For his first film, Michael Moore made an inventive, darkly comic, and prophetic documentary about his hometown of Flint, Michigan, where 30,000 individuals lost jobs in the mid 1980s due to plant closings by General Motors.
Moore opens with a brief sketch of his childhood in the town where his father worked at GM for 33 years on a spark plug assembly line. He alludes to his journalism career as the former editor of The Michigan Voice and Mother Jones magazine. He returned to Flint in 1986 to make a film about "the unemployment capital of America." His aim: to contact Roger Smith, the chairman of General Motors, and have him spend a day in the rundown city.
The town is truly in trouble. The unemployed autoworkers are being evicted from their homes and have resorted to selling their blood for money. The town fathers devise a number of antidotes to the pervasive sense of hopelessness and helplessness. Visits from Anita Bryant and Pat Boone are arranged, followed by a $20,000 appearance by the Rev. Robert Schuller who tells those assembled at a rally that they must act "You can turn your hurt into a halo."
As the rats proliferate to a population of 50,000, the city sinks $13 million in tax funds into construction of a luxury Hyatt Regency Hotel. They also create "Auto World," an indoor theme park, for $100 million in order to attract tourists. Even though both schemes fail, the boosters cling to their quick-fix mentality. They aren't even daunted when Money magazine names Flint as "the worst place to live in America."
Meanwhile, director Moore tries unsuccessfully to contact Roger Smith at GM headquarters in Detroit, at the posh Grosse Point Yacht Club, and at the Detroit Athletic Club. The wealthy citizens of Flint remain oblivious to the class warfare in their town. At one party, unemployed autoworkers are hired to be human statues on the lawn. Before the new jail opens, high society couples pay a hundred dollars each for the quaint experience of spending a night in a cell.
Moore finally gets a chance to speak briefly to Roger Smith at the company Christmas party but by then the documentary has delivered its hard-hitting messages. The gap between the rich and the poor is growing in the U.S. and the future seems bleak for working class folk. America remains addicted to the illusion of quick-fix solutions to deep-seated societal problems. And corporations are going to have to do a much better job helping the employees they displace in pursuit of the bottom line of profits.