Roger & Me (1989)
A documentary about the closure of General Motors' plant at Flint, Michigan, which resulted in the loss of 30,000 jobs. Details the attempts of filmmaker Michael Moore to get an interview with GM CEO Roger Smith.
Filmmaker Michael Moore was born and raised in Flint, Michigan, a city dominated by one company, General Motors (GM), which is the largest corporation in the world and which was founded in Flint. The people of Flint were prosperous because of GM, and in turn GM was successful because of the people of Flint. The fortunes of Flint take a decidedly downward turn when GM Chair, Roger B. Smith, decides to close eleven GM plants, most in Flint, which means the loss of 30,000 jobs there. Despite GM still making profits in the billions, Smith moves those jobs to new factories in Mexico, where wages are lower. As such, Moore goes on a quest to speak to Smith to find out exactly his rationale for relocating those 30,000 jobs from Flint, thus devastating the city, and to show Smith firsthand that devastation. But Moore's quest is easier said than done. Moore gets turned back by one security guard after another wherever Smith is at the time. Moore also delves into the fortunes of the average ex-GM worker and his/her family in Flint, what the city is doing to try and reinvent itself, and what employment opportunities are had if one decides to stay in Flint.
Director Michael Moore attempts to meet with Roger Smith, chairman of General Motors, over plant closures in his hometown of Flint, Michigan. At one time, Flint employed more GM auto workers than any other city in the world and provided a quality of life that was unknown in America up to that point. As a young man Moore has no interest in staying in Flint and left after publishing his own magazine for 10 years. He eventually returned just as GM announced the closing of 11 plants and the laying off of 30,000 employees - all while being extremely profitable and building new plants in Mexico. Flint fell on hard times with high levels of unemployment, abandoned housing and increased crime rates. Moore eventually gets to ask Smith to visit Flint; Smith declines the invitation.
- Michael Moore is an eccentric, self-taught documentary film director who begins by introducing himself and his family through 8 mm archival home movies; in a voice-over, he describes himself as "kind of a strange child," the Irish American Catholic middle-class son of a General Motors employee assembling AC Spark Plugs. Moore chronicles how GM had previously defined his childhood while growing up in Flint, Michigan, and how the company was the primary economic and social hub of the town. He points out that Flint is the place where the 1937 Flint Sit-Down Strike occurred, resulting in the birth of the United Auto Workers. He reveals that his heroes were the Flint natives who had escaped the life in GM's factories, including the members of Grand Funk Railroad, Casey Kasem, the spouses of Zubin Mehta (Nancy Kovack) and Don Knotts, and "Flint's most famous native son," game show host Bob Eubanks.
Initially, he achieves his dream of avoiding the dreary tradition of blue-collared factory life that lays for the majority of the population of Flint; by moving to California and working for a magazine in San Francisco, but this venture fails for him and he ultimately travels back to Flint. As he returns (in 1985), General Motors announces the layoffs of thousands of Flint auto workers, the jobs of whom will go to cheaper labor when the plant relocates to Mexico. GM makes this announcement even though the company is (according to Moore) experiencing record profits.
Disguised as a TV journalist from Toledo, Ohio, Moore interviews some auto workers in Flint and discovers their strong antipathy to General Motors chairman Roger B. Smith. Moore begins seeking out Smith himself to confront him with an "up-close-and-personal" interview about the closing of the Flint auto factories. He tries to visit Smith at GM's headquarters in Detroit, yet he is blocked by building security guards as Moore hasn't made an appointment. A company spokesman comes to the lobby and exchanges contact information with Moore, initially promising him to discuss an interview with Smith, but due to lack of credentials (since Moore is independent and likewise, does not have a business card), he refuses to grant him one. Over the course of the film, Moore attempts to track down Smith at various places including the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club and the Detroit Athletic Club, only to be told that Smith is not there or to leave by employees and security guards.
From here, Moore begins to explore the emotional impact of the plant closings on some of his friends. He interviews an auto worker named Ben Hamper who apparently suffered a nervous breakdown after being laid off on the assembly line and is currently staying at a mental health facility.
From here, to the Beach Boys song "Wouldn't It Be Nice?", we see a montage of the urban rubble and decay enveloping Flint, interspersed with newspaper headlines about the increasing layoffs, residents moving away, and a news report informing us that the rat population in the city soon outnumbered the human population.
Moore also turns his camera to the residents of the more affluent suburbs such as Grand Blanc, who display rather classist and naïve attitudes when it comes to the economic hardships of the city (at a Roaring 20's themed party they are hosting, Moore takes note when they hire laid off workers to be Human Statues).
Here, Moore changes course and turns his camera on the Flint Convention and Visitors Bureau, who are in the process of response by promoting a vigorously incompetent tourism policy. The Bureau, in an effort to lure tourists into visiting Flint, permit the construction of a Hyatt Regency Hotel, a festival marketplace called Water Street Pavilion, and AutoWorld, hailed as the world's largest indoor theme park. These efforts fail, as the Hyatt soon files for bankruptcy, Water Street Pavilion sees most of its stores go out of business, and AutoWorld closes due to a lack of visitors just six months after the grand opening.
(AutoWorld would reopen the next summer only to close down again, and in the end was demolished, which is seen in Moore's film 'The Big One'.)
Well-known personalities and celebrities are also shown coming to Flint to bring hope to the unemployed, some of them interviewed by Moore. President Ronald Reagan himself visits the town and suggests that former auto workers find employment by moving away... across the country, though the restaurant where they are meeting has its cash register stolen (off-camera) during Reagan's visit by an unemployed factory worker. The mayor pays television evangelist Robert Schuller to preach to the town's unemployed. Pat Boone and Anita Bryant, who have supplied GM with celebrity endorsements, also come to town; Boone tells Moore that Roger Smith is a "can-do" kind of guy. Moore also interviews Bob Eubanks during a fair near Flint, during which Eubanks cracks an anti-Semitic and homophobic joke.
Moore also attends the General Motors annual 1988 Shareholders Convention, disguised as a shareholder himself. However when he gets a turn at the microphone to air his grievances to the board, and even though he is the last one, Smith seems to recognize Moore and immediately shuts him out and has the convention adjourned, despite Moore's attempts to interject him. In a close up of Smith, he can be heard joking about what he did with a fellow board member before leaving.
Moore also meets some of the residents of Flint, who are reeling from the economic fallout of the layoffs. Moore meets a former feminist radio host named Janet who, to find work, joins Amway as a saleswoman. Also met is a former auto worker, angered over the layoffs, who is named James Bond. The most famous resident that appears in the film is Rhonda Britton, who sells rabbits for "Pets or Meat".
(The scene many believe was the reason 'Roger & Me' received an R-rating features Britton killing a rabbit on-camera by beating it with a lead pipe. The rabbit fights back before and during the early part of the beating.)
Prevalent throughout the film is Sheriff's Deputy Fred Ross, who worked at a Flint GM plant for 17 years before accepting his new job as a sheriff's deputy position, whose job now demands that he go around town carrying out evictions on families unable to pay their rent or mortgages on their houses or apartments.
During all of this, as the film progresses, Flint's crime rate skyrockets, with shootouts and murders becoming all too common. Crime becomes so prevalent, that when the ABC News program "Nightline" tries to do a live story on the plant closings, someone steals the network's van (along with the cables), abruptly stopping the broadcast. Living in Flint becomes so desperate, that Money magazine names the town as the worst place to live in America. The residents react with outrage and stage a rally where issues of the magazine are burned. Ironically, the residents play the song "My Hometown" by Bruce Springsteen during the rally, seemingly unaware it is about a town becoming overcome by crime and extreme poverty.
At the film's climax, after three years of trying to track down the elusive and insulated Smith for a personal interview, Moore finally confronts Smith at the chairman's annual 1988 Christmas message in Detroit. Moore and his crew film Smith as he is shown expounding about generosity during the holiday season, concurrently inter-cut with scenes as Sheriff Fred Ross evicts another family from their house. After Smith's speech, Moore hounds Smith where he finally has his up-close-and-personal confrontation with Roger B. Smith. He addresses Smith from a distance (two bodyguards are clearly seen restraining Moore and his camera crew from getting physically close to Smith). The face-to-face encounter between Michael Moore and Roger B. Smith is shown as this:
Michael Moore: Mr. Smith, we just came down from Flint where we filmed a family being evicted from their home the day before Christmas Eve. A family that used to work in the GM factory. Would you be willing to come up with us to see what the situation is like in Flint, so that people...
Roger B. Smith: (cutting Moore off) I've been to Flint, and I'm sorry for those people, but I don't know anything about it, but you'd have to...
Moore: Families are being evicted from their homes on Christmas Eve.
Smith: Well, I'm... listen, I'm sure General Motors didn't evict them. You'd have to go talk to their landlords.
Moore: They used to work for General Motors, and now they don't work there anymore.
Smith: Well... I'm sorry about that. What can I do? It's done. What do you want me to do about it?
Moore: Could you come to Flint with us? Just for a few hours to see what...
Smith: (walks away) I cannot come to Flint. I'm sorry.
Dejected by his failure to bring Smith to Flint to see the crime-ridden slum that it has now become due to the closing of the GM factories, Moore proclaims in the final shot of the movie (over a construction crew tearing down a closed down GM factory building): "Well... I failed to bring Roger to Flint. As we neared the end of the twentieth century, the rich got richer, the poor got poorer, and people everywhere now had a lot less lint, thanks to the lint rollers made in my hometown. It was truly the dawn of a new era."
After the closing credits, the film displays the message: "This film cannot be shown within the city of Flint, for all the movie theaters have closed."