Shame, shame on A.O. Scott, cinematic pundit for The New York Times. Shame, shame on Peter Travers, film assessor for Rolling Stone. These critics' blurbs are slathered like frosting on the DVD casing of Sicko, the Special Edition.
"You'll laugh till it hurts," Travers says.
Oh, Pete, did you have to go there?
"Michael Moore's funniest movie to date," Scott says.
Oh, A.O., has it really been so long since you screened Roger and Me?
In 1989, Moore reinvented the social-issue documentary with that 91-minute epic, tracking the collapse of his hometown of Flint, Michigan. It was a film that astounded audiences with exposing the absurdity of Reaganomics and class disparity with a cast of ridiculously true characters. And, Michael Moore's chase and ambush style of guerilla filmmaking was never more effective as during this first film, when he wasn't quite sure what he was doing and, more importantly, the corporate flaks on the receiving end had no clue who he was.
Don't get me wrong. Sicko is as important a film now, if not more so, than Roger and Me was in 1989. However, "funny" isn't the word I'd choose to lead with. No, that's why I chose to lead with "shame."
Sicko is about shame. The shame we should all feel as a country for allowing a health care system where profit's made by not providing care. The shame we should all feel for not standing up to it, for shrugging off the tremendous influence insurance and pharmaceutical industry lobbyists swing and wield with our elected officials. The shame we should all feel for not caring for every human being within our borders. And perhaps, the most American shame of all: the shame of falling far behind the rest of the Western world.
When Sicko was released, nursing organizations sponsored free screenings around the country. As the 2008 election nears, it shouldn't be hard to find at least one free local screening each month. Meanwhile, in some corners of the Internet, the full version of the film is still available to stream, and Moore never seemed very keen on prosecuting the pirates. The more who see it, the better the chance there is for change.
So, why, then, buy the film on DVD? The primary market, I imagine, will be individuals who want to host even more free screenings. The secondary market, then, would be Moore fans hungry for his every last little edited morsel.
The DVD is packed with special features, most of which are fully edited scenes that, while poignant, never made it into the film. The high point is the short doc, This Country Beats France, in which Moore explores a bizarre Utopian prison island in Norway. On the other hand, the low point is yet another hero-worship interview with British MP Tony Benn. The features also include Sicko's premiere on the streets of L.A. and the demonstrations the film inspired in Washington, DC.
My recommendation: print out the Huffington Post's analysis of the Presidential candidate's health care plans by Susan Blumenthal, and rent the DVD before you vote in 2008.