Sunday, June 27, 2004

Reel To Reel:
Fahrenheit 9/11

How It Rates: ***1/2
Starring: George W. Bush as himself
Rated: R
Red Flags: A couple of graphic scenes of war injuries, but really, it's no worse than what you may have seen already on CNN or Fox News

Preconceived Notions: Disney dumped it. Dems delight in it. Repubs don't want you to see it. It won at Cannes. What is it in this film that people don't want us to see?
The Bottom Line: Like it or hate it, there's a lot of facts that can't be ignored -- selective facts, yes -- and a lot to think about.

DIRECTOR: We're 1:30 away. How's he looking?

FLOOR DIRECTOR: Fine. How's his mic?

AUDIO: Give me one more check.

FRANCIS: Okay, how's this. One, two, one, two. I'm speaking for a mic check.

AUDIO: A little hot. Okay, that's got it.

FRANCIS: Wait, I need to put my hat on.

DIRECTOR (after a pause): You're going to wear that?

FRANCIS (annoyed as he straightens black tricorn hat with white trim): Yes, I'm going to wear that. I consider myself a patriot. Those who came 200 years before us fought and died for free speech, whether we like it or not. It doesn't make a difference whether or not you like Michael Moore or not, he still has First Amendment rights. We all do--

DIRECTOR: Okay, okay, save it for the review. One minute away.

FLOOR DIRECTOR: Cameras, you're going to have to shoot him wide with that hat. Damn, it's bigger than I thought.

FRANCIS: Hey, size isn't everything.

DIRECTOR: Knock it off down there. In fifteen. Black is up.

[Pause... fade up]

It doesn't really matter what you think of Michael Moore as a filmmaker. He's caustically talented by any measure. He knows how to make a point and score points with his audiences. I remember him talking about why he did Roger & Me as a big-screen documentary instead of using some other medium to tell his story of the devastating effects of GM jobs outsourced from Flint, Michigan. Loosely, he said he liked movies, so he made one. But he had to figure out a way to get people to plunk down $8.25.

Thus was born the genre he has mastered: the goofumentary -- a hybrid of 60 Minutes and The Daily Show. Fahrenheit 911 is a two-hour long remix of news footage and original interviews blended with style and Mad-magazine satire like a club DJ. Moore's point is obvious: The American people were duped into supporting the invasion of Iraq when the real threats to America were (and still are) in Iraq and Saudi Arabia. He lays out his interviews and supporting evidence like Mike Wallace going in for the kill, but with a narrative style that sounds like a bedtime story, hyphenated with hilarious use of stock footage and pop-culture riffs. A play on the open to the TV western Bonanza for the war in Afghanistan is a howler. And we get to see numerous behind-the-scene clips of Washington's power players (including the president) being groomed for their close-ups.

Fahrenheit 911 opens with the 2000 presidential election debacle, with Moore explaining how Bush allies tipped the votes in George W. Bush's favor. Conservatives will jump all over this as sour grapes, but watch a little closer, and you will understand Moore is setting the stage for a larger point -- the fate of nations doesn't always rest on what's right or what's honest but what's least likely to disturb powerful connections, corporations, and allies. And there are plenty of powerful connections and allies, as Moore shows ties between the White House and the Bin Laden families. There are connections between Saudi Arabia and the U.S., and the White House and Halliburton, and things that must not be disturbed. And hundreds of enlisted men and women have died to protect those alliances -- not freedom, not safety. Heartbreakingly, we have allowed ourselves to give up freedoms we should be standing up for in the name of security.

Let's pause for a minute right here, before you go writing me off as some conspiracy theorist. Facts are subject to context. Truth is relative. I have no doubts Moore has picked and chosen which facts he wants to present, and not all of them are going to hold up. I spotted one glaring fact error in an interview with a congressman who claimed the U.S. terrorism alert level has gone up to red -- not true. Yellow is the highest it has ever been as of this writing. But this is Moore's movie, not See It Now. And the hard evidence is up on the screen, larger than life, and impossible to write off.

I'm not going to debate the politics of this film. That is another task for other people. But I can't understand why Republicans in Tucson are refusing to mount a full court press against this film if they dislike it so much. We tried to take a Republican and a Democrat to see this film for an edition of KOLD's Reel Life Movie Reviews. The Republicans declined, instead referring all responses to some higher-level spokesman. I can't speak for Pima County's GOP (I'm an independent, by the way), yet if I had a burning desire to confront what I thought were lies and distortions, I wouldn't allow myself to be gagged by my party leadership. And I wouldn't gag my members, either. Let them see this film and take Moore on if it's so flawed.

Democrats and the media take some licks here too. Especially damning is Democratic congressman Charles Rangel's admission that lawmakers don't read most of the bills they pass -- including the Patriot Act, which Moore reads on Capitol Hill over the loudspeakers of an ice cream truck. He also jabs the 2000 Senate -- a place with plenty of Dems -- for refusing to back party members in the House who wanted to voice objections to the results of the presidential election.

Moore goes to great lengths -- almost too long -- to prove he's not anti-soldier. Two of the most powerful sequences in the film involve mothers of soldiers who died in Iraq. And near the end of the film, Moore offers his own ironic tribute to the troops.

Conservative filmmakers are readying responses to Fahrenheit 911. One Tucson author has co-written a book trashing Moore. A conservative film festival is even in the works. Fine, go for it. Michael Moore would welcome you, even if he doesn't want to publicly admit it. But I doubt whether any of those responses will have the impact or smart-alek style of Fahrenheit 911. Conservatives, who have shown how they can set the agenda through Fox News and talk radio, have yet to score a major victory in the arena of independent documentaries. Some conservative Michael Moore may be hiding in an edit room somewhere, but I doubt it.

[fade to black]

DIRECTOR: We're clear. That's a wrap. But come on, did you really need the hat?

FRANCIS (pause): Why don't you ask Michael Moore?

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