Thursday, October 07, 2004

From the archives: Fahrenheit 9/11

Today, I went and bought Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" on DVD. It officially came out on Tuesday. I had a Borders gift card, so I spent purchased the $20 DVD. In the spirit of promoting the video release, I will re-post my review of F911.


Almost three weeks after its premiere, Fahrenheit 9/11 has proven to be a record setting documentary. As of today, the movie has pulled in an astounding $90 million dollars. Moore, much like radio host Al Franken, was able to parlay censorship into priceless publicity. A month before its release, the Disney Corporation decided to withdraw from the project. Disney publicly stated that they did not want to be involved in a divisive Election Year controversy. Of course, Moore countered by connecting Disney’s decision to the corporation’s tax breaks received from Florida Governor John Ellis “Jeb” Bush. Whatever the motivation, Moore’s film garnered a massive amount of media attention. The hype assured that another company, in this case the Weinstein Brothers would distribute the nearly two-hour documentary. Adding to the anticipation was the fact that F911 received the prestigious Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in France. F911’s opening weekend, June 25-27, brought in a record $22 million. This eclipsed the total from his previous project, the highly acclaimed “Bowling for Columbine”. Without doubt, the film has been a success and Moore will no longer be forced to mortgage his house to make a movie, as he did in the late 80’s with “Roger and Me”.

Critics, especially those of the conservative ideology, have lambasted the film as highly inaccurate. To the best of my knowledge, I did not notice any factual errors. Moore has noted Democratic campaign strategist Chris Lehane heading a team to rebut claims of inaccuracy. Arguing the factual legitimacy of this film is a folly that critics should be hesitant to engage in. Michael Moore, despite what his critics might suggest, is not a stupid man. With the tremendous capital invested in this film, there is no way that he would be able to get away with unambiguous dishonesty. Moore knows that his critics will parse every word in search of any vague inaccuracy.

Armed with the facts, Moore draws a number of conclusions that the viewer may or may not agree with. Near the beginning of the movie, nearly 15 minutes is devoted to the relationship between the Bush Family and the Saudi Royals. More specifically, Moore takes umbrage at Bush’s close relationship with Saudi Prince Bandar. One of the more prominent scenes describes how Osama Bin Laden’s family members were able to leave while all commercial air flights were grounded in the days following 9/11. Moore humorously draws a parallel to old television westerns like “Gunsmoke”. Another criticism Moore levels against the Bush family involves former President George H.W. Bush’s membership on the board of the Carlyle Group. Essentially, Moore concludes that former President Bush made no clear distinction between his allegiance to the multinational corporation and his loyalty to the United States of America. To further highlight the closeness between Bush and the Saudi Royal Family, Moore rolls footage of them cordially interacting on numerous occasions. The point of this sequence was to suggest that Bush was not tough enough on Saudi Arabia, especially considering that 15 of the 19 highjackers on 9/11 were Saudi Nationals. The motivation, according to Moore, is that Saudi Royal family has invested literally billions of dollars into various Bush Family ventures. In addition, Saudi Arabia controls 7 % of our national economy. To cement this assertion, Moore travels to the Saudi Embassy and discovers that Prince Bandar has six Secret Service agents protecting him. This is certainly a very controversial part of the film. 15 minutes does not suffice to explain this very controversial topic. Craig Under’s “House of Bush, House of Saud” is a good reference to learn more about the Bush/Saudi Arabia connection.

As a progressive and member of the American Civil Liberties Union, I feel that Moore could have done a better job in his segment on the USA PATRIOT Act. Moore certainly is correct in his assessment that Ashcroft is a scary man. To begin the presentation, we see footage of Ashcroft serenading the crowd with his self-written patriotic hymn, “Let the Mighty Eagle Soar”. Most of the audience laughed, but Moore did leave out one serious fact. He actually had his Department of Justice employees perform this song, as motivation, before at the beginning of workdays. One of the lines, which is not featured in F911, goes “Only god, no other kings”. This would have been perfect in demonstrating how fundamental Christianity has taken over our government. Nevertheless, Moore highlights instances where people or groups have been targeted for frivolous reasons. For instance, a man at the local gym was questioned by Secret Service after uttering a controversial remark about United States foreign policy. In addition, Peace Fresno, an antiwar group, was infiltrated by undercover police under suspicion of terrorist activities. All of this was very humorous, as Moore did a good job of lampooning the Bush’s hysterics. However, Moore fails to discuss the hundreds of individuals being held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Many of these suspected “terrorists” have been detailed without even being charged or promised a trial. Some of his examples, such as the woman being hassled over breast milk at the airport, are not even directly related to the PATRIOT Act. While it certainly garnered positive reaction from the crowd, it did not address the biggest problems of the PATRIOT Act. I will give Moore credit for bringing the PATRIOT Act to our attention once again. One of the biggest laughs of the night came when Moore rented an ice cream truck and read the PATRIOT Act over the loudspeakers. This came in response to Moore learning that most members of Congress do not read legislation before it is signed.

F911 hits its stride when the discussion turns to the U.S. invasion of the sovereign nation of Iraq. Moore has no qualms about suggesting that the war is an absolute sham. In no uncertain terms, the central theme is that the Bush Administration manipulated the American public into supporting the Iraq War. Moore believes that they have intentionally scared the public, making them believe terrorism could strike even their small town. This is when the movie drew lots of emotion from the crowd. Moore shows dead Iraq children being retrieved by distraught onlookers. A woman is shown screaming in Arabic against what the United States had done. The troops are presented in primarily a good light, despite one scene where a troop came off as overly arrogant, continually chanting the expletive “motherfucker”. Footage was obtained of soldiers going into an Iraqi’s house on Christmas Eve 2003. The U.S. goes in and arrests a man for an undisclosed offense. The suspect and family pleaded for information, but no explanation was given. The theme of the scene, in my opinion, was that due process had been suspended, even on Christmas Eve.

Moore certainly is correct on his views on the Iraq War, but one instrumental piece of information was missing. Not once in the 120-minute film was the word “neoconservative” mentioned. Discussing the Iraq War without neoconservatism is like analyzing the Catholic Church without bringing up the Pope. Moore should have explained how invading Iraq had been on the mind of the hawks for over a decade. Moore does suggest in a veiled way that Iraq was always on the mind of the Bush Administration. However, he could have analyzed how the “Project for the New American Century” has plans even greater than just Iraq. The neo-conservative think tank has illusions of forever redrawing the map of the entire Middle East. I understand if Moore didn’t want to go in-depth into the subject, but I think even a brief tidbit should have been included.

The latter part of the movie focuses on the story of Lila Lipscomb, the mother of a fallen soldier in Iraq. Earlier in the movie, Moore interviewed Lipscomb at her office in Michigan. I am not clear on whether both scenes, or only the second one, was taped after her son was killed. Lipscomb, who described herself as a conservative Democrat, is not unlike many military parents in the country. She expressed the scorn she once felt for the war protesters. However, her tone changed after her son was killed. Very upset by the dishonesty of the Bush Administration, she read a letter written by her son. In that letter, he expressed disillusionment at the current occupants of the White House. The few moments where she read the letter were among the most heartfelt of the film. Initially, I questioned whether Moore should have subjected her to reading the entire letter. It’s unclear whether she volunteered or whether Moore pressed the issue. Nevertheless, it was a very powerful moment and I am glad Moore included it for emphasis. Lipscomb’s angst is only made worse when, traveling to Washington D.C., she is harassed by a pro-war demonstrator. It took me a while to realize what had happened. While talking to a genuine anti-war protestor, an angered individual comes up and claims the event is “staged”. She walks away, but eventually breaks down after walking towards the White House.

Overall, my impression of F911 was a very positive one. From a theatrical perspective, Moore did a fabulous job. The juxtaposition of images was simply hilarious. Even if it might seem a bit over the top, it added to the experience. Like it or not, a basic factual documentary will not sell many tickets. Moore had to add things that would make the audience laugh and smile. I saw the film twice, and the audience reaction was very positive. There was laughing, clapping, cheering, and crying all throughout. At my two locations, I saw no signs of conservative disruption. I’m aware that at some theaters activists actually came prepared, treating it more as a strategy session. There is no surprise that the film did well in liberal areas like Palm Beach County and Orlando. What is surprising is that theaters were packed in red areas likewise.

The lasting effect of this movie is still to be determined. A large amount of the profits surely came from liberal activists and Democrats assuredly voting for Sen. Kerry. The big question is whether F911 was able to convince moderate or even conservative audiences. Moore is hoping for a DVD release before the election to maximize its influence. I would be very pleased if this movie got Americans to think a little about what has happened in this country since 2000. Maybe, even if Moore can’t convince them, voters will go online or read a book about something Moore mentioned. Too many Americans are willing to follow this President blindly. They want you to think that questioning their policy amounts to treason. I’ve heard radio hosts advocate having Moore locked up as an enemy of Americans. In reality, those who actually take stands on the issues are the true patriots.

I recommend that every American go and watch this movie. While you’re at it, take a friend or acquaintance that might not otherwise go see a political movie. You could even pay for his or her ticket. This film is not about Michael Moore. I certainly do not walk lockstep with Mr. Moore. In fact, I disagree with him on certain things. Moore is free to make his assertions. On most issues, I tend to support his conclusions. I think Moore would like people just to think about things for themselves. Moore said it best himself. This movie is not about defeating Mr. Bush. Moore wants to get people who don’t participate in the process to at least vote. Even if they vote against the ideals Moore stands for, that is allright with him and it’s fine by me.


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