"The Big One" hits Hogtown
Jenny Brown
July/August 1998

A large object streaks across America, revealing devastation everywhere. But The Big One is not an asteroid, it is Michael Moore's heartening and hilarious documentary of his 1996 trek across America on a book tour to promote "Downsize This! Random Threats from an Unarmed American." Evading his book escorts (tasked to keep him on time and on track), misinformation from locals, and even arrest, Moore searches the land for the CEO who will explain to him why profitable U.S. companies are committing massive layoffs.

"Every city I went to, people would tell me stories," says Moore. "Stories about how their company just posted a record profit and they lost their job; about how they had to work two jobs and still couldn't make enough to get by. Everyone was afraid they'd be down-sized next. It was clear that even though things were better for corporate America, the 'good times' were not trickling down to the rest of the country." In fact, Moore found, the money is gushing rather in the opposite direction.

Random House originally sent Moore on a 5-city book tour, not anticipating the popularity of his irreverent look at the devastation wrought by corporate priorities run wild in America. As the book rose on the New York Times bestseller list, the publishing company kept adding cities, including Gainesville.

"Suddenly I was about to experience 47 American cities in about as many days," said Moore. "I saw that there was a chance to really get a glimpse of America in the late '90's." He gathered a film crew from among his co-conspirators on the award-winning (but cancelled) show TV Nation, along with producer Kathleen Glynn, and hit the road. Armed with laptops and cellphones, the group researched the moves of the corporate behemoths in each town they visited. And all over America, the behemoth's next move was to trample their workers into the dust by cutting jobs for quick profit-taking or moving their operations overseas.

"I'm working harder than I have in years," an older guy in a diner tells Moore. "When everyone makes $5 an hour, who's going to buy all this stuff?" a laid-off worker asks. "When do you get to see your kids?" Moore asks a young mother who is working two jobs. "On Saturdays, well, in the morning..."

The film provides a panorama of America staggering under a regime of corporate profit maximization. Moore talks to Wisconsin families protesting at the state capitol as they are thrown off welfare, to workers at Johnson Controls and Payday Candy Bars getting the axe, to prisoners working as airline reservation clerks, to Borders Bookstore employees fighting back against low wages by organizing a union.

Moore shatters the big lie that Americans agree with and like the policies inflicted on them. When Moore asks people what they think of the '96 elections, it's clear that not voting is more a sign of disgust with tweedledee and tweedledum politics than a sign of a contented democracy.

Moore explores other American wonders along the way, researching a hunch that Steve Forbes is an alien (and finding a lot of evidence to support it), visiting the Mall of America, running into Garrison Keillor, and playing Dylan songs with Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick. Finally, he finds a CEO who will talk to him...

Moore's previous films include "Roger & Me," the story of his hometown of Flint, Michigan after GM devastated it by shutting down most of their factories there, and his quest to talk to General Motors Chairman Roger Smith. "Roger & Me" is the highest-grossing non-concert documentary of all time and won numerous awards. TV Nation won the Emmy in 1995 for the Most Outstanding Informational Series, and was called "The best show in the past 30 years" by the New York Daily News. But it was censored and then cancelled.

Moore's father and most of his relatives worked in GM factories, but he quit on his first day at Buick. He started his political career in high school winning a seat on the school board on the platform "fire the principal" shortly after 18-year-olds won the vote. At 22 Moore founded and for ten years edited the Flint Voice (later the Michigan Voice) one of the nation's most respected alternative newspapers.

Michael is like a floor sample of what we can all be," gushes one of his book tour escorts in the film. And "The Big One" is a floor sample of what film could be if the goal were to tell the truth and unite people rather than scare and alienate us.

The Big One is showing at the Hippodrome Tuesday-Saturday through July 16 at 7:00 and 9:00 p.m. and on Sundays at 2:30, 6 and 8:30 p.m. A special one-night only showing of the video of Moore's 1996 talk here in Gainesville will be shown on Monday, July 13 at 8 p.m. at the Hippodrome. A $1 to $3 donation is requested, with proceeds benefitting the Civic Media Center.

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