Controversial filmmaker Michael Moore unveiled two new projects last night in Toronto: a documentary about the health insurance business called “Sicko” and film that chronicles the aftermath of the 2004 election, entitled “Slacker.”
Moore showed clips from both films as part of a special two-hour presentation at the famed Elgin Theater. Larry Charles, director of the new comedy “Borat” and well-known from his work on the TV show “Seinfeld,” conducted the program that also consisted of a long, funny and intimate live interview with Moore.
The evening was almost marred by a faulty projector that caused Moore’s clips to be interrupted several times. The same thing apparently happened one night earlier during a screening of “Borat.” Moore jumped on stage and did shtick with Charles for the packed house. Last night, Charles returned the favor.
And while clips from both new Moore movies looked tantalizing, it was the director himself who made the biggest headlines with revelations about his life since becoming a lightning rod for controversy with “Roger and Me” some 17 years ago.
For one thing, Moore revealed that in the days after he won the Academy Award for “Bowling from Columbine,” he was harassed on the street, physically attacked with a cup of hot Starbucks coffee and subjected to having manure dumped on his front yard by neighbors.
Moore also defended actor Tom Cruise and revealed a secret story about Mel Gibson.
Of the former, he said: “It’s time to stop picking on Tom Cruise. What is his crime? Jumping on a couch? Actors are supposed to different. They’re not accountants. His religion is own damn business, no matter what planet it’s from. He’s not firing rockets into Iraq.”
But the Gibson story was far more interesting. Moore says that right after the 2004 election he was told by Time Magazine that he and Gibson would share the Person of the Year award. They each agreed and were brought to Los Angeles for an interview and photograph. The whole thing was very hush hush. But on the day it was supposed to happen, Gibson suddenly backed out, and for no apparent reason.
“Something happened overnight,” Moore said. “You know he has a church on his property. He must have talked to God, and he said, “No f——in’ way you’re doing this.”
The result, Moore pointed out, was that George W. Bush was named Man of the Year. Talk about irony.
Moore also revealed that halfway through shooting “Roger and Me,” his incendiary debut film that took on General Motors, the film’s editor, Kevin Rafferty, admitted that he was Barbara Bush’s nephew, the son of her sister. Ouch! Nevertheless, they continued to work together.
Moore appeared on stage in his Detroit Tigers baseball cap, leather jacket, jeans and white New Balance sneakers. Charles, on the other hand, sported a black suit and hat, long gray beard and sunglasses, sort of George Harrison circa 1970 and "All Things Must Pass." It’s hard to imagine him directing all those Seinfeld episodes, or even "Borat." There could not be two more dissimilar personas on stage.
By the way, the screening of "Borat" that followed the Moore-Charles program was greeted with standing ovations, huge howls and belly laughs from the clearly delighted sold-out audience, and chants of “Borat! Borat!" From the crowd. This is the movie I told you about from the Cannes Film Festival starring British comedian Sascha Baron Cohen as his alter-ego Borat, a TV commentator from Kazakhstan.
The movie has been trimmed slightly since May, but it is just as deliriously raunchy and side-splitting funny, if not more so. End credits now include thank yous to South Park’s Matt Stone and Trey Parker, director James L. Brooks, and Cohen’s actress girl friend Isla Fisher. It’s already such a cult film that even Dustin Hoffman showed up for the post-midnight show at the Elgin.
But this evening was Moore's, hands down. He rarely gives interviews and never shows his work before it’s finished, but last night he made an exception. He dropped little caveats that he was sure spies were in the audience from drug companies or insurance firms, trying to see what he was up to. He said that all of the drug companies had sent memos to their employees advising them of what to do, should Moore and his film crew attempt to interview them for “Sicko.”
“They even hired a profiler to figure out what they should say to me,” he recalled. “One thing was, compliment him on his weight loss. Another was, bring up any Detroit sports team. That will distract him.” Pfizer, he said, had set up a Michael Moore hotline. And how did he know all this?
“Luckily all these companies have disgruntled employees,” he laughed. “They send me all the memos.”
“Sicko” will be released by the Weinstein Company next summer. From the little we saw last night, it is clearly going to be a huge, huge hit...another cultural phenomenon. Moore said he intends to get “Slacker” out straight to DVD, also through Weinstein, as soon as possible. Personally, I can’t wait.