Michael Moore scored a big buzz with the online release of his latest doc Slacker Uprising, a kind of concert film of his 2004 efforts to get out the (young Democratic) vote in advance of the election. The release, timed for the ’08 contest, functions as a cautionary tale to “not get fooled again” — again and again.
The film is free to download after registering on the website with an email address. The inital online release was handled on the Slacker Uprising website as flash video on September 23, and as bit-torrent download — and judging from the initial download speeds (slow to none), the servers seem to have been overwhelmed by the response. By the end of the day, however, the bandwidth issues were sorted out, spreading out the task to a number of outlets, including Amazon, iTunes, Hypernia.com and Blip.tv. Interestingly, the formats varied from outlet to outlet, from a modest 400 MB QuickTime file from Hypernia.com, to a 1.2 GB monster HD file from iTunes.
Moore is not alone is offering media free online (check out hulu.com or Tom Roston’s post on SnagFilms for some other free online media outlets), but he’s better than most in getting attention for his work. But how is the film itself? Do you get what you pay for?
Not so much. The power of Moore’s oratory is tempered somewhat by the familiarity of the territory the film covers — we’ve seen Moore’s rabble-rousing before. And even if you haven’t, you’ll see him do it a dozen times throughout the course of the film, and after a dozen times, it’s not so rousing anymore.
If you’re sympathetic to the message, it’s easy to understand what Moore’s trying to do from the first minutes of the film; to those who aren’t, simply hearing that message over and over probably won’t make you change you mind. Repetition does not equal depth, and the message doesn’t get deeper or more nuanced as the film goes on. The celebrity fellow travelers Moore takes along with him repeat the same point again and again: the electorate, roused from ignorance, should now know better than to elect Bush to a second term. But hearing that message from Gloria Steinem isn’t dramatically different from hearing a similar message from Eddie Vedder or from Viggo Mortensen — three of the celebs Moore recruits for his rallies.
Ditto for the venues. Cities and towns, big and small, across twenty states — over sixty in all — tend to blur after awhile. You get the sense that when Moore shouts out the name of a city at the beginning of a speech, he’s almost trying to remind himself where he is — there isn’t much else to distinguish one event from another.
Moore is at his best when he’s not running off a script. When heckled by a group of Republicans at a rally in West Virginia, his brilliance shines. “I have some good news for you Republicans,” he tells them. “When we’re in power, we promise not to treat you the way you’ve treated minorities for the last four years… Even though many of us in here see you as a deviant form of behavior, Republicanism, Right-wing-ism, we’ll still let you marry each other.”
To be fair, Moore’s effort in the film is a national, not local, one; he’s trying to influence the outcome of a presidential election. And though the effort comes up short, Moore’s spin on the results of the 2004 election is to point out that the only demographic that Kerry won was the “young voter.” The timing of the release of Slacker Uprising, just six weeks before the 2008 presidential election, offers Moore the chance to redeem his efforts — depending on the results this time around.