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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Sunday 4th July 2004

Where's the Right-Wing Michael Moore?


For some reason, America's right-wing propagandists have very little aptitude for making documentaries, a fact that is about to be underlined when a number of conservative efforts are released in response to Fahrenheit 9/11.

First out of the gate is America's Heart and Soul, an anodyne celebration of the land of the free that Disney is pinning its hopes on. This is a particularly sensitive issue for Michael Eisner, Disney's Chairman and CEO, since he refused to distribute Fahrenheit 9/11, thereby depriving his stockholders of their share of the box office bonanza.

In an attempt to rally support for America's Heart and Soul, Eisner arranged a special screening of the film last week for Move America Forward, the right-wing pressure group that has been trying--unsuccessfully--to organize a boycott of Michael Moore's attack on the President.

Moore himself was predictably scathing about this attempt to drum up interest in the film. "Disney joining forces with the right-wing kooks who have come together to attempt to censor Fahrenheit 9/11 must mean that Dumbo is now in charge of the company's strategic decisions," he said.

Later in the year, a group of conservatives plan to launch a film festival in Dallas where several right-wing documentaries will be screened. Unfortunately, the focus of these films is a little narrow. Titles lined up so far include Michael Moore Hates America, a film made for $200,000 that has yet to find a theatrical distributor, and Michael & Me, in which a right-wing shock jock tries to turn the tables on Moore by confronting him at a book signing in Santa Monica.

When asked about these efforts to discredit him, Moore told Variety that he doubted Michael Moore Hates America really existed and, as for Michael & Me, he'd never even heard of it.

Perhaps the best hope for the American right is to concentrate on docudramas, rather than documentaries. Another film to be shown at the Dallas film festival will be DC 9/11, a made-for-television movie that chronicles the White House's response to the terrorist attacks. Apparently, its most memorable scene has Timothy Bottoms as President Bush responding like an action hero as soon as the first plane hits, ordering his troops into battle.

In fact, anyone who's seen Fahrenheit 9/11 will know that this isn't strictly accurate. Moore's documentary includes footage of the President's actual response to this news. After being told that a second plane had struck the World Trace Center by his Chief of Staff, the bemused commander-in-chief continued to read a children's story called My Pet Goat to an elementary school class in Florida. As Moore makes clear by including a ticking clock in the top right-hand-corner of the screen, Bush didn't lumber into action until a full five minutes had elapsed.

Pocket Bikes

On my way back from lunch in the Hollywood Hills last Tuesday I spotted Frankie Muniz, the teenage star of Malcolm in the Middle, cruising along on what looked like a miniature bicycle. Only 18 inches high, and with wheels no bigger than teacups, it was so tiny he had to wrap his knees around his ears in order to ride it.

However, just as I was about to conclude that he was auditioning for the part of Krusty the Clown in the live action version of The Simpsons, he took off like a rocket, leaving me gasping for breath in his exhaust fumes.

It eventually dawned on me that he must have been driving a "pocket bike", a pint-sized motorcycle that California's craze-obsessed teens have turned into this season's must-have accessory.

"They are the summer's hottest fad," says Lieutenant Kit Crenshaw, a traffic officer in the San Francisco Police Department, which has begun issuing tickets to riders. "There's a veritable infestation."

Pocket bikes have been around since the mid-90s, when high-performance racers made by Italian companies like Polino and Blata began to appear, but the craze only took off when Chinese imports began to arrive on the West Coast. Unlike the Italian machines, which can cost as much as $6,000, the Chinese knock-offs sell for between $175-$500.

Capable of reaching speeds of 50mph, and driven without crash helmets, pocket bikes are every parent's worst nightmare. One critic memorably compared riding one of these lethal contraptions to wearing a sign around your neck saying, 'I'm a donor. Kill me.'

Pocket bikes are illegal and anyone caught riding one on a public highway is liable for a hefty fine, but that hasn't deterred California's teenage population.

"The thing is, police have to catch us first," one aficionado told the New York Times. "I can outrace them and outmaneuver them, because I can ride through places they can't even fit. If all else fails, all I have to do is pick up the bike and hide."

"Spielberg Bought the Second Weekend"

I was chatting to an industry insider about how well The Terminal, Stephen Spielberg's new film, was doing at the box office when he used a phrase I'd never heard before. He told me that Spielberg had "bought the second weekend".

He explained that in its first weekend The Terminal opened on 2,811 screens and took $19,053,199. This was considered "soft" and, in the normal course of events, The Terminal would have played on far fewer screens the following weekend. However, because Spielberg's a founding partner of DreamWorks, the studio that's distributing the film, he was able to ensure that in its second weekend The Terminal expanded to 2,914 screens. As a result, The Terminal took an additional $13.9 million, giving the impression that it has "legs".

I asked my friend how common this practice was and he assured me that I didn't need to worry. "Most studios buy the opening weekend as a matter of course," he said. "But Spielberg's the only director powerful enough to force a studio to buy the second weekend."

I Miss the English Weather!

This is the last column I'll be filing from Los Angeles and, believe it or not, I'm quite looking forward to coming home. I never thought I'd say this, but I miss the English weather. When I first arrived in California, I couldn't get enough of the sun and, like any self-respecting Englishman, I whipped off my shirt at every opportunity until I was a bright shade of lobster.

However, after 90 successive perfect days, in which the temperature never falls below 75 and never climbs above 85, I'm beginning to go slightly crazy. There's a Groundhog Day quality about the Californian weather: each day is exactly the same as the one before. I don't think I can remember what clouds look like, let along rain. I'm not saying I prefer drizzle to clear blue skies, but a bit of variation once in a while would be nice.

When I step off the plane at Heathrow, I sincerely hope it's coming down in buckets.

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