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REVIEW OF ROGER AND ME
BY MICHAEL MOORE

Classic documentary by Michael Moore.

Roger and Me by Michael Moore

  • "The company endeavors to take care of its employees throughout their working careers, and beyond." - AT&T Employee Manual, 1947.

  • "GM has not promised and does not owe employees cradle-to-grave security." - General Motors spokesperson in Roger and Me, late 1980's.

  • Winner of Best Film at 1989 Chicago, Toronto and Vancouver Film Festivals. Winner of Best Documentary of 1989 by LA Society of Film Critics, National Board of Review and NY Society of Film Critics.

  • Appeared on 100 critics' Ten Best Films of the Year lists.

  • The highest-grossing, non-concert documentary of all time - until it was surpassed by Moore's own Bowling for Columbine.
"The Good Old Days" and "The American Dream" are phrases so cliche that they may make you roll your eyes. But, the fact is that in the middle part of the 20th Century, America was a country where companies and workers took far better care of each other. At the very least, the Uzi had yet to join the stapler and pen as indispensable office supplies. According to Paul Klugman of the New York Times and Princeton University, "In the days when General Motors was known in-house as Generous Motors, many workers felt that they had considerable job security -- the company wouldn't fire them except in extremis. Many had contracts that guaranteed health insurance, even if they were laid off; they had pension benefits that did not depend on the stock market."

In those days, even the richest bosses made only about ten or twelve times as much as you did and the wealth was distributed, creating a large and prosperous middle class. If you worked hard, you could count on being at a company for much of your adult life and being able to afford a decent house, food for your family and adequate health care. It wasn't exactly Leave it to Beaver, but an American Dream was being born and gains were being made by the workers of this country.

Now, in 2002, after fifty years of "progress," many of us sense a much bleaker future. You can expect to change jobs eight times in your life and, even with two people in the family working, you could have a very tough time raising a family, much less paying for college. It seems like many corporations see you as a dispensable cog in a machine, and will gladly sever their ties to you at the drop of a hat to make a few more bucks elsewhere. We've all seen this lately with Enron, Worldcom and so many others.

Worse yet, these corporations insult our intelligence by feeding us a bunch of rationalization and doublespeak to justify their misdeeds. Until these larger scandals hit, many were even able to convince us that their greed was really in our best interest. As a result, to many Americans, this type of corruption has come as a sudden unexpected wake-up call. But, Michael Moore was talking about this issue nearly fifteen years before the Enron fiasco, and Moore is not the type to be pacified with platitudes.

Roger and Me takes us to Moore's hometown of Flint, Michigan during the late 1980's to see how the increasing greed and disloyalty of companies not only hurts individuals, but can devastate an entire community. General Motors was born in Flint and had become the richest company in the world. But that didn't stop it from closing eleven plants and laying off over 30,000 of the workers who had gotten it there, even as it continued making huge profits. Its exodus from Flint left the city in a ruins that won it the title of America's Worst City To Live In from Money Magazine.

In the ensuing months and years, Moore's lens expertly captures a litany of attempts to deflect the focus from General Motors itself. The usual corporate doublespeak is rampant, not only from GM, but seemingly from all directions. A slew of celebrities from Pat Boone and Miss Michigan (soon to be Miss America) to Evangelist Robert Schuller and President Ronald Reagan join in the absurd chorus. Meanwhile, the "powers-that-be" in Flint try everything from prayer conventions and a new auto-industry themed amusement park to an insanely misguided attempt to turn Flint into a tourist town. Even the most sympathetic viewer can't help but laugh as lint rollers are bizarrely offered as a potential solution for the dilapidated community. It seems that anything is preferable to admitting the role that General Motors itself has played in the tragic breakdown of this once thriving town.

Moore's indignation with this shirking of responsibility sends him on a David vs. Goliath quest that will leave you both outraged and in stitches. Who among us hasn't dreamt of exposing an incompetent boss or shining the light on a demoralizing impersonal system of red tape? Moore fulfills that dream for us, capturing alternately tragic and hilarious scenes on film as he heads after the big cheese himself, GM chairman Roger Smith, to confront him directly about what his layoffs have done to Moore's hometown.

Moore's pursuit of Smith - complete with his trademark baseball cap, dirty jeans and hush puppies - gets him the runaround and a one-way ticket out the door at one rich yacht club and private corporate hangout after another. But, as he is serially removed, he exposes us to the incredible distance between the haves and have-nots, juxtaposing these lavish affairs with the rampant evictions of Flint's poor. Nowhere is this disparity more eloquently displayed than in a scene where Roger Smith delivers a Christmas Eve speech comprised of passages from Dickens' A Christmas Carol, continuing the doublespeak, even as we see local deputy Fred Ross kicking one family after another out of their houses.

Are those of us who labor to create the wealth in America being rewarded fairly? Why are the CEO's and managers getting rich off the sweat of the everyday workers, then laying them off? Is it fair that the CEO who used to make ten times your salary at most can now make hundreds of times what you make? Why is it that in 2002 it seems harder to get by working two jobs than it was working one fifty years ago? Is this progress?

These questions are finally being raised more widely in the wake of scandals like Enron. But, years before, Michael Moore was pursuing the answers to these painful questions and in the process, making us laugh, cry and, most importantly, think. It's just a shame that at the time Roger and Me was released, it couldn't be seen by the GM workers in Flint for whom it was made. Alas, all the movie theaters in Flint had been closed down. Luckily, you still have the opportunity.

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