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SiCKO uses the "S" word...

by Dave Riley

This last week the premier for Michael Moore's video documentary , SiCKO, here in Brisbane was shared with a special screening for Green Left Weekly..and all that they say is true.

It is Moore's best.

I had caught a few interviews with Moore on Democracy Now -- especially a recording of a speech he gave to the Californian Nurses Association.
Catch it here . You can also catch it on the list of items available here on the LeftClick flash player.
We all know that the documentary is about the US private health 'care' system. But what is not being noted is that the documentary is essentially a dialogue about and with socialism. In effect Moore is arguing and debating throughout the film that socialised industry is a much better way of doing business than the capitalist free market.

And in pursuing his argument he gets to the nitty gritty of the core assumptions that underpin the American way of doing business and fostering a crude and false ideological rationale.

So when his rag tag army of chronically ill 9/11 rescue workers visit Cuba -- it plays like a scene from science fiction as the whole social and economic logic is so much at loggerheads with US presumptions. In effect the moral universe is turned on its head and people do in fact come before profit.

'Tis a very powerful movie in the way that his earlier efforts are not, primarily because in this instance there is little of the theatrical satire that he has relied so much on in the past to anchor his scripts.

If The Battle of Algiers is the quintessential movie of the radicalising sixties, SiCKO is its contemporary counterpart I think.

What's interesting to me is that in the space of this 40 years it is the documentary and not so much the feature film that can realize so much political potency.

Consider An Inconvenient Truth as another example of the "genre". And these are films that are pulling massive crowds to watch them -- either in cinema or DVD release. [Fahrenheit 9/11 set a new record for documentary profits, earning more than US$228 million in ticket sales and selling more than 3 million DVDs.[*]]

So more than any book or publishing venture the sort of advocacy we subscribe to has shifted strongly toward the video camera. The many documentaries -- from John Pilger's to David Bradbury's to the snippets you can watch for free on YouTube -- suggest that there has been a massive assertion of this medium as a political tool.

But, unfortunately, as a dedicated McLuhanist I think we pay a price -- a price that maybe a lot of documentary viewers don't or won't recognize. If the medium is the message then film's like Moore's may get us thinking and outraged and even agitate us a bit. But we still have to 'hit the books' to work through the argumentation in logical detail.

A documentary film may not be a fictionalised movie with a plot and stars and drama and such. It may have content -- but it usually doesn't offer the density of information that's on offer from an audio report or from the printed word.

In our new digital universe media may be transubstantial but its content is going to vary with the form.

The irony is, that there is now so many ways to say the same thing: capitalism sucks!


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