though it would influence the outcome of the 2004 U.S. presidential election (of course it didn't, just as Bowling for Columbine didn't lead to changes in gun laws).

The bulk of this memoir takes place before Moore became a household name, with 23 vignettes that occur between his birth in Flint, Mich., and the release of his first film in 1989, the acclaimed Roger and Me.

Through these years he has celebrity brushes with Robert F. Kennedy, John Lennon and Roger Ebert, becomes an elected official days after his 18th birthday, and creates an independent newspaper, the Flint Voice.

Some stories are hilarious, others more serious, but put together they show how Moore developed his view of the world.

And for those who thought they already knew Moore, there are many surprises along the way: he planned on being a priest for several years; was almost a victim in a terrorist attack in Vienna; and, probably most surprisingly, campaigned for Richard Nixon in the Vietnam era, viewing Tricky Dick as the "peace candidate."

Moore is sometimes known for being preachy and manipulative, but he is less so here than in past works.

He's also known for being just downright funny, and his dry sense of humour definitely keeps things moving at an enjoyable pace.

Outspoken and self-depreciating, Moore even pokes fun at his own reputation, painting himself as a rabble-rouser the second he leaves the womb.

"And then, get this -- they severed my most important organ -- the feeding tube to my mother!" he writes. "I could see this was not a world that believed in prior consent or my necessity for a non-stop 24/7 supply of fundamental nourishment."

And remember in Bowling for Columbine when Moore made it look like Canada was a bizarre utopia where people never lock their doors? Or his praise for our health-care system in 2007 film Sicko?

Here we see when his love affair with our nation began -- when he contemplated moving here to avoid being drafted in the late '60s.

"I can speak some Canadian. All you have to do is talk slower and put an extra 'u' in some words," he tells his potential draft-dodging buddies.

But, of course, it's not all for laughs. His early encounters with homophobia, racism and neighbours returning from Vietnam in boxes all formed the opinionated Moore we love and loathe today.

There are also some tragic stories that are hard to shake, including his father's brush with death on a Christmas Day battlefield during the Second World War, and the confession from a priest who gave a blessing on behalf of the Catholic Church to the bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Interestingly, Moore is quite upfront throughout, but clearly chooses moments to remain guarded, especially when it comes to his love life.

His disastrous high school dating career is presented in detail (OK, there aren't a lot of details -- he only went on two dates), but he barely mentions his relationship with his wife, Kathleen Glynn, except when it relates to a particular story, such as her help on the Roger and Me crew.

Overall, though, Here Comes Trouble is funny and moving. It is a great read for Moore fans, even those that may have lost interest after the Bush years.

 

Alan MacKenzie is a Winnipeg-based writer and a member of the comedy troupe ImproVision.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 24, 2011 J10

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