American Dream and Roger and Me

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Documentary Film and the Power of Interrogation: "American Dream" &"Roger and Me" Author(s): Miles Orvell Reviewed work(s): Source: Film Quarterly, Vol. 48, No. 2 (Winter, 1994-1995), pp. 10-18 Published by: University of California Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1213092 . Accessed: 09/12/2012 08:12 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

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Nonfiction films rarely reach beyond a devoted congregation, but in recent years two small, works in particular have realized a mass audienceBarbara Kopple's Academy Award-winning American Dream (1991) and Michael Moore's widely celebrated and controversial film, Roger and Me (1989). That they have gained this wide audience speaks first of all to the fact that both films deal with the fate of the worker at the hands of the modern corporation, a subject that has been the focus of public concern for more than a decade, inflected most recently by the predicaments of postindustrialism: Given the new order of global capitalism, what power can labor unions claim against management? and what responsibility has management toward workers and their communities? Yet despite these similarities in subject matter-both films also happen to deal with plant closings in the beleaguered Midwest-the two could hardly be more different, stylistically and rhetorically. Kopple works within the relatively traditional documentary forms that Bill Nichols calls expository and observational; American Dream conforms to our customary documentary expectations as viewers that we are comfortably in the hands of an all-seeing, allsympathizing film-maker, expectations that have been part of the documentary mode since its inception

in the late nineteenth century. Exercising the authority of observation (an authority that is visible in ethnography, sociology, and psychiatric observation as well), the documentary film-maker establishes an ethical norm that is implicit in the narrative and that we are asked to identify with: we are "for" the victims of oppression. But the ethics of this mode, and of Kopple' s film in particular, are not quite this simple. Stylistically altogether different from Kopple's film, Moore's Roger and Me eschews the tradition of observational documentary and opts instead for a more complex rhetoric, a hybridization of (again in Nichols' terms) the interactive and the reflexive modes.' Moore does not invent this mode-it has its precedents in several other projects dating at least from Kit Carson and Jim McBride's quasi-documentary, David Holzman's Diary (1968)-but he carries the form well beyond its predecessors to the level of significant social commentary. What is especially in-

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theirconcern,in quite differentways, with power,not only the power-or powerlessness-of...
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