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It is often said that Michael Moore’s film Bowling for Columbine is one of his most well-known films, and can be considered one of the most polarising films created. With any documentary, in order for it to successfully create meaning, all techniques and additions must be well planned, thought out and executed. This essay will explore some of these techniques used, be able to grasp a better understanding on the topic and the how effects such as camera, sound and editing can further enhance ideas or give new meaning to a scene.
The opening scene within the film is a great example of how a scene can change using one of the film techniques, sound. It starts off with archival footage of the NRA association, giving the audience the impression that the NRA is endorsing the film, which as a joke due to the age of the footage. Moore uses this to start the film in an ironic way, giving the audience a glimpse of what is to be expected by the film, which has led to the conclusion that the film will not be done in such a serious manner all the time. Moore then continues with this theme by using a cartoonish American anthem in the background, while visual clips of everyday American life continued to play along with the sound. This segment of random everyday American clips included things like the president bombing another country, and a blonde female, barely covered up with possession of a large gun, showing us how embedded violence is within American culture and the woman representing the stereotype of the main desire of the typical American man, guns and hot women. Without the sound in the background, these scenes would have been much harder to analyse. The anthem helps the audience see the mockery behind the “American dream” and just how patriotic the country can be, despite the violent aspect.
James Nichols was a man who was linked to the Oklahoma, city bombing. When Moore interviewed him, the interview felt very informal and more like a normal, everyday conversation. The audience is given this feeling due to the use of the eye level perspective that was mediums shots to include both Moore and James in the scene at the same time. This was done so we could get a clear visual on the person’s facial and body language, and how he would react to certain questions. Another way they kept the interview more laid back was by filming it in everyday settings like James’ farm, kitchen and bedroom. Whenever Moore asked more serious questions that were related to the bombing, the camera would do a close-up shot, showing the audience a more detailed reaction to these questions, being able to show just how nervous he quickly would become, adding more dramatic effect. One of the questions on the bombing of the building, no dead time was edited out of the scene. This was to show just how long James would take to answer the questions. As a result, this caused suspicion on James. Moore has done this to show that James was trying to think about what he was about to say before he would say anything, to make sure he would not say something that could be used against him in the future.
Throughout the whole film, the footage from the Columbine shooting had to easily be the most confrontational scene of the whole film. This had a lot to do with the way Moore decided to edit the scene. This scene was mostly made from the CCTV footage from the school, all put together. The quality of the film is very grainy, blurry and distorted. This gave the audience a feel for reality, containing a certain aspect of authenticity. A lot of the film is slowed down from its original speed, to force the audience to see such a tragedy unfold, making sure no details of the horror go undetected. This also makes us see the shooting from the student’s perspective making us feel more empathetic. Due to the film being low quality, a bright circle will often highlight the shooters, bringing the attention and focus to them.
In conclusion, without these documentary techniques, the film would be much harder to analyse and understand the bigger message that Moore is trying to convey. Sound helped to ridicule America’s patriotic side, camera conveyed the idea that James Nichols is still part of the bombings somehow, and is wrongly convicted as a free man and editing helped to enhance the tragedy of the shooting, leaving a big impact on the audience. This just goes to show just how much effort and thought is put into the films we watch, and that every single detail and addition added for a reason.
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