An AR Editorial
BOWLED OVER BY 'BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE'
by Joe Shea
Editor-in-Chief, The American Reporter
I didn't own a television for 35 years until this summer, so when things happen suddenly in movies I still react - I scream or duck or throw up my hands.
And about seven or eight years ago I started clapping at the end of movies when I really liked them - I saw two or three a week and I liked most of them. A few years ago, I was the only one that clapped. At the end of "Bowling for Columbine" tonight, the entire house broke into sustained applause, and it went on and on and on - and I bet that was the first time that's ever happened in the Hollywood cineplex where a film that made us laugh and cry and squirm and feel ashamed and get angry - and inspired us - is waiting for you to feel, hear and see it.
Having reactions and reflexes is what "Bowling for Columbine" is really all about, I think.
It takes us out the hundrum and the ordinary, ironically by putting us into a reality that we have fought hard to completely disguise. One important facet of that is that we kill each other in shocking numbers -- 11,172 murders in America last year, versus just 68 in our neighbor, Canada, where 70 percent of households have guns.
When you hear Charlton Heston near the end attribute the bloodsded here to America's "mixed ethnicity," you also know why he was officially declared an Alzheimer's case just before the film came out.
Ironically, living in Hollywood I cross paths (at oblique angles, mind you) with people in the film. Just last week at a the 25th Anniversary of Joseph's Cafe, across the street from me, I found myself helping clear the packed crowd waiting for the restrooms for reasons no one really made clear to me; I thought someone was sick inside. When we finally made some room, Marilyn Manson appeared; we'd emptied it for him.
In the film, looking totally weird but making more sense than Charlton Heston, President George Bush, or even Michael Moore, Manson states a startlingly simple truth: our culture is driven by fear and consumption. Yet here he was having the bathroom cleared while dozens of people waited ahead of him just so he could use it alone.
Two years ago, when I lead a group of young neighborhood kids in protest to a Christmas party at the Hollywood Palace, which has pointedly ignored the poverty around it while bringing all-night noise, assaults, drug overdoses and race riots to our neighborhood, one of the nice things that happened after they were finally offered some of the gifts was that Charlton Heston walked up, stopped and shook my hand and talked for a few seconds before heading indoors. I couldn't help but admire him for that.
Yet here he is Heston at his vast Beverly Hills estate - possibly the only place where he can feel like an ordinary human being - browbeaten by Moore, and yet for an excellent cause. That horrific quote drew gasps, and the man behind me slammed the back of my seat with his fist. Later, he kicked it. He didn't apologize, and I didn't think he needed to, either. I do understand.
The problem is that America is not mad enough, and not yet wise enough. Here in Los Angeles, where Hollywood was unwillingly annexed pretty much as the Brits annexed Ireland a long time ago, every single media outlet that has something to say about it - all of the major media outlets here - are based somewhere else, and yet are enormously opposed to the idea of Hollywood regaining its cityhood.
Moore's film has already inspired me to go out and do a documentary about that fact, and I hadn't even left the theater before I met a young actrees, Monique MacIntyre, who I hope will star in it. She was as moved by the film - and then by my idea - as I was. The movie has that kind of power.
Moore advances a couple of interesting ideas that I hope our future politicians will explore. One is making bullets prohibitively expensive - more costly, even, than cigarettes, which don't kill you nearly so quickly. He brings kids from Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., with bullets still in them after the rampage by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, their classmates, and graphically points out the damage to a p.r. person at Kmart corporate headquarters.
It seems like a bit of horse-flogging until the next day, when he returns with press in two to hear a statement from Kmart's board. The news is genuine now - Kmart agrees to stop the sale of all ammunition for handguns, including the 17-cent 9mm bullets that were lodged in the bodies of these two victims - at all its stores across the country within the next 90 days. It is a staggering result, and Moore is literally left speechless for a moment, and then accepts the gesture with genuine thanks and grace.
The part of the movie that is going to bother a lot of white Americans - no small number of whom share the unspoken fear he speaks about - is the recurring theme of white fear of black people.
Oddly, our paths cross again here. The myth that being white would get you killed in Harlem at night was what I decided to challenge the night Martin Luther King died by walking all over it, during a night of some fairly serious rioting.
Moore and a social critic do the same thing, going to Florence and Normandie (in daytime, though), where the 1992 Los Angeles Insurrection began, and talking about the myth I had challenged 34 years before. A few days later a friend suggested to me that I write a story for the Village Voice about it, and my career changed from that of an actor to that of a journalist. Now Moore has repaid the favor, at least on a karmic level, by inspiring me to make a film with Monique, who bears a strong resemblance to Halle Berry.
But how it made us squirm when we heard America's love affair with the gun presented as a reaction to white fear of blacks, as our sympathy with that view arose we were forced by proximity to recall the long reign of terror of John Allan Muhammad - a buyer of the black separatist line of the Nation of Islam - who would surely endorse Heston's point of view from the other side of the coin.
Great films change lives. "Bowling for Columbine" is one that has demonstrably changed me, and that will change you. It may change America.