Saturday, June 26, 2004

# Posted 1:48 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE UNEXPECTED MICHAEL MOORE: I descended this night into the belly of the beast. I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 on its opening night in Harvard Square. Just minutes into the film, someone in the audience yelled out "F*** Bush!" Driven by an unknown compulsion, I responded aloud "How much are you paying?" No one else interrupted the film with comments, although applause came at regular intervals.

One of the things that made this film enjoyable was that I didn't have to be on guard. Christopher Hitchens has already provided ample evidence of how misleading and dishonest Fahrenheit 9/11 is, so I didn't have to take notes. Instead, I could just focus on the gut level questions of whether this is good filmmaking or good propaganda.

The best way to describe this film is as an extended free association. The tone is prosecutorial, but even the harshest critics of George W. Bush might not be able to figure out how one part of the film relates to the next.

For example, why does the first half-hour of the film focus on the relationship between the Bush family and Saudi Arabia? The apparent point of the segment is to demonstrate divided loyalties. Unbelievably enough, Moore asks whether Bush wakes up and thinks about Saudi national interests before he thinks about America's.

Then suddenly, the Saudis disappear. I was sure that they were going to reappear at some critical moment in the closing minutes of the film. After all, what Hollywood screenwriter would spend half an hour foreshadowing an event that never arrives?

Instead, Moore moves on to an extended discussion of how the Bush administration has moved the terror alert level from yellow to orange to yellow and back again. There is also a long excerpt from a network interview with Richard Clarke, whose criticism is far more plausible and coherent than anything Moore comes up with on his own. I've never bought in to Clarke's accusations, but Clarke does come across as an intelligent and public-minded, not to mention having the inherent credibility of having been Bush's counterrorism czar.

I thought the film had reached its turning point. The Saudis were out of the way and we could now focus on how the CIA and the Pentagon managed to persuade themselves that Iraq had massive stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction that are still unaccounted for. Instead, Moore wanders on to the next episode in his crusade.

Iraq. It is a happy place where citizens where children fly kites and loving families spend quality time together. It is a "sovereign nation". Perhaps Moore will say that he was being sarcastic or humorous when he decided to make no mention at all of the horrific atrocities that Saddam Hussein committed. The rape, the murder, and the torture chambers. Perhaps Moore will say that he just wanted to present a picture as outrageous as the one George W. Bush presented to the American public.

Frankly, Moore could use that defense to explain just about any inaccuracy in the film. Misleading? No, just mocking the Bush administration's own propaganda. Except, of course, that life under Saddam really was hell, even if Iraqi mothers still loved their children, some of whom were allowed to fly kites.

To my surprise, Fahrenheit 9/11 spends only a minute or two criticizing Bush and Cheney for conflating the threats presented by Saddam and Al Qaeda. Instead, Moore provides us with gruesome footage of mangled Iraqi limbs and splintered Iraqi children. (Don't expect him to let you know that Saddam murdered more Iraqis almost every month than the Americans killed during their invasion.)

Next up are the mangled and splintered bodies of the American soldiers in Iraq. The final half hour of Fahrenheit 9/11 tries to drive home one point again and again: that young Americans are suffering and dying for a worthless cause.

Without question, this is the strongest part of the film. In essence, it is the story of one mother -- Lila Lipscomb --in Moore's hometown of Flint, Michigan who lost her son in Iraq. Her raw emotions are far more powerful than any of the bizarre conspiracy theories or humorous cheapshots the fill out the rest of the film. This one mother has an authenticity that the rest of the film is desperately in search of.

Lipscomb describes herself as a conservative Democrat. Each morning she unfurls her American flag and attaches it to the stand on the outside wall of her home. She hates the anti-war protesters at first, but learns to respect their ideas. In his final letter home from Iraq, her son writes that Bush is a fool who is wasting the lives of American soldiers.

While Moore bashes the American media for ignoring the stories of individual stories, the fact is that they have become a standard feature of American war coverage. After all, it was just two days ago that OxBlog praised the WaPo for its in-depth account of the life and death of Pfc. Jason N. Lynch.

While I am often suspicious of the motives of those who write such stories, their work coincides with my principles. They want to demonstrate that war causes unjustified suffering. I want to honor the sacrifice of those men and women who lay down their lives for their country and for its ideals. We should know as much as possible about each of these men and women.

From a political perspective, however, Moore may not get very far. Contrary to what the journalists have to say, concern over mounting casualties doesn't seem to disturb the American public or diminish its support for nation-building in Iraq.

Walking out of theatre, I didn't have the sense that Fahrenheit 9/11 represented any sort of threat to the Bush candidacy. There were even surprising moments when the film made Bush look far wiser and more patient than I ever would have expected. During the Saudi phase of his film, Moore places great emphasis on the seven minutes Bush spent reading to elementary school children in Florida even after the second plane hit the World Trade Center. According to the NYT,
For the White House, the most devastating segment of "Fahrenheit 9/11" may be the video of a befuddled-looking President Bush staying put for nearly seven minutes at a Florida elementary school on the morning of Sept. 11, continuing to read a copy of "My Pet Goat" to schoolchildren even after an aide has told him that a second plane has struck the twin towers. Mr. Bush's slow, hesitant reaction to the disastrous news has never been a secret. But seeing the actual footage, with the minutes ticking by, may prove more damaging to the White House than all the statistics in the world.
I couldn't disagree more. Whereas Bush often looks foolish and befuddled during interviews with the press, the expressions on his face during those seven minutes in the classroom are those of a proud leader confronting his own fear and anguish while struggling to protect the children around him from the panic of a brutal and horrific attack on their homeland.

The lesson to take away from Fahrenheit 9/11 is that propaganda doesn't work, regardless of whether it is Dick Cheney's or Michael Moore's.
(2) opinions -- Add your opinion

Perhaps if you hadn't been so busy looking for Moore's ulterior motives, you wouldn't have been so surprised that you couldn't find any. As he had stated at the time, he was just trying to present facts and evidence that had been largely ignored or forgotten about by the mainstream media.

For example, when pro-war people made statements about how horrible Saddam was, were they suggesting that there wasn't happiness or kites in Iraq? No. And so when Moore showed happiness and kites, was he suggesting that there was no misery? Of course not. Moore wasn't trying to convince people that Iraq was all peace and love. He was trying to show us images of Iraq that we hadn't seen and hadn't been discussed. To show the human element that was missing from the news stories. That's what Moore said at the time and is obvious.

And you honestly thought that Bush looked good during the Pet Goat thing? Are you nuts? Why didn't he politely excuse himself and find out what was going on. I myself had a job interview that morning; but after talking briefly, we cancelled it, so we could go home and find out more about what happened. And yet Bush just sat there, frozen, waiting for someone to tell him what to do. I ended a job interview even though there was nothing I could do about the attack, while the President of the United States can't even excuse himself from a book reading. What a leader.

BTW, I never understood why anyone thought that the movie was a big attack on Bush. I thought the bigger attack was on the idiots in the media who sold us a war that we didn't want or need. Oh wait, that's right. Those people are liberal and must obviously have been against the war; despite all of their excited talk of bombs and being embedded.
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