By Tom Macy
October 7, 2009
The following is an excerpt from Emily Post's Guide to Civility and Intelligence in Film Discussions:
Question: Is it possible to discuss a Michael Moore film with someone of different political affiliations than your own?
Answer: When discussing a film directed by Michael Moore it is important to know one's audience. If you are conversing with a fellow cinephile of whom you are less acquainted, you must admonish any misconceptions that your opinion is based on your allegiance or dissension to Moore's political and social positions. For example, you could preface a statement, favorable or not, with the phrase "love him or hate him.."
If you are familiar with your companion, this is not as much of an issue. However, if your political affiliations are the same, discussion of a Michael Moore film will often quickly lead to a conversation having nothing to do with film.
Question: Michael Moore's films are so politically saturated. How do I talk about the film's elements without addressing the delicate topics directly?
Answer: This can be done in conversation by drawing a line between Moore's message and Moore's craft. If you focus on things like form, composition and the skill, or lack there of, applied to good or bad effect things will remain civil. But you would want to avoid debating over, say, whether showing President George W. Bush getting his makeup applied before a TV appearance was a manipulative cheap shot or a clever metaphor for the façade Bush and his administration created for the American people.
Question: But those sound like two perfectly reasonable arguments that are both relevant observations in the filmmaking.
Answer: While this may sound cordial, one must tread lightly. True enough, both opinions are valid and are related to the craft of the film. However, even the slightest voice inflection could cause one to interpret said opinion as a comment on Mr. Bush himself - a comment that your partner in pontification my not agree with. If not careful, this could be the first step down a slippery slope that ends in a vicious battle royale.
Question: Couldn't I just rebuke my statement if it was misinterpreted?
Answer: The trouble is in these situations, once a certain line has been crossed, i.e. an opinion stated or perceived, the opposite party will invariably be compelled to voice theirs. This can be very dangerous. In 2004, when Fahrenheit 9/11 was released, before this list of guidelines on how to approach such interactions was established, an epidemic of spontaneous flare-ups around dinner tables, watercoolers and kegs exploded across the country. While this resulted in financial gain for Moore to the tune of a $23 million opening weekend, making it in those three days the highest grossing documentary in history and beating Moore's own Bowling For Columbine mark of $21 million, it made small talk a tremendous burden for several weeks. With headlines and talk shows saturated with coverage of the film, any conversation longer than three minutes inevitably approached the controversial film. If you were not prepared with an eloquent fence-straddling opinion, i.e. "whether or not I agree with Moore, his insistence to be a such a dominating presence in his own film's undermines any and all of the points his is trying to make," you risked inadvertent yet irrevocable damage to the person with whom you were speaking.