Pauline Kael, the Truth, and Nothing But... Brought to you by AOL
Mime-Version: 1.0 (NeXT Mail 3.3 v118.2)
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Thu, 13 Jan 100 18:14:03 -0800
Subject: Pauline Kael, the Truth, and Nothing But... Brought to you by AOL
X-Lib-of-Cong-ISSN: 1098-7649 -=[ Fun_People ]=-
A message from Michael Moore
Pauline Kael, the Truth, and Nothing But... Brought to you by
AOL Time Warner
This is the final installment of my thrilling and uncalled-for "Roger &
Me" 10th anniversary "memoirs." I would like to close out by telling you
the story of my encounter with the infamous film critic, Pauline Kael.
Ten years ago tonight, just three days after Time Inc. officially merged
with Warner Bros., Warners opened "Roger & Me" nationwide on over 300
screens (eventually placing it in over 1,300 theatres).
On Monday of this week, Time Warner announced they will merge with America
Online, creating the largest corporate merger ever.
Back in 1990, when the Warner Bros. first merged with Time, a reporter
asked me what I thought of it, considering the anti-corporate nature of my
film and the obvious irony of who was distributing it. I said then what I
will say now about this week's news:
"In a democracy, it is dangerous to have The Few control what The Many will
see and read. The electorate is able to come to the best decisions when
they are presented with ALL the alternatives and ALL the information
available to them. Less knowledge -- i.e. ignorance -- insures that bad
decisions will be made. The strength of a free society is maintained by
the diversity of voices and the free flow of information. If you limit that
flow, if you restrict that access to knowledge and ideas and points of
view, then you make the society less free. "
This past Sunday evening, I was asked to hand out an award to the film,
"Election," at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards. "Election" was
one of my favorite films last year ("Three Kings" was the best), a brilliant
satire of how the democratic process seems to be run by opportunistic morons
-- and it all starts with those ridiculous high school elections. Have you
been wondering lately why you just can't stand to go through another
presidential election year? Well, remember those irritating wonks who were
always running for student government? They're still with us -- except now
they run for Congress and President! If we had known then that we would
end up, years later, forced to watch with their smarmy dweeb ass every
night on TV yakking away about a bunch of nothing, I truly believe that
even the non-violent ones among us would have beat the living crap out of
them on the monkey bars.
That's it. It's our fault! Not enough swirlies for the little smirking
ciphers like George W. Bush, Future Business Leaders of America like Steve
"I'm Blinking Now" Forbes, drones and clones like Gore and Bradley -- we
failed to send them the correct message in 7th grade that if they even
THINK of running for office again, its wall-to-wall t.p. and eggings
wherever they go.
In one scene in "Election," an unpopular freshman girl -- a troublemaker
who is decidedly not a future politician -- decides to run for school
president. She is booed and hissed until she utters this statement in the
gymnasium full of students at the high school assembly:
"Who cares about this stupid election, anyway? If I win, the first thing
I'm going to do is abolish student government so we never have to attend
any more of these stupid assemblies!"
The students roar with approval, and, even though the principal expels her
and crosses her name off the ballot, her fellow students reject the two
"major" candidates and vote for her anyway. Although she wins, the principal
voids her victory.
Ten years ago Sunday night, I, too, was standing there accepting that same
critics' group award for "Roger & Me." It was an honor, though, that almost
wasn't, as the dean of the New York film critics, Pauline Kael, was on a
mission to whack my film.
Kael was the critic for The New Yorker magazine, a publication I had never
read up to that point. Though I had heard her name before, I did not realize
she was the most respected -- and the most feared -- film critic in the
country. A few weeks prior, I had received a call from Warner Bros. asking
my permission to send a tape of my film to Kael so she could review it from
her home in Massachusetts. I was confused by this request. I had made a
MOVIE, I told the executives at Warner Bros., not a VIDEO, a MOVIE that
was to be seen on a MOVIE SCREEN, not a 25" TV set.
No, I said, she must watch it like all the other critics -- on a movie
screen! In a theater!
They tried to explain to me who Pauline Kael was, but I would hear none of
it. Like some sort of sudden "artiste," I was demanding purity, insisting
my work be treated like the piece of art it was.
What an idiot.
They called Ms. Kael and told her my response. She was elderly and it was
winter and she lived over a hundred and fifty miles away. And I, the great
film auteur Michael Moore, was demanding she drive down to New York City
to view my masterpiece.
And so she did.
She sat alone that Friday afternoon in the Warner theater in mid-town
Manhattan, watching "Roger & Me," and doing what was best conveyed to me
as a "slow burn." The following day was the annual meeting of the New York
film critics at which they were to discuss and vote on their selections
for best films of the year.
Pauline Kael went to the meeting and wasted my movie. She made an
impassioned plea to those gathered NOT to give me any award. Her many
followers in the room (they were known as "The Paulettes") were in a
quandary -- while they didn't want to break ranks with their mentor, they
had already weighed in on "Roger & Me" with their own positive reviews when
it first appeared at the New York Film Festival back in September. How
could they do an about-face on their already published opinion and retain
their credibility? The vote was taken, and when the ballots were counted,
the critics had gone against Pauline Kael, and they presented the award to
"Roger & Me."
Well, you can pretty much guess what happened next. Two weeks later, she
wrote a nasty, mean review of my film in The New Yorker. It was OK with me
that she didn't like the film, and it didn't bother me that she didn't like
the point I was making, or even how I was making it.
What was so incredibly appalling and shocking is how she printed outright
lies about my movie. I had never experienced such a brazen, bald-faced
barage of disinformation. She tried to rewrite history, saying that Flint
had not lost 30,000 General Motors jobs, that it was only -- only! --
10,000! She wrote that I had rearranged the chronology, that places like
AutoWorld were built before the GM layoffs. She wrote that a few things in
the film never happened, like the cash register being stolen when Reagan
visited a restaurant in Flint.
Her complete fabrication of the facts was so weird, so out there, so
obviously made-up, that my first response was this must be a humor piece
she had written. A quick check of even a pro-General Motors publication
like The Flint Journal (12/31/89) would confirm to anyone that the correct
figure of jobs eliminated in Flint in the 1980's was indeed 30,000 (another
25,000 people have been sacked since I made the film).
But, of course, she wasn't writing comedy. She was a deadly serious
historical revisionist. What was even more shocking was how some journalists
picked up on her "facts" and reprinted them verbatim, without once lifting
a finger to look up the correct number in the local Flint newspaper.
It become quite painful to read the writings of those who had never visited
Flint, people who probably never even knew where it was before my film came
out. To have someone completely rewrite your own (and your town's own)
personal history by saying something to the effect of, well, it wasn't
really all that bad, only 10,000 people were lost in GM's final solution
-- I just couldn't believe it. Historical revisionists, I discovered, force
you into defending that which requires no defense, i.e., the truth. ALL
the events in that movie occurred after a series of GM layoffs in the '80s.
>From AutoWorld to Reagan's visit, they ALL took place each time GM tossed
another bunch of workers out into the street. Absolutely nothing was out
of that kind of "chronological order." And everything in the film happened
just as I said it did, including the theft of the cash register while the
Secret Service were sweeping the restaurant before Reagan's lunch there.
You don't have to take my word for it; it's all backed up by many
independent sources and two great articles that appeared in the Sacremento
Bee and the St. Petersburg Times, the only two papers that I know of who
sent reporters to Flint to investigate what Kael had written -- and who
found that what she had said simply wasn't true.
I didn't worry much about her review at the time because I was sure everyone
who read it would just laugh it off. Boy, was I wrong! Her comments were
quoted everywhere, and film professors still pass out her review when
teaching "Roger & Me" to film classes (an extreme example of which would
be like, after showing "Roots" or "Schindler's List" to the students, you
say, "Now, people, you should know, there are TWO sides to every story, so
please read this essay by Mr. Hess!").
Sometimes, there really is only one truth, and, as much as Pauline tried
to deny it, places like Flint, Michigan were ruined in the 1980s -- while
patrons of The New Yorker did quite well and continue to do so (the rich
liberals' dirty little secret).
A few weeks after Kael's review, I decided I had to respond. I called The
New Yorker to say I would like to submit a letter to the editor to correct
her mistakes. I was told, "We don't print letters to the editor."
Huh? I had never heard of such a thing. How does a reader have a chance to
respond to something that isn't true?
"I guess you don't," was the reply.
A few years later The New Yorker started printing their first-ever letters
to the editor. And I guess that's what scares me about this Time Warner
AOL deal. If just a few people end up owning all the ways for us to
communicate with each other, and they decide what will be communicated and
what won't, then we are all in deep trouble. The incredible beauty of this
Internet is that you and I can bypass all of them and talk to each other
directly. They hate that! They hate the fact that we are participating in
a leisure-time activity that they make little or no money from. And, by
God, they are going to see that those days are over.
I say this even though I still cherish many fond feelings toward the people
at Warner Bros. They took a gamble with "Roger & Me" and they
enthusiastically made sure that everyone had a chance to see it. When the
boys from Time came in that first week of its wide release, Warner Bros.
took a lot of crap from the Time side of the corporation, the bean counters
who were worried about losing GM advertising in their magazines. But, as
with most big corporations, there were many good people at Warners who, in
their own small ways, were committed to doing some good for the country.
I will never forget the day when, over lunch, I asked one of the Warner
Bros. executives why on earth they wanted to distribute my film. This person
leaned over and said, "I was one of the early students in the S.D.S.
(Students for a Democratic Society, one of the leading student radical
/anti-war groups of the 1960s)."
My jaw must have dropped. I didn't know what to say, it seemed so surreal
at the moment. But over time I've had similar things like this happen. Here
and there in the media world there are those who haven't checked their
consciences at the studio gate, baby boomers from the '60s who may have
cut their hair and put on a suit but didn't sell their soul to the devil.
They do their little subversive actions because they never lost their values
or forgot what we all went through.
To a large extent, that is why you have been able to see my films and TV
shows and read my books. Usually there is one good soul who makes it their
mission to get my work out to the public -- and by some miracle it happens.
As I was leaving the Critics' Awards the other night, a friend commented
that a lot of people these days seem to be going after Pauline Kael (a new
book by fellow critic Richard Schickel tells of her mean-spiritedness, and
winners of the NY Critics' Awards in the past two years spent time during
their acceptance speeches trashing her). I went back and read some of her
reviews from the seventies and it is clear to me that she was very much
responsible for seeing that the great movies of that era got the exposure
they deserved. She saw herself as a champion of the independent filmmaker,
and always wanted to be the one to take the risk and be first in endorsing
a brave new work like "Nashville" or "Taxi Driver." Had she been treated
with the respect she deserved and been shown "Roger & Me" early on, it's
clear from her writings that mine was EXACTLY the kind of film she would
have been behind a hundred percent.
And perhaps she deserves some sympathy for the "facts" she used in
describing my film. The publicists at General Motors were working overtime
trying to discredit the movie (they threatened many shows that they would
withdraw GM advertising if they had me on as a guest), and, having seen
their "truth packet," I must say it looked pretty impressive. They and the
establishment leaders of Flint had already conned one editor at a film
magazine into buying their story (that was his last issue as he had been
fired), so it wasn't so surprising they could pick on an elderly lady
penning her last reviews from her rural home.
I learned an important lesson in the weeks following the Pauline Kael review
-- give a lie a 24-hour head start, and the truth will never catch up with
it (in other words, always confront dishonesty immediately and without
equivocation). You can't begin to imagine all the stuff I've read about me
that has been completely made up over the years (my personal favorite being
Newsweek saying that I lived in "a penthouse on Central Park West!" Close,
but no Gabor!). Once you have this happen to you, you tend to believe
NOTHING you read in the press.
I also learned that people will make up their own minds based on their own
experiences. "Roger & Me" went on to reach so many people simply because,
anyone who saw it, knew it was the truth -- mainly because THEY were LIVING
it! Whatever the Pauline Kaels of this world had to say didn't mean squat
if what you saw on the screen mirrored your own existence in Pittsburgh or
Van Nuys or Jacksonville. That unemployment line you were standing in or
that temp job you are suffering through screams louder than any ink on the
pages of some hoity-toity rag.
Oh, and one other lesson I learned from all of this: Next time a critic
wants to view your film on her funky little Sanyo VCR... SEND HER THE DAMN
P.S. I have really had it with these nutty Cubans in Miami who are now
using a little boy for their bizarre political ends. Let's see: We almost
blew up the world in October 1962 over these Cubans; then Kennedy is shot
'cause he didn't do the Bay of Pigs right; then a bunch of these Castro
haters break into the Watergate to spy for Nixon; then... ENOUGH! ENOUGH!
Click here (www.michaelmoore.com/fidel.html) to read what I wrote about
these headcases who continue to get in the way of what's best for the world.
P.P.S. AOL, Mike? Right. Any ideas?
(Please feel free to print, pass, or publish to anyone, anywhere, at any
© 2000 Peter Langston