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Movie Review: Slacker Uprising

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Call it another stunt or call it a stroke of distribution genius, but, whatever you call it, Michael Moore’s latest documentary film Slacker Uprising is here, for free to watch on the Internet. Personally, I call it most welcome.

First, here’s the scoop. Moore filmed his efforts to rally as many of the disenfranchised and apathetic and mostly young non-voters during the months leading up to the 2004 presidential election, something he dubbed the Slacker Uprising Tour. He recently edited the footage and has it ready now during the months leading up to the next edition of the eternal Republicans versus Democrats mud-wrestle for the White House. You can watch it right now by going to the Slacker Uprising website.

I checked it out and was very pleased by how smoothly it streamed into my home. I turned the computer 90 degrees and stretched out in my recliner. It was almost as good as watching television. And the movie is every bit as entertaining and maddening and thought-provoking as Moore’s previous works.

Slacker Uprising plays like a sequel or at least a cousin to Fahrenheit 9/11. It aims a critical eye at George W. Bush (I’ll tear a page from Moore’s playbook and decline to precede his name with “President”) and company and their many shady dealings, especially relating to the attempted suppression of Moore’s anti-Bush movie and the “Swift Boat” smear campaign against John Kerry. It’s an agitprop piece fully intended to make those who watch it mad as hell and not going to take it any more. (Moore actually quotes from the movie Network during one of his many tirades against the press.)

Slacker Uprising has a repetitive quality that I found a bit disappointing, at first. It documents stop after stop on a tour and the experience of watching it is a bit like what it must feel like to be a roadie, hearing essentially the same show night after night. Then I thought, “What a perfect representation for what Moore is trying to do.” Leading a grassroots movement is all about doing the same thing over and over again whether it be making the same phone call repeatedly or, in his case, giving the same speech and telling the same jokes, often in the face of seemingly the same booing Republican hecklers. The name of the game is persistence. (It really isn’t as repetitive as I just made it sound. Each stop has a different guest entertainer – Steve Earle and Rosanne Barr stand out – and listening to them provides much of the film’s entertainment value.)

While Slacker Uprising is very much a piece with Moore’s other films – including his best works like Sicko and Bowling for Columbine – it, more than anything, reminded me of a very different film. In 1991, Richard Linklater shook the independent film world with Slacker, a film that spends a day in Austin, Texas meandering about with a bunch of young, disenfranchised, and apathetic people. They are just the people Moore set out to mobilize and I’m sure his use of “slacker” is a direct nod.

One of Moore’s humorous stunts on the tour was to offer Ramen Noodles to women and clean underwear to men who would pledge to make a change and vote on November 2. It’s one of several running jokes during the movie. Two of my favorite characters from Slacker (it is my favorite film actually) seem like this is just the motivation they would need. A young woman wanders about trying to sell a jar that contains, she claims, a Pap smear from pop star Madonna. She is so skinny that one doubts this occupation leaves any time for cooking. A man hitchhikes from point A to point B to point A to … When asked if he has a job, he replies, “Hell, no! I may live badly, but at least I don’t have to work to do it.” He looks filthy and I’m sure neither point A nor B includes an underwear drawer.

I used the term “agitprop” earlier. I certainly didn’t intend any negative connotation though. I meant it in terms of its original meaning from the Russian language as a dissemination of ideas and beneficial knowledge. (The negative connotations stem mostly from Cold War paranoia and the “Commie” scares — the very things Moore is trying to neutralize.) And if Moore’s beneficial knowledge got a few slackers off their couches four years ago – and gets a lot more moving about one month from now – then his persistence has paid off.

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