Review of "Roger and Me" Documentary

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“Roger and Me” is a documentary produced by controversial documentary producer Michael Moore in 1989 about the aftermath of the GM factory closures in a city where 30,000 people worked for GM. Moore seeks to highlight the corruption of the auto industry, via General Motors, and corporate America as a whole and does so using the devastation and ruins that is Flint, Michigan, which not so coincidentally is where Moore and his family are from. He bases his claims of corruption in the movement of the factories to Mexico where the price of production and labor were much cheaper all so GM shareholders could save money.

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The goal of Moore’s documentary is to find GM’s chairman, Roger Smith, and convince him to go to Flint, MI to see first-hand what the city has become due to his decision to shut down the factories which effectively placed all 30,000 people out of work and plunged the city into despair. During the beginning stages of his quest to find the evil Roger Smith, Moore tracks him down to multiple places, including a yacht club, an athletic club, and of course, the GM headquarters. At each pass and turn, Moore is confronted and forced to leave before he can talk with Mr. Smith. After his first few failures Moore finally succeeded in getting into a shareholder meeting by pretending to be a GM shareholder. Moore finally gets his chance at the microphone to project his discontent, but Smith seemingly recognizes Moore and ends the convention immediately. The documentary then takes a turn as Moore sets out to uncover the emotional effects of the closures, first-hand.

Through Moore’s adventures in Flint, the audience is introduced to numerous people — arguably the least well off that Moore could find — who are suffering. Some of the people Moore interviews stand out more to the audience than the others. The first is the man, Ben Hamper, who had been stuck in a mental hospital due to a nervous breakdown he had that may have been caused by the stress of the plant closures. The most memorable of those interviewed was a woman named Rhonda Britton. Britton owns a “shop” in which she raises and sells rabbits as either pets or food. The reason that Britton is so memorable is because during her interview she kills and skins a rabbit on camera. Also during the interview, Britton is holding rabbit, gently petting it, and insinuating that the rabbit she was holding would be on the dinner table that night. One last memorable person, who is shown throughout the documentary is the 17-year GM worker turn sheriff’s deputy, Fred Ross, whose job it now is to go out and evict families who are suffering much more than he due to the factory closures.

Changing direction again, Moore at one point turns his aggression towards the towns Convention and Visitor Bureau who are in the process of turning flint into a tourist trap. Moore cites the opening of a new Hyatt Regency hotel, AutoWorld—the largest indoor themed waterpark at the time — and a massive new shopping center called the Water Street Pavilion. Surly enough, the hotel files for bankruptcy, the waterpark closes due to lack of guests, and all the shops in the shopping center close. Throughout the film, we see multiple celebrities and even a former president who take time out to visit the emotionally and physically worn out people of Flint. Ronald Reagan, on his visit suggests that the ex-auto workers simply pick up and move out of the state and find employment elsewhere. Two celebrities who had previously done endorsements for GM, Anita Bryant and Pat Boone also visit. Despite what he sees, Boone makes sure that tell Moore what an outstanding guy Roger Smith was. Additionally, we see Newlywed gameshow host, Bob Eubanks, and televangelist Robert Schuller, who was hired by the mayor of Flint to preach to the unemployed. Despite the celebrities, presidents, and televangelists, the city continues to worsen thought the three years of the documentary. The crime rate is at a national high. Murder is a nightly occurrence. The crime is so bad that a broadcasting van — attempting to show how bad the city was — is stolen mid broadcast. We are told that the population of rats surpasses the human population in the city.

Moore, at the end of his third year of filming, finally gets his face to face with Roger Smith at the company’s Christmas party in Detroit in 1988. The conversation was anti-climactic. As Moore is being physically held back, he tells Roger about Flint and invites him to Flint, which was his original goal. Smith, of course, rejects the offer. Moore’s documentary easily stirs up emotion when watching. Stylistically,

Moore is very efficient at highlighting the worst of the worst. His documentary, which was very much a one-sided attack on shareholders, was designed to produce a darkened anger against corporate America and he is effective multiple reasons. First, Moore’s use of a handheld camera of, at best, decent quality evokes a feeling of authenticity and realism in the audience. It works better to make the audience seem like the city’s problems are their problems and to empathize with the citizens of Flint. Second, Moore incorporates the use of black and white footage of the early prosperous days of Flint in contrast to the colored current footage of modern day Flint. It’s almost ironic that the black and white footage represents to flourishing times and the colored footage shows the run-down houses. Third, Moore’s choice of soundtracks work to help guide the audience to a sense of sickened repulsion. Most memorable was the song “Wouldn’t it be nice” being played as footage of empty worn down houses and empty city streets rolled across the screen.

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