Good evening one and all, we're all so glad to see you here.
We'll play your favourite songs while you soak up the atmosphere.
We'll start with 'Old Man River'.
It may be stormy weather too.
I'm sure you'll know just what to do.
On with the show, good health to you!
--Jagger, Richards, On With the Show
So I entertained myself on Canada Day, the weather being blustery and unpredictable in T.O., by taking in Michael Moore's latest, Sicko. Fitting, since Canada's is one of the health care systems Moore holds up as exemplary by comparison with his own country. Recall thinking he was wise to go to London, Ontario to ask about waiting times. In Toronto we're still feeling the impact of Mike Harris's hospital closures, though I don't think people are actually dying at the rate of one every week or two anymore, as they desperately hunt up the nearest open facility--the system's managed at least a partial recovery from that mean-minded murderous assault. We've closed the worst of the bleeding holes. And I would suggest anyone inclined to think Moore's is the last word on the British health care system take a look at Lindsay Anderson's Brittania Hospital. But I agree with a point Moore's made about that in interviews--he isn't obliged to anatomize rival health care systems down to the bone, and he certainly isn't obliged to prove rival systems perfect, given how far from perfect the American system is, either compared to other systems or in its own proud isolation.
The section of the film that's proved most controversial comes at the end, when he seeks medical attention for three boatloads of HMO victims at Guantanamo Bay, and when he's refused there, chugs a little further onto the island of Cuba proper. What no reviewer's commented on that I've seen is that the decision to land in Cuba proper seems to have been improvised. Moore had made his point about Guantanamo Bay, and he surely must have known the result in advance. But using three boatloads of desperate people in a stunt and then dropping them off home must have seemed a little shabby. If that's how things happened it's a little less surprising he didn't feel the need to dot i's and cross t's about the less pleasant aspects of Castro's Cuba. As to whether Cuba, as has been speculated, was using this as a propaganda stunt, it's impossible to say--though they'd have to be swifter at improvisation than Moore, since he didn't phone ahead, and even official films complain that Cuban bureaucracy is plodding. (See Death of a Bureaucrat.) A number of reviewers with poor eyesight have even said the doctors seem selected for their Dr. McDreamy looks. TV star looks? Nah. No eyes blazing blue over scruffs of beard created by a special Hollywood razor. Healthy and handsome, yes. Posterboard material, no.
There's this to say on the question of whether Cuba treated (or at least now regards) this as a propaganda coup: who's to blame if they were able to use it that way? All the HMOs Moore indicts in this film had to do, to prevent this sort of propaganda against their system, was consistently provide honest and decent health care coverage at a fair rate, which systems all over the world manage to do without registering a loss.
The film confirms some of my reservations about Moore, but it's a reminder that his naif pose hides an incisive intelligence and corrosive wit--between films that sometimes dims in the memory. He can have his satirist's card back as far as I'm concerned, though the stunt buried in the last few minutes of the film suggests I should rather go on the attack. Moore discovered that a man who'd been keeping up an anti-Moore website over a number of years was about to close it down because his wife was ill and he couldn't cover her medical expenses. Moore sent an anonymous check to cover those expenses so the man didn't have to choose between saving his wife's life and keeping his attack site open. So perhaps I should write the most savage possible review and see if I can wangle an arts or journalism grant out of the Michael Moore Foundation.
C 2007 Martin Heavisides