tony benn, sicko, and reality tv

Michael Moore just sent an email out to his mailing list. I thought that you might be interested in discussing this particular clip:

Thank you so much to the hundreds of thousands of you who went to see my movie last night and this afternoon. The studio tells me that we are on track to have the second largest opening weekend for a documentary in the history of the movies! (“Fahrenheit 9/11” was first.) Many theaters have been selling out. The Bush administration’s investigation of this movie is certainly not keeping people away. Thanks for all the pictures you sent me of people packing in to see “Sicko!”…

There’s a moment in “Sicko” when the former British MP, Tony Benn, says, “If we have the money to kill people (with war), we’ve got the money to help people.” That line always gets the loudest applause in the theater. It is estimated that, before Bush’s War is over, we will have spent two trillion dollars on it. Let me say this: I NEVER want to hear again from ANY politician that we “don’t have the money” to fix our schools, to take care of the poor, to provide health care for every American. Clearly, the money IS there when we want to illegally invade another country and then prolong a disastrous occupation. From now on, we have to demand that our tax dollars be there for the things we need, not the things that make us one of the most detested countries on earth…

If you do go see the movie this weekend, I’d be curious to know what you thought of the Tony Benn section in particular. I thought that it was incredible. I jotted down a note while I was watching the film. It said simply this: “Someone needs to bring Tony Benn to the U.S. Maybe, a reality TV series would work. It could be like ‘The Apprentice,’ only much, much better, and focused on public service and politics.” I still think it’s a damn good idea.

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  1. Posted July 2, 2007 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    I went to see the movie at the Michigan Theatre on Friday and was pretty blown away.

    In regards to Tony Benn, I also thought he was fabulous. Especially when he said that keeping people afraid and insecure is a good way to keep them from being engaged in the political process. I think he had a much more nuanced view of democracy than our current government has. Imagine democracy being defined as empowering people to vote and ensuring that the least of us is represented! If only that were the case in this country.

    In my opinion, we have let a business mentality make a mess of democacy in this country.

    In a somewhat related note, the only criticism of the movie I have is that I didn’t see a clear call to action. So what are we all supposed to do? Move to another country?

  2. Ol' E Cross
    Posted July 2, 2007 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Why does it always have to be an either/or proposition? Why can’t we spend money helping people and killing people?

    I can’t see the movie until it comes out on DVD, so I’m wondering if any of ya’ll who’ve seen it have an opinion on David Denby’s unflattering review in The New Yorker.

  3. mark
    Posted July 2, 2007 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t read the review yet, OEC, but I will. Thanks for sending it… I don’t need to see it to say the following though. It isn’t a perfect film, at least it wasn’t when I saw it a few months ago in the rough-cut stage. There were huge holes. Pieces were ineffective. Some of the humor fell flat. On the whole, however, I still maintain that it’s a brilliant piece of work. It’s a collosal undertaking to do something of this magnitude and I applaud Moore for giving it a shot. He’s taking something that’s been simmering in the collective American mind for the past several years and he’s taken it upon himself to bring it to a boil. The fact that one man even has a shot of doing that is incredibly inspiring to me. So, yeah, it’s a flawed film, and it may not achieve its goal of changing healthcare in America, but I think it’s got one hell of a shot of setting change in motion. We’ll see.

  4. mark
    Posted July 2, 2007 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    And, Nancy, my first thought after seeing the film was… How do I get to France? My second thought was… I bet I could make a lot of money if I started a consulting firm focused on helping liberals find ways out of America, and advertised in theaters showing this film.

  5. Ol' E Cross
    Posted July 2, 2007 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    I think rather than moving to another country, it’d be more efficient to move another country here. Maybe Denmark will adopt us?

    I love Moore’s films. The way I’ve been able to rationalize the outlandish parts is to tell myself that it’s needed to balance opposing outlandishness. He seems to say, you want a bloated propoganda war? Okay, bend over, you got one. He’s using their weapon against them.

    I respect that.

    I just get a little uneasy at the thought that folks buy into Moore’s stunts wholesale.

    Pulling back the curtain a little doesn’t make me love the wizard’s any less.

  6. dan
    Posted July 3, 2007 at 1:06 am | Permalink

    “Why can’t we spend money helping people and killing people?” This really is the pertinent question methinks.

    I saw it Friday night and liked it a lot. It was actually more funny and more moving than I expected. The Benn stuff was great and the guantanamo stuff was masterful.

    Hopefully, people will take this and run with it and not just argue about whether MIchael Moore is fat or really fat or some other dumb shit.

  7. dan
    Posted July 3, 2007 at 1:12 am | Permalink

    Oh. and David Denby is a twit.
    He bemoans the fact that Moore made a documentary with an agenda instead of some kind of fair and balanced journalism like he might find on the tee vee or something? Why didn’t MIchael Moore spend 117,230 hours explaining the history of healthcare along with interviews with all of the people who have very had an opinion about ways to reform it and then also interview some poor folks in those other countries, too!
    While all of that would have made for a more educational peice (perhaps) it is not in the cards for a 2 hour film. It’s sort of like asking why they didn’t go back and explain the revolutionary war and all other wars before and after during Ken Burns’s civil war documentary.
    In closing, Denby is a prig.

  8. k
    Posted July 3, 2007 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    I read the New Yorker review before I went, and was waiting to all of a sudden become disenchanted with the film, but it never happened. I actually thought this piece, barring the Cuba thing, was pretty subtle. I would have been disappointed had there been no full-scale shenanigan in a Moore film, so I was relieved to see him packing up the boat. there have been a lot of feeble attacks on Sicko, and I’m not sure why. I mean if you have to defend your right to bear arms, or even the president )if you are that sort of misguided) have at. Who feels obliged to defend the healthcare system?

  9. Posted July 3, 2007 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Also, I think where Moore shines is in the personal stories he tells of real people. I mean, how can you argue that it was right that a baby died because she wasn’t at the right hospital? Or that someone shouldn’t be saved from a horrible death because the procedure is “experimental”?

    In the end, I think the film did an excellent job of making the issue of health care in this country personal. And that’s really important. I think that many more people would now sign on to legislation supportive of universal health care because of that movie. And that’s quite an accomplishment.

    And France might be nice . . . but it doesn’t have Gordon’s Five and Dime, or the Rocket, or Zingerman’s, or the Corner Brewery, or Shadow Art Fair or Mark Maynard or . . .

  10. mark
    Posted July 5, 2007 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    From Boing Boing:

    Here’s a first-hand account of a trip to see Michael Moore’s Sicko in a suburban mall in Dallas, in which the audience of conservative cowboys were converted to health-care activists:

    When the credits rolled the audience filed out and into the bathrooms. At the urinals, my redneck friend couldn’t stop talking about the film, and I kept listening. He struck up a conversation with a random black man in his 40s standing next to him, and soon everyone was peeing and talking about just how fucked everything is.

    I kept my distance, as we all finished and exited at the same time. Outside the restroom doors – the theater was in chaos. The entire Sicko audience had somehow formed an impromptu town hall meeting in front of the ladies room. I’ve never seen anything like it. This is Texas goddammit, not France or some liberal college campus. But here these people were, complete strangers from every walk of life talking excitedly about the movie. It was as if they simply couldn’t go home without doing something drastic about what they’d just seen. My redneck compadre and his new friend found their wives at the center of the group, while I lingered in the background waiting for my spouse to emerge.

    The talk gradually centered around a core of 10 or 12 strangers in a cluster while the rest of us stood around them listening intently to this thing that seemed to be happening out of nowhere. The black gentleman engaged by my redneck in the restroom shouted for everyone’s attention. The conversation stopped instantly as all eyes in this group of 30 or 40 people were now on him. “If we just see this and do nothing about it,” he said, “then what’s the point? Something has to change.” There was silence, then the redneck’s wife started calling for email addresses. Suddenly everyone was scribbling down everyone else’s email, promising to get together and do something… though no one seemed to know quite what.

    I suspect this is happening all over… Too bad no one knows where to channel their energy.

  11. mark
    Posted July 5, 2007 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Actually, the folks at MoveOn are smart. They’re looking to harness the energy… So maybe people do have somewhere to channel their energy after all.

  12. egpenet
    Posted July 5, 2007 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    I’m excited … join the swarm, anybody?

  13. Ol' E Cross
    Posted July 5, 2007 at 9:43 pm | Permalink


    Thanks for your Denby balancing reviews … you’ve got me looking forward to it again. (Of couse, if Anthony Lane had reviewed it, I wouldn’t believe a word you said.)


  14. ad
    Posted July 7, 2007 at 2:42 am | Permalink

    Tony Benn has long been the sole voice in British politics worth listening to. Anyone interested should look up his speeches and memoirs which I am sure are for sale on Amazon etc. I am British and have just seen Sicko; it was lovely to see Tony being given an opportunity to be heard in the US. His views often strike me as so simple and true that I can barely believe we live in a world not governed by them. We do, which is sad enough; but even sadder would be to forget that. I hope that this film encourages people to stop being apathetic, and to take a stand about things which really effect them – both directly, and indirectly, because we are all part of our society. As Tony said in the film – Democracy is the most revolutionary idea – but we seem to be throwing it away.

  15. Trudy Springer
    Posted July 10, 2007 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    I saw the Seattle showing on June 14th and found Tony Benn’s comments to be especially important. I’ve always known that the government dumbs down the populace in order to control them easier, but I’d never given much thought to how they also demoralize citizens until Tony Benn’s comments.

    I would encourage you and others to continue efforts to bring him to America, we need to hear more from this man.

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