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Published: Friday, 10/22/2004

Moore soars: Documentarian rivals rock stars

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

He sings (the John Ashcroft-composed ditty, "Let the Eagle Soar"). He talks (for about 90 minutes, and without any notes, between fans shouting "We love you!"). He offers prizes (if you do what he says). He shows videos. He performs duets with Joan Baez.

Wearing his signature baseball cap and baggy jeans, he travels from city to city, playing to audiences between 5,000 and 15,000 strong, packing hockey rinks, concert halls. And with college students, the constituency he's most anxious to attract, he can be downright shameless: If they promise him they'll vote, if they register, he's been known to give them a clean pair of underwear and a free packet of ramen noodles.

He's not the world's neediest rock star. He's not America's most perverse political candidate. He's a documentary filmmaker, and while that profession tends to be an unofficial vow of poverty, he's made a few bucks.

He's Michael Moore, of course, and since Fahrenheit

9/11 became the first nonfiction movie to break $100 million at the box office, he's become a bit of a rock star - and a bit of a politician, as controversial and debated as any media figure this year besides, say, our presidential candidates.

How else do you explain:

Monday night Moore rolls into Toledo's SeaGate Convention Centre with his "Slacker Uprising Tour," and while the filmmaker-author has toured university towns for a decade, that's practically C-Span compared to this. The best way to imagine it is to picture a book reading and college lecture restaged as a rock concert, crossed with a get-out-the-vote pep rally, and dipped in performance art.

Normally, one does not pay $5 to stand beside a lightning rod, and yet, as of press time, more than 4,000 of the 5,300 seats have been sold. And that's slow. According to organizers, those are relatively tepid sales compared to the quick sellouts that Moore's seen at other tour stops.

At the moment he's midway through a 60-city swing of key political battleground states; the tour began in September and wraps on Election Day. And as for its purpose: it's to rally that sizable chunk of the population that doesn't typically vote - and maybe sell a DVD or book or two. In fact, within the past few weeks, Moore has two new books in stores, both spun off the success of Fahrenheit 9/11.

"Oh, he's a total brand now," said Jason Kucsma, co-founder of Clamor, the nationally distributed activist magazine published in Toledo's Old West End. "I mean, it's remarkable how much of a cultural force he's become."

Kucsma - who organizes the annual Allied Media Conference for alternative media in Bowling Green - was contacted by Moore's agent and asked to help bring the filmmaker to Toledo. "But it'll basically be a break-even proposition," Kucsma said.

Although tickets bought at SeaGate are $7.50, Moore wanted the majority to cost no more than $5, according to concert promoter Robert Croak. Ticket sales do not go to a political action group or cause, the way proceeds for the recent Vote for Change tour with Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen benefited Moveon.org. It's a completely for-profit show, but with tickets relatively cheap, "there's not a lot of profit in it, either," Croak said.

As for what exactly Moore will be doing - the show changes from stage to stage. Audiences on previous stops have received boxes of ramen noodles and a Joan Baez appearance. Others, impromptu concerts from ex-members of Rage Against the Machine. At most of the stops, Moore has read letters from soldiers in Iraq, and sometimes shown footage that didn't make the final cut of Fahrenheit 9/11.

As for what Moore will do in Toledo: Neither Croak, Kucsma, nor even James Donnelly, president and chief executive of the Greater Toledo Convention and Visitors Bureau, knows for sure. Tonight, Clamor hosts three free screenings of Fahrenheit 9/11 at 6:30, 8:45, and 11 p.m. at Headliners, 4500 North Detroit Ave. Tomorrow, starting at 9:30 p.m., Clamor throws a pre-Moore party at Diva, 329 North Huron St. (Tickets are $3.) But all that's certain about Monday is that extra security will be around and Toledo councilman Wade Kapszukiewicz will introduce the filmmaker. "[The Lucas County Democratic Party] did not make this happen," he said. "But now that it is - they're happy it is."

As for Bernadette Noe, chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party: "I have no interest in going," she said. "Originally I heard a group of young Republicans were going to attend and protest, but then they said they didn't want to blow five dollars."

Writer/activist/filmmaker Michael Moore will speak at SeaGate Convention Centre, 401 North Jefferson Ave., on Monday night. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 in advance, if purchased from a sponsor of the show, and $7.50 at SeaGate Convention Centre. Information: 419-410-7744 or www.clamormagazine.org.

Contact Christopher Borrelli at: cborrelli@theblade.com

or 419-724-6117.



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