Like no movie to date, Fahrenheit 9/11 shuttles between the big official story and dozens of flyspeck-sized personal accounts with the crazy stealth of a low-flying bomber. Where the extraordinary documentary Control Room studies a handful of personalities with the acuity of a Balzac novel, Fahrenheit seems to invent a new narrative form for the 21st century. Moore's tone veers from coldblooded humor (a soldier in a Halliburton promo video yells to his mates, "Hey, guys--it's a girl!") to unbridled terror (an Iraqi girl sobs as American soldiers traipse through her house, saying nothing to calm her) and shattering pathos, then sometimes veers in yet another direction within the same sequence. The emotions we experience daily as Americans living in the toxic psychological landscape we've inherited--stoic trudging-on mixed with grim humor and moments of irrational exhilaration--have finally been captured. Watching the film, one feels a shiver at Moore's uncanny reflection of the moment--a distillation of the essence of our psychic coordinates. It's what you imagine the first viewers of Bonnie and Clyde or Easy Rider felt in the late '60s.

Moore's movie also packs an emotional wallop: It makes audiences tremble and rage and cheer. The Cannes Film Festival's "apolitical" president Quentin Tarantino actually got it right when he said Fahrenheit 9/11 deserved a prize as a movie. And because Moore has made a great motion picture, he has also created a populist polemic that may well change history as cinema has never managed to do before. Fahrenheit 9/11 will electrify audiences and embolden them to commit to making change. In that outcome alone, its mission is accomplished.

 

Dude, where's my script? George W. Bush in 'Fahrenheit 9/11'
Lions Gate Films
Dude, where's my script? George W. Bush in 'Fahrenheit 9/11'

Moore's Hodgepodge Works Despite Itself

By Terri Sutton

Director/provocateur Michael Moore makes one very shrewd choice in his first movie after that clumsy Academy Awards shout-down: The kid stays out of the picture. Oh, not completely: There's still the obligatory chasing -down -VIP -prey -to -ask -impertinent -questions scene--and the odd bit of self-promotion. For the most part, though, Moore asks the ordinary people for whom he has always claimed to be speaking to speak. And they do. Soldiers, parents of soldiers, underemployed black youth, families of 9/11 victims, white-haired voters, and Iraqi civilians describe their experiences since 9/11 with extraordinary fervor and understanding. In this manner, Moore effectively makes the case that "the people" are on his side in crying, "Shame on you, George W."

Of course, another documentarian could find equally "ordinary" people to speak with fervor and understanding against Fahrenheit 9/11's theme: the disgrace of Bush's presidency. But this movie, coming four months before November 2, presents a pretty sickening view of what they'd be arguing for. What's nauseating--and Moore's film finally allows it to be seen in public--is the terrible distance between elite decisions to make war for whatever reason is currently being floated and the material cost of it in people's lives. Fahrenheit 9/11 movingly illustrates the losses--of life, physical and emotional health, and economic security--that the Bush administration has done its best to minimize.

In other words, this is a film rife with grief and anger. A measure of the potential power of that expression can be seen in the level of Republican vitriol rising up to condemn both the film and the man. I stumbled on a conservative internet bulletin board discussing Moore, and was stunned at the personal attacks involving various scatological functions. Christopher Hitchens's Slate "review" of Fahrenheit 9/11 is slightly more politic in language, but not in intent; revealingly, Hitchens slams Moore for factual and ideological missteps in the film (and in life), yet never confronts the emotional message--except to argue that Moore "condescends" to his interviewees and exploits their grief. I can't figure how documenting people's concerns is condescending or exploitative, especially given that most other people in the media are ignoring them.

I do wish that Moore was a better filmmaker--if only because his richly topical subjects are so undermined by sloppily passionate arguments that practically invite dismissive attacks. As many before me have noted, a bitchy discourse of Moore versus Limbaugh does nothing but leave everyone feeling misunderstood and pissed (on). Moore's Oscar-winning Bowling for Columbine hopscotched across explanations for the American habit of violence without investigating any one of them in meaningful depth. It seems Moore would rather chase down Charlton Heston with a camera than dig into the historical record of a country founded on genocide. (And why not? He wins awards for it.) Moore's idea of proof is too often a visual gag followed by an info-dump of facts never sorted into coherence. (Amid all the comedy sketches, the funniest line is inadvertent: "Do something," the end credits implore--followed by Moore's web address.)

The part of Fahrenheit 9/11 that tries to build a factual case against Bush offers either well-known evidence or more dubious allegations that don't add up to much. Given that lots of U.S. voters still believe in the fictional al Qaeda-Iraq relationship (and aren't aware of al Qaeda's real relationships with Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, none of which we invaded), and given that lots of voters still believe we took down Saddam's murderous regime (but never North Korea's or Sudan's) as a humanitarian mission, I can't argue with the coverage of established facts. But I wish Moore had explored them with more focus and more patience.

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