Chewing my keyboard

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Fahrenheit 9/11

Having never encountered Michael Moore's films before I can say that whatever your political persuasion, he is a brilliant film-maker. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a remarkable but flawed polemic that thunders through the cinema with the emotional force of a punch in the chest and all the subtly of one too.
The popularity of the film was probably evidenced by the queues of people who had turned up for the Watershed Sunday matinee showing. They were queuing into the cafe and down the stairs into the main foyer. A cinema the size of a small Odeon screen was packed and they were showing the film 3 times a day. That doesn't mean it's good but it does mean the publicity worked [wink].
So, what did they and I see? Was it worth the hype? Straight answer is yes and the whole cinema erupted into applause at the credits. He is a far better film-maker than an author. I read Stupid White Men and alternated between being appalled and wanting to strangle him for the bouts of c**p, pointless cynicalism and outright exaggeration. This about summarised how I felt about the film as well. However, the book didn't move me close to tears at least three times nor fired me up afresh with the knowledge of why exactly I became and am a political activist.
Some reviewers have criticised Michael Moore for his lingering shots of Lila Lipscott wracked with tears over the death of her son in Iraq. I felt it wasn't tasteless since if I was her, I would probably want George Bush to watch every drawn-out painful moment of it. The sounds of the aircraft hitting the two towers, the screams, the aghast faces and then later, the gruelling shots of screaming Iraqi families and mutilated bodies and even the derelict, shabby and impoverished surroundings of Flint, Michigan are all harrowing. It brings home the fact that the decisions our political representatives undertake are important, not to be taken lightly and certainly not for a few extra million bucks. Michael Moore's argument, of course, is that they were.
So far so good... Michael Moore rips through the accusations: Afghanistan invaded for a gas pipeline, Bush Junior's failed companies being bankrolled by the Saudis whilst his daddy was in office, the familiar election fixing and US corporation contracts for the rebuilding of Iraq. Even if 10% is true it is damning and you really get a sense of Marx's argument about government being merely a tool for capitalism in the current US although it is less government and more the Bush administration.  
The problem with the film is that the grains of truth, the things that should make every American vote Kerry are easily torpedoed by Moore's desire to keep on going... and going... and going... with the amplitude of his polemic. It makes it far too easy for his opponents to shoot down the exaggerations so discrediting the grit. A leopard print coat is striking, adding matching leggings and shoes is just too easy to criticise (hope this doesnt conquer any images of Michael Moore wearing said items [wink]).
Take, for example, the coalition of the willing where he generates laughs from naming Romania and Costa Rica completely missing Britain and Australia... Yeah, it's true but it's a bit of an omission. Pictures of Rice and co preening themselves - what's that in aid of? They look funny, they have idiosyncracies... So what? As for the footage of Bush sitting there reading the goat book in the school for nearly ten minutes after the second plane hit the two towers, well I just felt sorry for Bush as Moore ridiculed him in voiceover. It really looked like he was shocked, horrified and trying to take things in and THAT'S why he didn't move. Moore's comments about Iraq never killing US troops was plain rubbish although I do disagree with the reading some critics have made about the peaceful Iraq cafe and kite-flying scenes. I don't think these are intended to portray Iraq as an ideal holiday destination pre-invasion. To me the main horror was seeing the children, the cafes... and then the bodies, the frightened families, the shouting. The power is recognising our common humanity. 
The Saudi links bit is also terribly confused and I'm not exactly sure what the implication was that he was aiming for in places. In fact, sometimes when I was watching it I wasn't sure he knew. It was like he'd stumbled on some shocking stuff, wasn't sure what it meant and just threw it in and allowed your favourite conspiracy theory to fill in the gaps. It's to his credit as a film-maker that the general muddle in parts wasn't that noticeable and didn't spoil the thrust and power of the film.
In conclusion, if you want to see someone reading the US Patriot Act from an ice cream van... cut... let's try again... Ahem... It's a must see film if you can find somewhere showing it even if you think it's all rubbish because of its emotional force and potential influence. Michael Moore hardly makes a personal appearance so it's fine if you don't like him. Bush appears lots of times and, ummmm, really reminds me of my dad for some extremely worrying reason. Perhaps it's because he comes off as being extremely laid back with a vaguely 'can't be arsed' rebellious air... Beats Shrek 2 for the film of the summer.


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