"Sicko," new Michael Moore film, takes on the health-care system
I had a pain in my shoulder. But after watching "Sicko," Michael Moore's withering new documentary about America's health-care system (which...
Seattle Times staff reporter
I had a pain in my shoulder. But after watching "Sicko," Michael Moore's withering new documentary about America's health-care system (which opens Friday), I didn't make a doctor's appointment. I updated my will.
The Oscar-winning provocateur behind "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "Bowling for Columbine" paints a nauseating picture of our system — which ranks 37th in the world (according to the World Health Organization), with nearly 50 million people devoid of health care here and many who do have it outgamed by providers denying treatment.
I got Moore to turn his head and cough. Literally: He was coming down with something and seemed exhausted from his promotional schedule. Yet, unlike his sometimes strident public persona, he was friendly and playful as we blabbed in the Fairmont Olympic.
Q: Some people ripped me off on eBay. Could you stand outside their house with a bullhorn?
A: I don't do that anymore. You're going to have to do it yourself. That's the only way anything will get accomplished in this country, by people becoming more active and not relying on people such as myself to do the work.
Q: Some stats [from Harvard and the U.S. Senate] not in your film: Half of bankruptcies are from medical catastrophes, and 75 percent of those are insured people. Did Charles Dickens inspire our system? Are there no prisons, no work houses?
A: [Sighs.] That is one of my main points in the film, that just because you're insured doesn't mean that you're safe. So these candidates who are talking about universal health care for everyone, but they're all talking about having the private insurance companies do it. Well that's the problem, the private insurance companies. They have to be eliminated.
Q: What about lobbyists?
A: They go, too. We need campaign finance reform that removes money from our political system. I'm actually calling for a lot of unemployment here, aren't I? For a guy from Flint, Mich., that doesn't sound very good, does it?
Q: The feds are investigating you for your trip to get 9/11 workers treatment in Cuba they weren't getting here, and they may even confiscate the Cuba footage before the film's release. What's your response to this?
A: My response is I've made a master negative of the film and had it delivered to a safe place in Canada where the federal government can't get it. What an odd thing to say when you live in a free society, right, that you'd have to do such a thing. Our lawyer said that even if there's a 10 percent chance, because the Bush administration may claim — just like we've brought back 10,000 Cuban cigars, they would confiscate those cigars from us. ...
Q: I hope you at least brought back some Cohibas.
A: No, I brought back nothing but film and things that we put on film. We took blank film there that was essentially worth nothing, and created value by shooting scenes in the movie there. So they could claim that because this film now has value that was obtained in Cuba, it violates the trade embargo act.
Q: The public tide sure has turned since the remarks you made about President Bush at the 2002 Oscars that were considered so controversial. Do you feel vindicated or maybe kind of tired of taking the hits before everyone else gets onboard?
A: It is the question I ask myself constantly. Really it is the latter. It is how I feel to a large degree. And it is tiring, and it does take a lot out of me. It doesn't give me any better feelings about myself to have been the first to say that General Motors is a giant about to fall. That was 18 years ago, and people thought I was crazy then. This was the No. 1 company in the world, they could do no wrong, it's General Motors. And now they're near bankruptcy. Same thing with these other films, too, with "Bowling for Columbine" and "Fahrenheit 9/11." I think with this film, "Sicko," I may get a bit of a break here because I'm not that much far ahead of where the public is.
Q: It also seems less bombastic than your previous films, and you're less of a presence in it. How come?
A: Would you like looking at images of yourself 40 feet tall on a screen? I think a little bit of me goes a long way. This film is different, but in some ways I think it's more dangerous because of the approach I'm taking. And I'm also making an attempt to reach out across the great divide here in our country and say to those who disagree with me that we can still have our disagreements politically, but can't we find some common ground on this particular issue?
Q: You've mentioned that you've getting healthier. Did ad hominem cracks about your appearance get to you?
A: Ha, no. First of all I come from the Midwest, so my nickname there is "Twiggy." I was in the middle of making this movie, and I started thinking it was a little hypocritical to be making a movie about health care, and you're not taking care of your own health. And so I thought maybe I should — [coughs] — maybe I should start to do that.
Q: You say as you hack.
A: He says as he takes his last breath! At that moment the paramedics ran in, attempted to revive him!
Q: You don't show any "Roger & Me" style attempts to interview health-care or pharmaceutical mouthpieces. Did you try?
A: No, the networks do such a good job of giving a lot of time to the pharmaceutical industry and to the health-care industry. Every local news now has "Tonight's Health Report" brought to you by Lipitor. The nightly news seems like every other ad is a pharmaceutical ad. Their story is told over and over again every single day. This is an attempt for two hours during the whole year — two hours, the length of this film, to say here's the other side.
Q: Even when I tend to agree with your overall point of view, sometimes I think I need an independent fact-checker to find what's anecdotal and what isn't.
A: That's a fair question. All of the facts in my movie are 100 percent accurate. I have a team of fact-checkers that come in, I have a team of lawyers then that tear the film apart. I have to do this in part because it's the right thing to do, and secondly I need to convince you of my argument. And if you don't trust the facts then I'm never going to get you to think about agreeing with the argument. So because I do such a good job of making sure what I say is true, it's why I rarely if ever get sued. If I was reckless about this you can bet ...
Q: What about the criticism that you sometimes undermine good overall points with cheap tactics? Charlton Heston when he was stricken with Alzheimer's, asking politicians to sign up their children for the military — which can't be done.
A: In another time it would be called satire. Have we lost the fine art of that in this country? Do we not know it when we see it anymore? If I'm on Capitol Hill asking congressmen if they would send their sons to Iraq, has no one read Jonathan Swift? I didn't invent this. It has a long tradition of suggesting, starting with what Swift did, was the way to solve the Irish famine is for the Irish to eat their young. I'm doing a modern version of that — probably not as good as he did.
Q: He was the mack daddy.
A: [Laughs.] He was the mack daddy. So we all bow to him. And the first example you made, what was wrong with going after the president of the NRA? You know what was shocking about it? You never saw anybody do it. Have you ever seen an interview where somebody just went right to the core of why he believed the way he believed? So you sit there in the theater, and you're uncomfortable.
Q: I think what made some people uncomfortable was that he had Alzheimer's.
A: No he didn't. I did that interview a year and a half before he came down with Alzheimer's.
Q: I've heard you're not exactly Lindsay Lohan in your private life.
A: I'm actually a fairly conservative person. I live a very conservative lifestyle. I try to go to church most Sundays. I was raised Catholic, so I'm Catholic — sometimes a recovering Catholic. I've been with the same woman for the past 26 years.
Q: Michael Moore, why do you hassle The Man?
A: [Deep breath.] I wish I had a good answer for that. I really don't know any other way to live. I was taught from a very early age that it was probably the most American thing you can do is to question what's going on and to try to fix things that you see that aren't right. I believed that as a young person, and I believe that today.
Mark Rahner: 206-464- 8259 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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