Roger & Me
|Roger & Me|
|Directed by||Michael Moore|
|Written by||Michael Moore|
|Produced by||Michael Moore|
|Narrated by||Michael Moore|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$7.7 million|
Roger & Me is a 1989 American documentary film written, produced, directed by and starring Michael Moore, in his directorial debut. Moore portrays the regional economic impact of General Motors CEO Roger Smith's action of closing several auto plants in his hometown of Flint, Michigan, reducing GM's employees in that area from 80,000 in 1978 to about 50,000 in 1992. As of August 2015, GM employs approximately 7,200 workers in the Flint area, according to The Detroit News, and 5,000 workers according to MSNBC.
Moore begins by introducing himself and his family through 8 mm archival home movies; he describes himself as the Irish American Catholic middle-class son of a General Motors employee assembling AC spark plugs. Moore chronicles how GM had previously defined his childhood in Flint, Michigan, and how the company was the primary economic and social hub of the town. He points out that Flint is the place where the Flint sit-down strike occurred, resulting in the birth of the United Auto Workers. He reveals that his heroes were the Flint natives who had escaped the oppressive life in GM's factories, including "Flint's most famous native son", game show host Bob Eubanks.
Initially, Moore achieves his dream of avoiding blue-collared factory life after being hired by Mother Jones magazine in San Francisco, but this venture fails for him and he ultimately travels back to Flint. As he returns (in 1986), GM announces the layoffs of thousands of Flint auto workers, whose jobs will go to cheaper, non-unionized labor in Mexico. GM makes this announcement even though the company is achieving record profits.
Disguised as a TV journalist, Moore interviews some auto workers in Flint and discovers their strong disgust for GM chairman Roger B. Smith. Moore begins seeking out Smith himself to confront him about the closing of the Flint plants. He tries to visit Smith at GM's headquarters in Detroit, yet he is blocked by building security as Moore hasn't made either an appointment for an interview or his intentions clear. A company spokesman exchanges contact information with Moore, but ultimately refuses to grant Moore an interview due to Moore's lack of credentials and fear of negative portrayal. Over the course of the film, Moore attempts to track down Smith at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club and the Detroit Athletic Club, only to be told either that Smith is not there or to leave by employees and security guards.
From there, Moore begins to explore the emotional impact of the plant closings on his friends. He interviews Ben Hamper, an auto worker who suffered a nervous breakdown on the assembly line and is residing at a mental health facility. From here, to the Beach Boys song "Wouldn't It Be Nice?", is seen a montage of the urban decay enveloping Flint, interspersed with news reports about increasing layoffs, residents not being able to move out and rapidly increasing rat infestations. Moore also talks to the residents of the affluent suburb of Grand Blanc, who display classist attitudes about Flint's hardships; at a roaring twenties-themed party they are hosting, Moore takes note when they hire laid off workers to be human statues.
Moore changes course and turns his camera on the Flint Convention and Visitors Bureau, which promotes a vigorously incompetent tourism policy. The Bureau, in an effort to lure tourists into visiting Flint, permits the construction of a Hyatt Regency Hotel, a festival marketplace called Water Street Pavilion, and AutoWorld, hailed as the world's largest indoor theme park. All these efforts fail, as the Hyatt files for bankruptcy and is put up for sale, Water Street Pavilion sees most of its stores go out of business, and AutoWorld closes just six months after the grand opening.
High-profile people are shown coming to Flint to bring hope to the unemployed, some of them interviewed by Moore. President Ronald Reagan visits the town and suggests that the unemployed auto workers find work by moving across the country, though the restaurant he visits has its cash register stolen during the event (off-camera). The Flint mayor pays television evangelist Robert Schuller to preach to the town's unemployed. Pat Boone and Anita Bryant, who have supplied GM with celebrity endorsements, also come to town; Boone tells Moore that Roger Smith is a "can-do" kind of guy. Moore also interviews Bob Eubanks during a fair near Flint, during which Bob cracks a joke about Jewish women and AIDS.
Moore attends the annual GM shareholder meeting, disguised as a shareholder himself. However, when he gets a turn at the microphone to air his grievances to the board, Smith appears to recognize Moore and immediately shuts him out and has the convention adjourned, despite Moore's attempts to interrupt him. In a close-up of Smith, he is heard joking about his action with a fellow board member before leaving. Meanwhile, Moore meets and interviews more residents of Flint, who are reeling from the economic fallout of the layoffs. A former feminist radio host, Janet, joins Amway as a saleswoman to find work. Another resident, Rhonda Britton, sells rabbits for "Pets or Meat"; Britton is featured killing a rabbit by beating it with a lead pipe. Prevalent throughout the film is Sheriff's Deputy Fred Ross, a former factory worker whose current job now demands that he go around town carrying out record numbers of evictions on families unable to pay their rent.
During all of this, Flint's crime rate skyrockets, with shootouts and murders becoming all too common. Crime becomes so prevalent that when the ABC News program Nightline tries to do a live story on the plant closings, someone steals the network's van (along with the cables), abruptly stopping the broadcast. The county jail also fills to its maximum capacity of inmates; due to this a second jail is built. Living in Flint becomes so desperate that Money magazine ranks the city as the worst place to live in America. The residents react with outrage and stage a rally where issues of Money magazine are burned. The residents play the song "My Hometown" by Bruce Springsteen during the rally, seemingly unaware that the song is about a town becoming overcome by crime and poverty.
At the film's climax, Moore finally confronts Smith at the chairman's annual 1988 Christmas message in Detroit. Smith is shown expounding about generosity during the holiday season, concurrently as Deputy Ross evicts another family from their home. After Smith's speech, Moore hounds Smith, addressing him from a distance. The face-to-face encounter between Michael Moore and Roger B. Smith is shown as this:
Moore: Mr. Smith, we just came down from Flint, where we filmed a family being evicted from their home the day before Christmas Eve. A family that used to work in the factory. Would you be willing to come up with us to see what the situation is like in Flint, so that people...?
Smith: I've been to Flint, and I'm sorry for those people, but I don't know anything about it, but you'd have to...
Moore: Families being evicted from their homes on Christmas Eve.
Smith: Well, I'm... listen, I'm sure General Motors didn't evict them. You'd have to go talk to their landlords.
Moore: They used to work for General Motors, and now they don't work there anymore.
Smith: Well, I'm sorry about that.
Moore: Could you come up to Flint with us?
Smith: I cannot come to Flint, I'm sorry.
Dejected by his failure to bring Smith to Flint, Moore proclaims in the final shot, "As we neared the end of the twentieth century, the rich got richer, the poor poorer, and people everywhere now had a lot less lint, thanks to the lint rollers made in my hometown. It was truly the dawn of a new era." After the credits, the film displays the message "This film cannot be shown within the city of Flint", followed by "All the movie theatres have closed".
This film, financed partly by Moore's mortgaging of his home and partly by the settlement money from a lawsuit he filed against Mother Jones for wrongful termination, was meant to be a personal statement over his anger not just at GM, but also the economic policies and social attitudes of the United States government during the Reagan era, which allows a corporation to remove the largest source of income from an entire town.
Roger & Me was filmed under the working title A Humorous Look at How General Motors Destroyed Flint, Michigan.
The film had its worldwide premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 1989. It was well received by the Canadian audience with it winning the coveted TIFF People's Choice Award. Ironically only a few weeks later GM would announce the closing of their Toronto truck assembly plant moving vehicle production to a plant in Flint, Michigan.
Warner Bros. gave Moore $3 million for distribution license, a very large amount for a first-time filmmaker and at the time unprecedented for any documentary. Part of the distribution deal required Warner Bros. to pay rent for two years for the families evicted in the film and give away tens of thousands of tickets to the unemployed workers.
The film was released in America in December 1989 and went on to become America's most successful documentary in its theatrical run and enjoyed wide critical acclaim. Despite its success, the film was not nominated for the Best Documentary Feature Academy Award in 1990.
Reaction to the film
Despite the company's public opposition to the film, its humorous and out-of-touch portrayal of Smith made it widely popular inside GM. By the time of the film's release, GM had lost 8% of its market share and was taking on significant financial losses, leading many employees and executives to become disillusioned with Smith's leadership.
Moore returned to the subject of Roger & Me with a short documentary called Pets or Meat: The Return to Flint (1992), which aired on the PBS show P.O.V. In this film, Moore returns to Flint two years after the release of Roger & Me to see what changes have taken place. Moore revisits Flint and its economic decline again in later films, including The Big One, Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, Fahrenheit 11/9, and Capitalism: A Love Story. In 2013, the film was selected for long term preservation by the US National Film Preservation Board.
Film critic Pauline Kael felt the film exaggerated the social impact of GM's closing of the plant and depicted the actual events of Flint's troubles out of chronological order. Kael called the film "shallow and facetious, a piece of gonzo demagoguery that made me feel cheap for laughing". One such criticism is that the eviction at the end of the film occurred on a different day from Smith's speech, but the two events were intercut for emotional effect. Moore addresses this criticism in the DVD commentary, stating that "there are no dates in the film; we'll be going back and forth throughout the decade of the '80s". Siskel & Ebert both put the film of their list of The 10 Best Films of 1989.
Michael Moore acknowledged having spoken with Smith at a GM shareholders' meeting in 1987, before he commenced filming, but said the encounter concerned a separate topic unrelated to the film. The filmmaker also told the Associated Press that if he had managed to secure an interview with Smith during production, then suppressed the footage, General Motors would have publicized the information to discredit him. "I'm so used to listening to the stuff people say about me, it just becomes entertainment for me at this point," he remarked. "It's a fictional character that's been created with the name of Michael Moore."
Critic Billy Stevenson described the film as Moore's "most astonishing", arguing it represents an effort to conflate film-making and labor, and that "it's this fusion of film-making and work that allows Moore to fully convey the desecration of Flint without ever transforming it into a sublime or melancholy poverty-spectacle, thereby distancing himself from the retouristing of the town-as-simulacrum that occupies the last and most intriguing part of the film".
The film would go on to win over 14 awards in the years since its release including:
|Year||Festival – Organization||Award – Category|
|1989||Toronto International Film Festival||'People's Choice Award'|
|1989||Vancouver International Film Festival||'Most Popular Film'|
|1989||New York Film Critics Circle Awards||NFYCC Award|
|1989||National Board of Review||Best Documentary|
- Pets or Meat: The Return to Flint
- Final Offer – a documentary film that shows the backroom 1984 General Motors contract negotiations that would result in the union split of the Canadian arm of the UAW. It also shows how the UAW was more willing to negotiate with General Motors than their Canadian counterparts. The film depicts some of the events that would lead to the closing of plants in Flint and other plants around the United States. GM Chairman Roger Smith is featured in the film.
- The Corporation – the 2003 Canadian documentary film shows the history of the corporation and some of its potential downfalls. Michael Moore appears in the film.
- Rivethead: Tales From the Assembly Line is an autobiographical book by Ben Hamper on life and work in the GM plant, with a foreword by Michael Moore.
- Bernstein, Matthew: Documentaphobia and Mixed Modes. Michael Moore's Roger and Me In: Grant, Barry Keith; Sloniowski, Jeannette (eds.) 2002: Documenting the documentary. Close readings of documentary film and video. pp. 397–415, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, ISBN 0814326390
- "Roger & Me (15)". British Board of Film Classification. January 23, 1990. Retrieved February 16, 2016.
- "Roger & Me, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved March 20, 2012.
- "Roger & Me, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 20, 2012.
- Steven P. Dandaneau (1996). A Town Abandoned: Flint, Michigan, Confronts Deindustrialization. SUNY Press. pp. 21–. ISBN 978-0-7914-2877-1.
- Burden, Melissa; Wayland, Michael. "GM to invest $877M in Flint truck plant". The Detroit News. The Detroit News. Retrieved December 7, 2015.
- Lee, Trymaine. "The Rust Belt: Once Mighty Cities in Decline". MSNBC. Retrieved December 7, 2015.
- "Cinema with the Right Stuff Marks 2013 National Film Registry" (Press release). Library of Congress. December 19, 2013. Retrieved January 8, 2020.
- Diane Katz (September 20, 1992). "'Roger and Me' Revisisted". Archived from the original on April 10, 2010. Retrieved August 25, 2010.
- Susan King (September 27, 1992). "Filmmaker Returns to Flint". Archived from the original on July 14, 2011. Retrieved August 25, 2010.
- Pierson, John, Spike, Mike Reloaded, pg.137
- "Roger & Me," commentary by Michael Moore in special features added in 2003 to the DVD. December 2003
- Roger Ebert (n.d.). All Content. "Oscar and "Roger & Me"". Retrieved December 1, 2013.
- "Roger & Me (1989)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
- Kael, Pauline (January 8, 1990). "Review of Roger & Me". The New Yorker.
- Flesher, John (June 16, 2007). "Michael Moore has harsh words for critics". Today.com. Retrieved June 17, 2007.
- Stevenson, Billy. "A Film Canon - Roger & Me". Retrieved May 18, 2011.
- "1989 Award Winners". National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. 2017. Retrieved January 11, 2017.
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