A brief movie review

Everyone’s totally saturated with stories about Fahrenheit 9/11 by this point, so I’ll be concise.

I got to see it today, as promised, at its first performance here in Arizona. While the movie is unquestionably a tour de force, I also found it had its moments of silliness, tediousness and — is this a word? — farfetchedness.

Michael Moore is a master film maker, and the movie flows with its own unstoppable logic, building up the tension and taking you down and tightening the strings again. It’s bumpy at times, but the net effect is an overwhelming, emotional rollercoaster.

It starts with the 2000 election and effectively demonstrates — to my own satisfaction, at least — that this was a stolen election. He does this not by bloviating, but by showing us video clips of what happened. (Selective clips of course; everything in the movie is selective and subjective, as you’d expect.) There is no point in my describing these clips to you or arguing about them. It simply has to be seen. I don’t believe anyone can walk out of that theater without having at least some serious questions about the legitimacy of Bush’s victory.

We all know the points Moore makes — the Bush family’s cozy relationship with the Saudi royal family, its involvement with the Carlyle Group and the unbelievable profits the company reaps from war, the sudden and inexplicable shift from Afghanistan to Iraq, the obscene war profiteering of Bush’s cronies, the indiscriminate carnage of the Iraq bombings, the brutalization of prisoners and the growing belief on the part of many soldiers that they were losing limbs for a cause they didn’t understand, that they were being “sent to kill other poor people who aren’t a threat to us,” in the words of one soldier who swore he would never return to Iraq.

A technique Moore uses cleverly is the juxtaposition of images for maximum irony and theatrical effect. An officer says how it’s all about “winning hearts and minds,” and the camera cuts to soldiers terrorizing an Iraqi family for no discernible reason. The glee of the contractors is contrasted with the misery of the men in the desert. We’re shown the blanket prohibition of flying in the days after 9/11, contrasted with the sudden and secretive rush to get Bin Ladin’s relatives flown back home. Moore hits you over the head — something is just plain wrong, the movie screams at us.

Again, whether or not you can poke holes in Moore’s story isn’t the issue. As a movie, as entertainment, and as propaganda it certainly works. At the end the entire audience stood up and cheered and whistled. I’ve never seen Arizonans do that before.

I did have my issues. A section on how the Army recruits poor young men was over-long and tiresome, as was the dwelling on Osama Bin Laden’s family. I also thought that showing pre-war Iraq as a happy little playground was dumb and misleading, and I can’t believe Moore didn’t know this. But he wanted to create a dramatic juxtaposition — the smiling happy children contrasted with gigantic bomb blasts ripping the city apart.

Most poignant, by far, was an interview with the mother of a soldier in Iraq, Lila Lipscomb, glowing with pride and love of country. Then she is interviewed later, after her son, Michael Pedersen, is killed. She reads Michael’s last agonized letter, crying that Bush was a criminal who had sent them on a mission of murder. The mother’s rage and grief are so palpable, it’s hard to imagine not being moved. (I could hear people crying.)

Then there’s the usual Moore mischief, having the Bush team, along with Blair, portrayed as the cowboy family in Bonanza; Moore riding around in a Mr. Softee truck reading the Patriot Act; ambushing congressmen to ask if they’d like to enlist their children as soldiers to fight in Iraq. It’s silly, but it drives home his points. This is Moore’s specialty, and he is very, very funny.

As I said a day or two before, Moore must always be taken with “a gigantic grain of sea salt.” But all this talk of his being a liar and a demagogue– it’s just not the case. Most of his points are right there in the video clips — it’s hard to argue with them. You cannot brush them aside. It’s a take-no-prisoners approach, aggressive and relentless and savage. But it’s also backed up by a plethora of corroborating evidence.

Moore is a provocateur. And he opened my eyes with plenty of provocative footage I’d never seen before. For this alone, we should all see it. (Watch Bush reading My Pet Goat for seven minutes after being told America was under attack, and draw your own conclusions.)

It’s easy to see why the movie is so controversial. And at a time when the nation is so polartized, when swing voters are in such short supply, it could have a tangible impact on the election. (I certainly hope so.) There were plenty of young people there today, and Moore just might get more of them to vote this year.

See the movie. Then we can argue.

The Discussion: 8 Comments

My question is, why did this go to the movies? In many countries this would have launched straight onto the television where it could reach a far larger audience, particularly because people wouldn’t have to pay to go and see it.

Also, the BBC and Channel four in England have made far harder hitting documenteries that are realesed almost monthly on free view terestrial television, and have met with far less outcry, why the drama over this drama?

People have published pornographic and rescist films that don’t raise this much anger.

June 25, 2004 @ 10:14 pm | Comment

It’s because it’s Michael Moore and it’s an election year and the right-wing is having a veritable shit-fit. It’s a time when just about any controversy can tip the election, so we see the smear campaign among the warbloggers and Republicans. It’s not at all surprising.

It probably couldn’t have gone onto TV in the US — the FCC would have deemed it inappropriate. (They’re the ones who fined Howard Stern $5,000 for saying “fuck,” but it’s apparently okay for our VP to say it.) The way Moore has done it is smart; he has garnered maximum publicity and controversy, and the buzz here in the States is deafening. It’s been on all the news shows tonight and it’s not going away anytime soon.

It’s much, much diffferent than in England, where you’ll actually see a bare breast or buttock on prime-time TV. Moral heathenism! America is founded on solid Puritan ethics, and we need to keep the airwaves pure.

June 25, 2004 @ 10:44 pm | Comment

And let’s be honest – no network would show it, FCC regulations aside. HBO certainly would, but that would have even less impact. But the networks are part of the same group that refused to air the MoveOn ads, and all the corporate parents of the networks are profiting mightily by the Bush administration.

June 25, 2004 @ 11:55 pm | Comment

I hope it comes out on DVD before election day.

June 26, 2004 @ 2:19 am | Comment

Vaara, it should be out on DVD in the fall before the election. Maybe Moore should agree to hand copies out for free.

Adam, those are great points. The fact that our major networks are becoming little parts of vast corporate conglomerates is really scary. CBS deemed it was okay to show incredibly vicious smear ads during Clinton’s interview on 60 Minutes last week, but moveon.org’s ads are prohibited. Oh, that liberal media!

June 26, 2004 @ 12:10 pm | Comment

The reason it didn’t / doesn’t air on public television is that there is no public television in the United States. The closest thing we have is PBS, which is supported by corporate donations and viewer donations, as well as some Congressional funds. And, the Beeb sucks and is racist and slanted.

Plus, Miramax, Lions Gate and Moore can make much more money by releasing it to theatres. And, as much as Michael likes to bang his indy drum, he’s in it for cash just like everyone else.

As for the movie, no plans to see it for at least a week. I’ll wait for the fanatics to see it, then see it with a more open-minded audience.

And, to respond to your post – every Moore movie has to have his poignent Flint, Michigan scenes, or it just isn’t a Dog Eat Dog film. And, as we discussed already, I have seen the Little Green Goat (or whatever the book is called) video. What amazes me is that Dubya would be in a room with that many African-Americans. It’s not like that’s his core audience.

June 26, 2004 @ 9:59 pm | Comment

Jeremy, it was a photo opportunity. Good PR to be seen with the working people.

Whether the Flint, MI scene is standard in every Moore film or not, it was unbelievable. That woman ‘s grief was agonizing, and the contrast from her earlier interview…..

It’s My Pet Goat. That clip speaks volumes to our president’s leadership and resolve and fortitude and machismo and strength. He’s a pusillanimous fuck-up, a paralyzed, frightened shrub, a featherweight and a nobody, the least qualified in our entire history of presidents. Oh, how history will judge this period in America. It’s like some bizarre wart, an inexplicable tumor that popped up on the nation’s complexion, without precedent or explanation.

Can you tell, he’s not my favorite president?

June 26, 2004 @ 10:06 pm | Comment

You seem to have a strange idea of what the British like.

I don’t know when prime time television is, but I believe you mean the 6-8pm diner time slot, well, I havn’t been in Britain for a while and I didn’t watch their television all that much because I could get foreign programs on cable, but from what I remember there is NO WAY that most television channels would show a bare anything during that time and you most certainly couldn’t show anybody touching a bare anything, you have to wait until 9pm unless or watch an arts or biology program to see nudity before the “water shed” as it is called by the BBC.

From what I remember British TV is a lot tamer that American television particularly for sexualy explicit or violent programs, even showing Nightmare on elm street at 11pm raised public outrage.

What they can show on Brish TV are hard hitting documentaries, and I mean very hard hitting, sixty minutes etc has nothing on Channel four in the UK.

I watched a few documenteries in Britain that would never be allowed to be shown on US television but not because they were violent, contained nudity, or used obscene language, but because they challanged peoples moral and historical perceptions.

June 28, 2004 @ 4:20 am | Comment

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