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'Bowling for Columbine' misses mark

October 18, 2002

Dennis Piszkiewicz

The day I went to see Michael Moore's latest documentary, "Bowling

for Columbine," the Washington, D.C. beltway sniper had killed his

eighth victim and left two others wounded. Moore's film was promoted

as being about violence in America, and I went hoping to learn

something relevant about our national slaughter in general and mass

murderers like the beltway sniper in particular.

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The title of this film refers to Columbine High School in

Littleton, Colo. where two students went bowling one morning in 1995,

then killed 13 people and injured at least a dozen others before

turning their guns on themselves. It makes the point that the United

States has the greatest murder rate among the developed nations of

the world, a total of 11,127 killed with guns last year.

As writer, director, producer and provocateur, Moore takes a

rambling tour of the American gun sub-culture, and he shows film

clips of incidents of incomprehensible violence. He talks to firearm

enthusiasts, police, the man and woman on the street and survivors of

violence. Unfortunately, the film takes many turns into

superficiality and glibness. Moore could and should have paid more

attention to the demographics of American violence: How many of the

murders were crimes of passion, committed by strangers, or associated

with other crimes such as robberies. Moore knows, though, that

however informative good data may be, it is lousy cinema.

Despite its shortcomings, "Bowling for Columbine" does have

several arresting moments. It records a truly frightening scene

during an interview of James Nichols, whose brother Terry Nichols

helped Timothy McVeigh blow up the Oklahoma City Federal Building in

1995.

Moore takes two students who were wounded during the Columbine

massacre to the corporate Headquarters of K-mart, the retail chain

that sold bullets to the Columbine killers, and they demand that

K-mart stop carrying handgun ammunition.

Moore asks Charleton Heston, president of the National Rifle

Assn., for an interview and gets it. Then he browbeats the NRA leader

about the organization's stand on gun control and his insensitivity

to victims of violent crime.

Moore interviews Marilyn Manson, who had been accused of inspiring

the Columbine massacre; and the outrageous rocker comes across as

thoughtful and articulate. For contrast, Moore also shows carefully

selected clips of national leaders, including the President of the

United States, who appear inarticulate and irrational in discussing

violence.

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