September 9, 2005
This Divided State (DVD)
We didn't think a documentary about a pre-2004 election appearance by Michael Moore at a state college in Utah would be so riveting and provocative, but boy were we wrong. This is a film that reveals an American passion play by using a real event to symbolize the two major warring factions in the United States today.
Basically, three young Utah filmmakers were on hand as a furious debate was unleashed in a conservative Utah town, home to Utah Valley State College, when Moore was invited to appear, with his fee paid by the proceeds from tickets sold to students. A self-righteous Mormon Republican leads a virulent campaign to stop Moore from speaking on the basis that he doesn't represent "the values" of the "community."
On the other side, students and professors champion Moore's appearance as a free speech issue -- and remain adamant about supporting the right of anyone to talk at a college in a democracy. But the GOP "family values" bulldog becomes rabid and launches a crusade to halt Moore's appearance, going so far as to file a lawsuit against the two student leaders who proposed the event (and who have major roles as the documentary unfolds).
The film encapsulates so many of the issues and personalities that mark the war for the future of America, within the context of an emotionally volatile conflict that develops over a minor event: Moore's appearance. It is richly resonant of the debate over democracy and whether one group of people can impose their values upon others.
And it's loaded with creepy characters, including the unctuous Bushevik who has the self-righteous, disdainful aura of Orrin Hatch's anal rectitude about him. One of the most chilling scenes in the film concerns Sean Hannity. A compromise, of sorts, is temporarily reached when Hannity is also invited to speak. (He skillfully gives the appearance of generosity by "waving" his speaking fees, but charging $40,000 for "travel expenses.")
The Hannity appearance is truly chilling. The guy is a master of Goebbels style propaganda in the way he seduces an adoring crowd of Bush "family values" supporters. It's one of the most frightening scenes we've seen in a film recently. It's hate, deception, and crowd manipulation wrapped inside a velvet glove. It gave us goose bumps.
Moore's appearance is almost anti-climactic, because the real story is not Moore, but the morality play surrounding his appearance. As usual, he comes off as a lovable lout, a disheveled champion of democracy and economic justice. One is left wondering just what is so objectionable about Moore. Why is he despised so vehemently by white Republican Busheviks?
These people are filled with such ferocious and intense fear and loathing that it makes you think that they all have radio antennas implanted in their heads, with messages from Karl Rove and Grover Norquist being beamed into their subconscious thoughts on a 24-hour basis.
"Divided State" is the type of gem that unfortunately won't find a wide commercial audience, but it should. It could have been written as a play because it develops as if it had been scripted, but it really happened. That's the scary part.
A BuzzFlash exclusive offering through September 27th. This special DVD edition includes two bonus hours of footage.
You can learn more about the documentary at http://thisdividedstate.com/.