Finally, the American public got an October surprise that didn’t involve forcible fondling or 400-pound hackers. Monday night, Michael Moore basically dropped some balloons on everyone by announcing that his new movie, Michael Moore in Trumpland, would be premiering Tuesday at IFC Center. Little was known about what promised to be the Beyoncé of agitprop cinema, but that didn’t stop hundreds of people from storming the theater like they had decided where to invade next.
When I got there a good hour and a half before free tickets were to be distributed at 8:30pm, the line was already 150 people strong, stretching down Sixth Avenue and around the corner. Ushers were already letting people at the end of the line know that they weren’t going to get in. Still, very few of those in line were dissuaded from waiting and the line eventually grew to over 200. Many of those in line were millennials, despite reports that they’d prefer a meteor strike to this year’s frontrunners.
— Anthony Atamanuik (@TonyAtamanuik) October 19, 2016
Parked next to Zoltar was the anti-Trump voter-registration truck that East Village boxing gym Overthrow NYC had fashioned, complete with Trump punching bag. Some bystanders were dismayed to find out the deadline to register had passed. Hillary
Also on the scene was a VW “photobus” equipped with selfie-friendly cardboard cutouts of Trump and Hillary.
At one point, comedian Judah Friedlander passed through, presumably to let everyone know that he, and not Trump, was World Champion.
— The All-Seeing Trump (@AllSeeingTrump) October 19, 2016
Some die-hards waited two and a half hours only to be turned away at 9:45pm. A theater employee made it official: “There were people here at 3pm, if that makes you feel better,” he said.
So what was all the hubbub about? To find out, I returned to IFC Center this afternoon for a nearly sold-out matinee. Turns out the film isn’t in Michael Moore’s usual gonzo-doc style, so don’t expect him to storm Trump Tower like he did GM headquarters. Not that there aren’t fun bits in the film: A fake Trump ad chides Hillary for menstruating (“Do you want a commander in chief whose lady parts are out of control?“) and a fake news report imagines Trump’s first days in the White House (“Where’s the penthouse?” asks a Trump impersonator who sounds a lot like Anthony Atamanuik, voice of the Trump Zoltar machine.)
For the most part, however, this is a straightforward, somewhat slap-dash recording of a one-man show Moore put on earlier this month in Wilmington, Ohio. The town is in Clinton County, Moore notes, but it’s not exactly Clinton country.
— Marlow Stern (@MarlowNYC) October 19, 2016
When the show was originally filmed, a call for audience members invited locals to attend regardless of their preferred candidate. Judging by a show of applause, the producers got a mix of Trump, Hillary, and third-party voters (hence the Aleppo jokes), in addition to the Ken Bones of the world. Moore goes out of his way to make the Trumpkins comfortable, first by assuring them that he has never voted for Hillary (in 2008, he criticized her support of the Iraq War and other “horrendous” votes in the Senate). Then he hovers a surveillance drone over the Muslims in the crowd and puts the Mexicans behind a faux brick wall (they’ll have to pay for it when they leave, he assures everyone).
With that, the healing begins. The next hour is refreshingly free of the kind of preaching to the choir you’ll find when Bill Maher does his set at Madison Square Garden next month. Moore even uses Jesus and the Pope to bolster his points. If you can believe it, he also resists ranting against the Republican candidate (keep in mind, the tapings occurred on October 6 and 7, before several women came forward to accuse Trump of sexual assault). Instead, Moore verbalizes the “legitimate concerns” of the Trump voter, such as the fear that “the women are taking over!!” According to Moore, these voters imagine Hillary creating “interment camps for men.” Eventually, PETA will take over the White House, and the country will be run by a hamster with a lisp.
Okay, so that’s clearly mockery, but Moore does eventually take a seat to talk more earnestly about Trump’s proposed 35-percent tariff on Mexican-built cars, and other things that make him appealing to plenty of decent people in the so-called “Brexit states.” Above all, he’s a human molotov cocktail that downtrodden members of the middle class can throw at the “elites who ruined their lives.” Trump’s election, Moore says, is “going to be the biggest Fuck You ever record in human history.”
The thought of “Trump’s election,” which looks increasingly unlikely, got some chuckles from the crowd at IFC, but it wasn’t such a far-fetched possibility when the performance was filmed, just before the “grab em by the pussy” remarks turned off so many voters. Before that happened, Moore was penning terrified essays like “5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win” and begging Hillary supporters not to get complacent.
At some point in Michael Moore in Trumpland, the filmmaker asks people why they hate Hillary, and responds to accusations from the crowd that she’s a liar (he asks: “Did she promise to water the plants for you while she was gone, and then didn’t?”) and that she’s a Hillary-come-lately to liberal causes like gay marriage (“I’d rather that than staying against gay marriage”).
“Can’t we start saying something nice about her?” he implores. To prove it can be done, Moore plays a 1998 clip from his old TV show, The Awful Truth. In the midst of the Lewinsky scandal, Trump is asked whether he’d date Hillary if she were to leave Bill. “I think that Hillary Clinton is a hell of a good woman, and I hope she’s not single in a year and a half,” Trump says. “I hope they stay together and I think they will.”
— C. Lewis (@TheeCmellowdee) October 19, 2016
As it turns out, Moore had a close encounter of the Hillary kind, as well. In 1998, during a White House dinner that happened to fall on the eve of Bill’s impeachment, Hillary told Moore how much she enjoyed “My Forbidden Love For Hillary,” an essay from his 1995 book, Downsize This!. Apparently, she loved this line in particular: “Hillary Rodham is one hot shit-kickin’ feminist babe.”
Later, while filming Where to Invade Next, Moore visited an Estonian hospital and came across a photo of Hillary taken there during the First Lady’s push for universal health care. Did Hillary deserve the abuse she got 20 years ago?, Moore asks. After all, some 20,000 Americans die every year due to lack of health insurance. That’s “1 million dead Americans because we refused to listen to Hillary Clinton,” he says.
Moore wants us to redeem ourselves for having failed to listen to Hillary the first time, an argument that probably won’t convince those who loathe Obamacare. Nor will the average Hillary hater dig the argument that she just might be a Pope Francis– someone who appears conservative in order to get into power, and then turns out to be delightfully liberal. In the end, those arguments are pitched at voters who, like Moore, supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries. Hillary’s college commencement speech, Moore tells them, reads like something Bernie would’ve written.
But the filmmaker does make one direct appeal to the #JailHillary crowd: If she did kill Vince Foster, then isn’t that just the sort of murderous badass you want as a commander in chief?
“Michael Moore in Trumpland” is now playing at IFC Center, 323 6th Ave., West Village.