There are a lot of good documentary filmmakers out there. Most of what they produce is somewhat similar and unoriginal in its structure, ebb and flow. This doesn’t make them bad filmmakers, of course. But it does mean their work, its importance aside, tends to go a bit off the boil occasionally.
And then, there’s Michael Moore.
He’s one of the last remaining do it all filmmakers I can think of (along with some guy named Mel Brooks, who you might have heard of). And he is completely unafraid to do it the way he wants to, regardless of what you or anyone else out there has to say or might think. But unlike a lot of political commentators that I can think of out there, Moore actually presents his arguments intelligently and with poise, even persuasion. Everyone had to start somewhere, and in Moore’s case, that was twenty five years ago with “Roger & Me,” which Warner Bros. is releasing in a special commemorative Blu-ray edition.
“Roger & Me” is a highly original, personal and satire account of one of America’s greatest urban disasters told against the background of tough times in Flint, Michigan (which just so happens to be Moore’s hometown). The birthplace of General Motors, Flint had been economically decimated by, among other things, plant closings and the elimination of 30,000 GM jobs. In “Roger & Me,” Moore gives cinematic voice to his razor-sharp, compassionate and often wryly humorous perceptions of what went wrong in Flint, and chronicles his much-thwarted efforts to meet face-to-face with then-GM Chairman Roger Smith. Blending humor with scathing indictment, “Roger & Me” ignited a national discussion about the cruelties of corporate America and inspired other filmmakers to make films that would be seen by wider audiences.
“Roger & Me” was inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress and the National Film Preservation Board in 2013. The film won a number of critics’ awards including Best Documentary from the New York, Los Angeles and National Film Critics and the National Board of Review. It was also the hit of the New York, Toronto, Vancouver and Telluride Film Festivals.
In September 2014, the Toronto International Film Festival hosted a special anniversary screening of “Roger & Me” Twenty-five years ago, the festival premiered the documentary and then awarded its major prize, the People’s Choice Award, which is given to a feature-length film with the highest ratings as voted by the festival attendees. Moore showed up two and a half decades later to debrief its impact and his career since its initial release.
Born in 1954 in Flint, Moore attended the seminary for the Catholic priesthood, became an Eagle Scout and somehow managed to get elected to public office. After starting a nationally recognized alternative newspaper, he became a filmmaker, best known for titles like “Bowling for Columbine,” “Fahrenheit 9/11,” “Sicko” and “Capitalism: A Love Story.” Like him or not, you can’t deny he brings a fresh perspective to the table and fearlessly does his homework in putting his often entertaining films together.
“Roger & Me” spends a lot of time with the locals. If you think about it, these are the everyday folks who often put out quite a bit and rarely have a lot to show for it. Moore argues that the middle class, who often are the first to step up and sacrifice for their jobs, families and local infrastructures, are the most directly impacted when big companies like GM decide their dollars are more important than their people and outsource their employment and manufacturing to other countries where they can pay workers less and pocket the difference. He makes a few references to other industry, too, but is pretty blatant in his mantra against GM.
In “Roger & Me,” we see a film that drills down into the personal lives of the people it highlights with little to no censoring. We get to know folks with dirt under their fingernails and little to no frivolous material possessions, and learn that at day’s end, we aren’t really all that different. But we do feel the same pain when our jobs, families and communities are pummeled, leaving us helpless to respond to the agony. Moore takes on this burden, and when he eventually does get to Roger Smith’s ear, it isn’t pretty.
I find “Roger & Me” to be a more important film now than it was when it was first released. Maybe because it touches my soft spot for the little guy, or maybe because it’s fascinating to think that a quarter of a century later, we still face similar economic problems in our small towns and rural communities. Moore knows this, too, and it continues to motivate his passion for giving a voice to those who so often cannot cry out on their own.
“Roger & Me” isn’t necessarily polished, but given the subject matter and persons highlighted, it shouldn’t be. The film deserves a place on any documentary fan’s shelf, and the story it tells still deserves some face time, even if the context against which it plays out has moved forward to the present.
Given the fact that the film is as old as it is, the newly re-mastered and restored print is a major upgrade. Sure, there are some imperfections here and there, but that’s to be expected given the fact that Moore wasn’t exactly working with the world’s top tier equipment when he made “Roger & Me” back in the day. The film’s 1.85:1 1080p High Definition video transfer is pretty solid with its coloration and clarity.
More could be done here, but given it’s a documentary, we probably don’t need anything overly fancy. We get a Dolby Digital English 2M track that holds its own just fine. No issues hearing anything, and no big explosions to worry about needing your surround sound for, either. Subtitle choices are English, French and Spanish.
An audio commentary with Moore, which has more than a few funny jabs and one-liners, is worth checking out, as well as the film’s theatrical trailer.
A Final Word:
“Roger & Me” is as good now as it was when it was first released. It’s timely, funny and relevant. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, have another look. Warner Bros. has done good work here. Kudos to Moore for keeping the good fight going between then and now.