My First Impression of Fahrenheit 9/11

I haven’t even begun to organize my thoughts on Fahrenheit 9/11, but when I read this blog entry I found myself saying, Yep. Yep. Yep.

This guy’s thoughts parallel my own experience from last night’s screening in Seattle, except that he was able to translate them eloquently into writing whereas it will take me a week to bring my emotions under control enough to write coherent thoughts about this film.

But anyway… off the top of my head… here are some initial (and yes, emotional) impressions from last night.

The film’s about what I expected… some good information, a lot of information we’ve heard before, and speculation packaged as fact, delivered through a severely biased, conspiracy-theory perspective. There are a bunch of interviews with only those whose arguments make Moore look like the expert, without anybody included to acknowledge that there ARE sane people with different perspectives. It’s also a two-hour visual collage of clever but sophomoric visual mockery of George Bush. It’s as if somebody compiled a reel of George Bush’s most embarrassing moments and then asked us to judge the whole person entirely on those instances.

The crowd I was in just confirmed for me that Moore is preaching to the choir. Every time “Condi, Wolfie, Dick, George, or Rummy” showed their faces, the place erupted in hissing and booing, often so we couldn’t even hear what was being said. Every cheap shot stirred the crowd into riot mentality. I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for Michael Medved, who was also in the crowd. He must have felt surrounded and threatened. I kept thinking of comedian Eddie Izzard’s response to a hissing crowd: “So… you’re a city of snakes, are you?!” Apparently, Seattle is.

So although Moore does deliver some truly troubling revelations (at least, a few were new to me), the good stuff was buried under an avalanche of emotional manipulation, making it look like that ALL of the soldiers just want to come home, that Baghdad was a happy place full of happy kite-flying children, and lots of extreme close-ups of a mother weeping for her dead soldier son.

Saddam and his cronies were mysteriously absent from the film. Call me picky, but I like my War-in-Iraq documentaries to have something about the fact that it involved a guy who liked to take people who disagreed with him and feed them into a giant shredding machine, and whose heirs liked to spend their time raping women. But apparently Bush just wanted oil, so he decided to pour napalm on the children running around in Iraq’s version of Sesame Street, so he could make money for his Saudi Arabian friends… or something like that.

I liked Moore’s re-hash of how the media makes us afraid and keeps us motivated to be good consumers by scaring us into thinking we need things. I liked his dramatic revelation that, while the government is blacking-out elements of Bush’s military history, Moore himself has earlier unmarked copies that reveal the hidden details. I like the way he shows the way American businessmen are celebrating Iraq as a new frontier of moneymaking, and how oil drillers are making ten times what the soldiers are making. And I was troubled again by the conflict of interest in the Bush family, who have undeniably intimate ties with the Saudis and the Bin Ladens. But that’s nothing new, and there’s no further evidence that Osama himself ever had much of a connection with George.

But Moore flip-flops whenever it serves his purposes. At the beginning, he portrays soldiers as psychotics, listening to loud profanity-filled heavy metal as they cheerfully plow through the streets blowing people up. Then he shows army recruiters stooping to ugly lies and scary tactics to deceive young people into joining the military. (How can those bullying recruiters’ deceitful behavior be blamed on Bush? Beats me.) Then he shows you soldiers mocking their Iraqi prisoners and fondling one man’s genitals.

THEN, probably aware that he’s got us too bewildered to notice the inconsistency, he closes the film by saluting those honorable, brave, respectable young folks who enter the military with patriotic notions and serve their country so morally and purely while their president is to blame for all of the immorality. Huh? Which is it, Mike?

There’s lots of slow-motion footage of Bush and his team being groomed for a television spot, a sequence that is milked for maximum EVIL effect, with mournfully spooky David Lynchian music in the background. Come on. Every television personality gets groomed before they go on camera live! And yet, this sequence had the Moore fans in the crowd shaking their heads in revulsion and contempt, as if they were watching Satan himself. The film evokes the highest peak of hysterical contempt from its audience by merely showing Wolfowitz trying to comb his hair into place by spitting on his comb. Is that how low we have sunk? To judging our administration by how they comb their hair? Seattlites reacted to this sequence as if it was the most damning evidence of Bush’s depravity.

That right there tells me what kind of audience I’m dealing with… and what kind of filmmaker. Of course, none of the Rep. Jim McDermott footage gets the slo-mo effect or the spooky music… because he’s been groomed for the camera so he can support Moore’s argument.

Since the election, I’ve been deeply troubled by the fact that the majority of Bush’s opponents in Seattle (at least those I’ve encountered) are very quick to boo and hiss and accept any negative information about him that they’re given. During the footage of Bush’s limousine being egged, the place went crazy with a mutual desire to join in the attack. The woman next to me gasped every time Michael Moore uttered his opinion-as-fact, as if each “revelation” bore the impact of another plane hitting another tower. I wanted to grab her and say, “MOORE IS NOT A TRUTH MACHINE. Even high-ranking Democrats contest some of these claims!”

During the famous “7-minutes” scene (the footage of Bush in front of an elementary school classroom when he learns about the WTC attacks), we see a sign behind Bush’s head that says “Reading makes a country great.” This is, of course, perceived as an ironic element. But I also find it ironic that the very choir to which this film plays is reading only those opinions that they already agree with. We need Kevin Costner to step into the picture, waving his arms, and saying, “You need to do the research yourself! It’s up to you!”

And about those seven minutes (by the way, the principal of that elementary school tells a very different side of the story than Moore does)…

Bush didn’t look like he was just kiddin’ around in a classroom while the towers burned. He looks like a guy for whom the truth of the moment is just sinking in. He manages to keep from losing his composure. Stunned? Yes. Bewildered? Perhaps. Insecure? Yeah. Distracted? Definitely. But Moore proceeds to project all sorts of damning things into George W.’s thoughts. What does he think Bush should have done? Freaked out? Asked the children to dive under their desks? Jumped up and run out? I would assume that the President would wait until there was more information.

NONE of us, at that point in the crisis, knew the catastrophic conclusion that would come about: the collapse of the towers. We were all in a state of shock. Give the guy something of a break. This is not evidence that Bush is any less prepared for a crisis than any other President. It just so happens that he’s the ONLY President to be on film, for seven straight minutes, the moment he receives news of something like this. We’re used to see our leaders prepared, notes in hand, speeches approved, having already set plans in motion to respond. To judge Bush by this tape is presumptuous, unfair, and a desperate act of irrational political bias.

It didn’t help the experience at this screening of the film that the KIRO radio folks (Seattle’s liberal talk radio station) got up on the stage before the film and got the crowd stirred up and ranting against Bush even before the film started. “Next time, try and get a moderate to come with you,” DJ Mike Webb said, to a roar of laughter and applause. And I sat there looking around wondering if I’d somehow slipped through the Bush-Hater radar that would have kicked me out if I’d been identified as a “moderate” or at least “Willing to Let Bush Live.” I didn’t vote for the man, but I didn’t sign on to become a bile-spewing follower of irrational political bias against him either.

Moore’s obsession with blaming all of this on Bush and manipulating the facts so that everything makes him look bad is as deceitful as the methods of those two military recruiters who targeted the young men at the low-income shopping mall. In both cases, I understand the goal and sympathize with it: the recruiters want young men to join the marines, and Moore wants viewers to vote against Bush. But in both cases, I despise the means they use to reach those ends. Blaming Bush for the Abu Ghraib-variety abuses, Moore says, “Immoral behavior leads to immoral behavior.” And I say, “Listen to yourself, Mike. How are you improving things?”

When I left the theatre, radio station personnel rushed up to me, thrust a microphone into my face and said, “So what did you think of the film?” I couldn’t answer. And now I know why. The film didn’t allow me to think much at all.


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  • -B

    Since when is propaganda film with a clear agenda considered a ‘documentary’ anyway?