It would be perfectly understandable if Michael Moore's documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 had buckled under its own weight. Moore has made no secret that the film's very reason for being is to unseat the President of the United States. Its struggle to find a distributor had become the preemptive story. Even the coveted Palm d'Or the film won at the Cannes Film Festival had some observers sniffing that Europe had rewarded Moore’s political conviction over his film making skill. People who have never seen the film have been avidly shilling it or angrily condemning it. And this is the climate of expectation that so often dooms controversial films.
But by the time Moore slam cuts to the credits, backed by Neil Young's "Rockin’ In The Free World" it felt like my hair was on fire. After all the hype and build up it turns out that Fahrenheit 9/11 is an utterly scorching piece of work that transcends both documentaries and feature films. It is passionate, funny, manipulative, educational and most of all it is impossible to ignore. A lot of people will leave the theater angry. Some for completely different reasons. But given that the fate of the country hangs in the balance, America can certainly survive a spirited debate in the lobby.
The film opens with the 2000 election and the unprecedented strangeness that swept George W. Bush into office lo those three and a half years ago. It seemed odd then. It seems odder now. But what’s really disconcerting is that Fahrenheit 9/11 digs it up as an artifact, something America quickly buried in its rush to move forward. Apparently, Mr. Bush took that as a mandate. There was plenty more willful disregard, fear-mongering and convenient distractions to follow. In hindsight they were sound bites just small enough to be digestible. But with Moore laying it all on the table, suddenly everything looks terribly unsavory.
The investigative side of Michael Moore adheres to the old reporters saw to “follow the money and you’ll find your story.” He finds the money coming from Saudi Arabia - and much of that from the bin Laden family -- and flowing directly into Bush family ventures. He finds footage of Taliban leaders visiting Texas just months before 9/11 to negotiate a major U.S. pipeline deal through Afghanistan. He visits a corporate seminar on how to profit from the new Iraq and gets participants to blithely admit the war is bad for people but good for business. And after an obligatory visit to his home town of Flint, Michigan, Moore concludes with the more timeless paradox that poor men fight wars so that rich men can stay rich.
There’s more. Much more. But the question we will be hearing is whether Michael Moore is being fair. The answer is no. He’s not. He’s passionately partisan, though neither the Democratic party nor the supposedly liberal media comes out unscathed. More to the point he is an entertainer. It was Moore’s idea to grab a disgruntled Marine in dress uniform to help recruit Congressmen to send their own sons and daughters to Iraq. And when he finds out most Congressmen never actually read the Patriot Act they passed, Moore rents an ice cream truck and drives around the capital reading it over a loudspeaker. He puts banjo music on the soundtrack while we see Bush vacationing in Texas, REM’s “Shiny Happy People” as Donald Rumsfeld shakes hands with Saddam Hussein, and an original elegy to footage of the 9/11 attacks which feature not a single shot of the towers burning. He’s a provocatuer and he’s made no secret of it.
But Michael Moore didn't coax John Ashcroft into singing his own patriotic ballad on camera. He didn't choreograph the horrific scenes of death and destruction from Baghdad. And he didn’t arrange for George W. Bush to read a book about a goat in a Florida elementary school for seven long, baffling minutes after being told the second plane had hit the World Trade Center.
Fair? Well see for yourself. With Fox News playing Pravda to the Bush administration’s politburo and the rest of the mainstream media offering meek alternatives, Michael Moore deserves his two hours. And if you’re not careful, Fahrenheit 9/11 just might blow you away.
© 2004 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 6/23/04
USA - 2004