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Friday, 15 November, 2002, 09:27 GMT
Gun culture under siege
Michael Moore
Michael Moore gets to grips with a rifle

Michael Moore's controversial documentary about US gun culture has won film festival awards but received a mixed reception from parents of the victims of the Columbine school shootings - BBC News Online takes a look.

The latest offering from American author and documentary-maker Michael Moore, Bowling for Columbine asks, in a style that veers from hilarious to serious, what is it about America and guns?

With 11,000 Americans being shot dead every year, it is clearly a question that needs asking.

Moore's documentary is premised on the 1999 tragedy that saw 12 students and one teacher gunned down at Columbine High School.

Michael Moore
Moore's energy keeps interest high
The carnage wrought by two disaffected pupils in this Denver suburb stunned America, but, pointedly, failed to bring about any real change in the country's attitude to gun control.

Moore, reprising his role as the fly in America's ointment, wonders (and wanders, but more of that later) how tragedies like this keep happening in the country that he is still happy to call home.

Is it a result of middle-class fear? America's violent past? The media's fault? Or all of the above?

Alarming pace

Moore appears to favour the middle-class fear option, but that is a bit of a guess, as answers are at a premium in this extraordinary film.

Questions, on the other hand, fly at you at an alarming pace.

Like a Mel Brooks comedy, Moore bombards us with "evidence" of his country's gun-nuttiness - school kids who make napalm, middle-aged loons who sleep with .44s under the pillow and banks that give away rifles when you open an account.

And while you are laughing, and shaking your head, at this cleverly constructed indictment, you feel yourself experiencing Moore's bewilderment.

You also begin to want answers, and that is where this film slightly disappoints.

While Moore dashes off on another tangent, camera crew in tow, you are left trying to figure out why two teenagers would want to take a small arsenal into school with them and shoot so many innocent people.

Energy

Injured student
13 people were killed and 23 injured in Columbine

The CCTV footage of the Columbine shootings is incredibly powerful, so it is perhaps inevitable that anything after that in the film would seem somehow trivial.

Thankfully, Moore's shuffling energy never lets the film lag irretrievably.

A climax is reached with a remarkable interview with Charlton Heston, the chairman of the National Rifle Association, which could make you reassess your view of the man that played Ben Hur and El Cid forever.

Whether this film will make you reassess your view of Moore, however, is less certain. His fans will continue to love him, his detractors will continue to ignore him.

And that would be a real tragedy, as, despite its flaws, Bowling for Columbine is 2002's must-see film.

Bowling for Columbine is now showing at selected cinemas.


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