Fahrenheit 9/11

July 29th, 2004 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Written and directed by Michael Moore

Michael Moore is so mainstream and popular now it’s become as cool to rubbish him as it is to agree with him. Few left-leaning activists come under as much fire from media commentators worldwide — proof enough that everyone’s listening to his message, a fact that would undoubtedly make Moore glad.

And the criticisms levelled at him are usually the same tedious salvos the right wing whips up against any challenge to their cultural hegemony. Control freak? Quite possibly, but what else can we call a man who can ground all air traffic in the US, pass a law saying you can be detained for weeks at a time without access to legal counsel or push a button and launch the vast majority of the world’s nuclear weapons arsenal?

Media opportunist? Definitely! But the irony is hard to miss when the label is fired at him from men who spend months travelling America on buses and planes, raising tens of millions of dollars to buy TV airtime to get voters to vote for them or their socio-economic beliefs.

An outright liar? It’s possible everything he says is not gospel truth, but do you think anything that comes out of George W Bush’s (or John Howard’s) mouth is anything but carefully advised spin?

Subjective and a bad fact checker? When most news in print is in the form of cult-of-personality, opinion-based comment, how much news do you think is objective? And as for checking of facts, here’s one; there are more PR practitioners working in the world than journalists. ‘News’ increasingly comes in the form of ready-to-print/broadcast media releases in electronic form, and in a disturbing number of cases they go straight to air or into print as hard news with no further editing or checking.

So what the debate Fahrenheit 9/11 addresses boils down to is that different people can take what they like from the same set of facts and form very different opinions about the truth.

As to the quality of the movie itself (rather than the message), it’s also been said that — while Moore’s an accomplished media personality and a professional elite-baiter — he’s not a very good filmmaker. That’s either more conservative vitriol or a global tall poppy syndrome.

After describing George W Bush sleeping the sleep of the privileged on the night of September 10, 2001, the screen goes blank to the sound of an airliner, huge explosion, and screams.

The footage is of the horror on the faces of the onlookers and the debris floating through the air like daisies through a fragrant field. Not subjecting us to more footage of the crash or collapse is a prime example of Moore’s (or at least his editors’) skill. Like he did in Bowling for Columbine, he seamlessly blends biting and comic sarcasm with painful reverence, in both his narration and the techniques of the film.

It can be argued that for a documentary, it’s overly subjective, but Moore’s never had any pretence of being an objective journalist about Bush, terrorism and the plague of fear across the US. He has something to tell you that powerful people don’t want you to hear, and Fahrenheit 9/11, like Bowling for Columbine, The Awful truth, Stupid White Men and Dude, Where’s My Country is his mouthpiece.

Mostly concerned with the legacy and effect of the man he famously called a fictitious President, the structure follows what Moore believes have been Bush’s most damaging acts, from the corruption that surrounded the 2000 Presidential election to the invasion of Iraq.

True, he does only show scenes from pre-American invasion Iraq in sweetness and light, and that is a subjective view — Saddam Hussein did spend the 80s and 90s engaged in ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Kurdish population, after all.

But do we need any more reminding what a monster Saddam is? How many voices in the mainstream media tell us what a monster George W Bush is for his actions? Just like the US administration shows us exciting computer game pictures of infa-red precision bombs and tells us that’s war, Moore shows us streets of rubble and trucks full of dead children — even the carnage visited on US soldiers in the war Bush declared had already been won.

Everything Moore does is his own beliefs and opinions. The reason his work is outstanding and important is because he’s a dissident, and any questioning of authority is what keeps us from the worlds described in 1984, Brave New World and, yes, Fahrenheit 451. Exploring alternative views of the world — not blindly ‘supporting’ a President or Prime Minister and their decisions — is the basis of democracy.


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