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‘Roger & Me’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 12, 1990

There are many extraordinary images, strange happenings and real-life weirdnesses to savor in "Roger & Me," Michael Moore's documentary allegory about Reagan's America, General Motors' pullout from Flint, Mich., and GM chairman-cum-Scrooge, Roger Smith.

A woman kills and skins rabbits without a break in her deadpan conversation, for instance -- just one of many good people trying to make ends meet in post-GM-pullout Flint. Then there's the Republican-earnest message from Anita Bryant to all unemployed Flint autoworkers: "You have today. Today's a new day." There's also the unforgettable "Me and My Buddy" exhibition, a harebrained, Flint tourist attraction in which a mannequin in auto worker's overalls "sings" a tribute to the very machine that presumably threatens his livelihood.

These are just a few of many gems in Moore's bared chest of complaints directed at Smith, who deserted 35,000 Flint workers for more profitable conditions south of the American border.

But for all his legitimate laments and pithy documentary moments, Moore gloats too much over his treasure. He hunts the elusive Smith with such shameless, crowd-pleasing demagoguery -- his naive aim is to get Smith to visit the people he's put out of work -- that he tips the moral balance against himself. You might even catch yourself feeling sorry for a big-business capitalist. Consequently, Moore becomes the main suspect in his own movie. What is he really after? Justice or a big movie hit?

Where Moore makes his mark is basically where he shuts up and, like a good documentarian ought to, lets the subjects do the talking. Smith nails his own coffin by addressing GM employees at Christmas time (right after the plants have been closed) and reading with blithe, Reaganesque sentimentality from Dickens's "A Christmas Carol." Also, GM spokesman Tom Kay trips up when he assures Moore that Smith "has as much concern about these people as you do -- or as I do."

Other figures unwittingly perpetuate Moore's damning of America, including Pat Boone (former GM spokesman), game-show host (and former Flint resident) Bob Eubanks, Robert Schuller (who was paid thousands of dollars to revive the depressed people of Flint) and Fred Ross, a man who quit GM years ago but is doing very well now, evicting defaulters from their homes. And all Moore has to do is make sure the mike's working.

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