A film review by Craig J. Koban

 
 

 
 

FAHRENHEIT 9/11 jjjj

2004, R, 110 mins.

A documentary written and directed by Michael Moore

Michael Moore’s new documentary FAHRENHEIT 9/11 is one of the most frustrating, unnerving, disgusting, devastating, and infuriating films I have ever seen.  As a documentary and film, it’s a masterpiece of social commentary, nail-biting satire, editing, and strong, subjective political journalism. 

Ostensibly an expose of the Presidency of George W. Bush, Moore goes for the jugular and attempts to unveil to the public what many of us already see: The Presidency of Bush is one that is fraught with incompetency, ignorance, lies,  genuine lack of authenticity, strong moral leadership, and sound and logical decision making.  If prospective voters decide to cast their ballots for ‘Dubya this fall after having seen this film, it will most agreeably be an absolute miracle.  Last year I stated that Moore’s BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE was the best film of 2003.  I defy anyone to name a more important and socially relevant film to see in 2004 than FAHRENHEIT 9/11.  I say with confidence that I may not see a better film all year. 

What does this film say and how does it say it?  Well, in short, Bush is a bad President, one that is overly simplistic, incompetent, bumbling, and ripe with really, really bad taste in political friends.  Moore accomplishes all of this with a slick narration track (which often ranges from sadistically sarcastic to violent condemnation to wickedly funny…in short…pure Moore).  He makes for a compelling and convincing film and, like him or hate him, Moore has cemented himself as one of the most active and vocal political voices and satirists of the last decade.  You may not like what he says or how he says it, but you can’t deny his energy and enthusiasm as a populist visual essayist that formulates a thesis and does what he can to prove it, both humorously and dramatically. 

The catalogue of offences that Moore emphasizes in the film are almost too numerous to mention.  Here are some of the more frustration-inducing tidbits: 

1.       When Bush hears of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, he decides to continue into a Florida classroom for what he considers a good and well-timed “photo opportunity.”  When word gets out that the second plane hit the other tower, Bush continues to stay in the classroom and does nothing for the next seven minutes. 

2.       The Bush family has some well-documented and friendly business ties to the Saudi Arabians.  More then $1.4 billion dollars of Saudi Arabian money has been filtered into the Bush family enterprises.  The Saudis are often shown as bailing Bush out of business ventures. 

3.       For the first several months of being President, Bush was on vacation an amazing 42 % of the time. 

4.       Right after September 11, when seemingly no flights in North America are granted lift-off (even ones including former President George H. Bush, Dubya’s dad) the White House helped expedite flights of Bin Laden family members back to their home country, no questions asked. 

5.       While examining the military records of Bush, it is clearly revealed that one of the men that appears with Bush has been blacked out by the White House recently.  Old records show that the name that was blacked out was Bush’s closest friend James R. Bath.  Bath, it turns out, became a Texas money manager of the billionaire Bin Ladens. 

6.       Former Secretary of State James Baker (under George H. Bush’s Presidency) was subsequently hired by the Saudis to defend them against a series of 9/11 victims, who rightfully accused the Saudis of helping support and fund Al-Qaeda. 

7.       George W. Bush’s brother and Governor of Florida – Jeb Bush – essentially helped Bush win the Presidency by rigging the voting in the state of Florida by purging thousands of African American voters from the polls.  The controversy was settled by the US Supreme Court in 2000, but what’s truly unsettling was the ratification of Bush’s Presidency in Congress.  According to US law, an election can be contested and debated by one Congressman and one Senator.  Amazingly, ten Congressmen (mostly African American) rise to challenge it without any aid at all from one Senator.  They are silenced by the Chairman of the joint congressional session – Al Gore. 

8.       Only one US Congressman has a son or daughter fighting in Iraq.   

9.       In old interviews, several key White House officials (including Collin Powell) are seen stating that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, nor does Saddam Hussein have the means to make them.  In 2003, they seemed to have miraculously changed their minds.  

10.    After sending in more troops into Iraq, Bush miraculously proposes to drastically cut spending on soldier’s salaries and on pensions to veterans. 

11.    A strange and disturbing piece of footage has Bush humorously practicing facial expressions to the camera before his 9/11 address. 

12.    The White House actually allowed the Taliban a sponsored visit to Washington and even provided armed escorts and security.  Members of the Bush family are seen publicly shaking hands with its members. 

So what positive aspects, if any, does Moore reveal about Bush?  Well: 

1.       He really likes to golf and has a respectably good swing.  

What does Moore hope to prove from all of this?  I guess he’s trying to say that (a) The Presidency of Bush is illegitimate (b) Bush owes a lot to his friends, even if they are, unfortunately, the very people that have direct and indirect ties to the Taliban and (c) the war in Iraq appears unjustified (no Weapons of Mass Destruction, no Hussein-Bin/Laden links).  

Did anyone ever say Moore was subtle? 

The charges that Moore spearheads here may be nothing new, and have been discussed in books for the last few years, but what Moore does and does so effectively is make the argument with dramatic and disturbing images, sharp and intelligent commentary, and a good and well placed eye for humor and satire.  He’s really not too much unlike a modern Jonathan Swift.  And as far as the people that accuse him of fact-bending or not being objective in his journalistic techniques…excuse me?!    Firstly, those that say that they disagree with what Moore has to say - yes, he omits facts (not one mention is made of the atrocities of Hussein in Iraq), but Moore is selective in the facts that he tries to present to us.  Secondly, and consider strongly - does anything that a novelist, essay writer, or political editorial writer do any different?  Moore’s films are visual editorials, and when are editorials ever objective?  You may not agree with   Moore, but he’s a genius at using narration, sound cues, polished and careful editing, and, yes, a selective use of facts to prove his argument.  He does so in a strong, heartfelt way that really persuades…you do sense he does care. 

That is not to say that the film is not funny (as all of Moore’s films are).  Several moments instill hysterical laughter (a satiric montage shows the opening credits of Bonanza, now titled AFGHANISTAN, staring George Bush, Collin Powell, and Donald Rumsfeld).  Much footage is shown illuminating Bush as a man who not only is unconvincing in his language, but is barely capable to stringing together three words to make a sentence.  One funny scene (with a hint of dramatic irony) has Moore (in one of his classic guerrilla-tactic stunts) go to Congress to try to get Congressman to enlist their children.  Even more funny is when Moore commandeers an ice cream truck and recites the US Patriot Act to the people of Washington over a megaphone (the film reveals that most politicians in Washington have probably never read the bill, another tragedy). 

With all of its humor, the film is also gut-wrenchingly sad and dramatic, often instilling angry reactions from the audience.  Especially hard is the sequence showing US Marine Recruits in Flint, Michigan (Moore’s hometown) going to local lower-middle class malls to recruit the poor and needy (mostly African American) because they are the easiest to recruit.  Their methods are revolting, to say the least.  Moore also makes much use of footage showing the atrocities in Iraqi caused by the US invasion (one woman cries as she explains how US bombing missions have killed 5 innocent relatives in a few weeks).  In a ghastly video, US soldiers are shown putting hoods over Iraqi prisoners and taking snapshots.  The saddest moment of the film is when Moore visits Lila Lipscomb, a mother from Flint whose son was killed in Iraq.  She reads one of his last letters to Moore and the audience, and how anyone could not be moved or brought to tears by this moment is beyond me. 

FAHRENHEIT 9/11 is unquestionably a film that everyone should see.  It’s as angry and vindictive of a film as I have  ever seen.   Yet, it’s consistently compelling, hypnotically watchable, and a highly persuasive editorial on how Bush, as a President and most powerful man in the world, is a failed and incompetent leader that clearly defies the American public.  With stark images and a relentless and inflammatory commentary track, Moore’s documentary is a bold achievement.  It’s amazing how effectively and effortlessly Moore pulls it all off.  He does not and never makes any apologies either.  Many have commented that Moore must really hate America.  On the contrary, there is one point in the film where he says what a great country America is. 

The problem is, he’s undeniably ashamed of it.

 

CrAiGeR's other

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 CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY  (2009)  jjj

 

SICKO  (2007)  jjj1/2

 

ROGER AND ME  (1989)  jjjj

 

 

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