Well, I’m a bit behind on this one, but I finally got out of the apartment to catch Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 yesterday afternoon. And the verdict? Well, it’s undoubtedly an extremely powerful piece of cinema. And, judging from the reactions of the afternoon crowd, it looks as if it might do some real good in crystallizing popular discontent with the Bush administration outside of the blog-world echo chamber. Still, even though I know Moore is playing by the rules set by right-wing freak shows like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, I found myself wishing at times that he had played F911 a little straighter. Simply put, Dubya and his cronies are guilty of so much blatant incompetence and documentable malfeasance that it’s disappointing that Moore feels he has to rely on cheapshots and push-button emotions some of the time.
If you’ve been keeping up with pretty much any lefty blog since 2000 (including this one), the central and most powerful allegations made here — that Dubya and the Neocons played bait-and-switch on the American people in Iraq and used 9/11 as a pretext for all kinds of terrible legislation, while doing pathetically little to minimize the actual threat of terrorism — will not come as a surprise. Still, when the data is laid out before you here like ducks in a row, from the Florida fiasco in 2000 through to the recent stonewalling of the 9/11 commission a few weeks ago, the continued pattern of incompetence and mendacity that has characterized this administration becomes unmistakably clear. As the story unfolds, Moore offers plenty of intriguing footage — Bush’s 7 minutes of Pet Goat superfluousness may perhaps be overemphasized by now, but it’s still out-and-out eerie. Equally damning is footage of Dubya at the ranch a month prior to 9/11, in which he has absolutely no clue what his agenda is for the day and, whatsmore, doesn’t seem to much care (particularly when contrasted with his obvious enthusiasm for armadillos exhibited a few scenes later.)
But while there are plenty of blows landed, I ultimately thought that Fahrenheit 9/11 would have been much more impressive if it had focused more closely on the facts and avoided the more obvious attempts at sentiment. For example, instead of examining in detail the clear civil liberties transgressions occurring at the Gitmo Gulag and elsewhere under the Patriot Act, or noting the discrepancies in its enforcement (no gun checks?) under Attorney General-cum-balladeer John Ashcroft, Moore spends too much time interviewing an aging weightlifter and various Fresno peace activists — all of whom have run afoul of goofy anti-terrorist inquiries — for laughs. Similarly, instead of talking about Dubya’s spiking of the Nunn-Lugar act or his continued cutting of First Responder funding, the film dinks around Western Oregon with two underfunded deputies – as a result, I thought the larger point about Bush’s failure to protect the homeland was lost.
As the film moves overseas, the problems with F911 become more evident. Regarding the war in Afghanistan, Moore talks about a proposed UNOCAL pipeline to the exclusion of virtually anything else, which I think invites charges of shrillness (Exhibit A: The Bonanza riff) and blurs one of the most serious charges against this administration – that it gave up a chance to catch Osama Bin Laden in order to play regime change in Iraq. Speaking of Baghdad, I think Moore would have done better to talk more about missing WMD and lies to the UN and spent less time with Lila Lipscomb, the mother of a deceased US soldier. This last section of the film is undeniably powerful, but it also feels extremely manipulative, particularly as it’s hard to envision very many situations where a mother’s grief wouldn’t be harrowing to behold. (The same goes for the grisly scenes of charred bodies and horrifically wounded Iraqi children.)
Still, what do I know? Perhaps Fahrenheit 9/11 needs these human touches to get its point across to a larger audience, a goal which it so far seems to be accomplishing with great aplomb. The fact is, Michael Moore can undoubtedly be a blowhard with grating populist pretensions, but if we had any semblance of a functioning national media these days, Fahrenheit 9/11 would have been a non-event. In the absence of anything like an independently critical television press, and given the existence of such a well-oiled, well-funded right-wing propaganda machine these days, perhaps somebody out there had to co-opt conservative talk-radio techniques to get the message out. I’m more of a “destroy the ring” than a “use the ring” kinda guy, but, as I said, what do I know? I could write in this space a hundred times over and still never reach an infinitesimal fraction of the people who will see this film and be newly angered by the idiotic and unethical behavior of this administration.
In short, if a picture is worth a 1000 words, this film is worth 10,000 blogs – by stringing so many of the Bush-bashing beads together in such entertaining and moving fashion, Fahrenheit 9/11 should bring the heart of the anti-Dubya critique right to the Heartland. I just wish it had covered its flank a little better by sticking to the cold, hard facts about the national embarrassment of historic proportions that is George W. Bush, rather than indulging every so often in cheap laughs and reflexive sentiment.