...and ups the ante!
A 'Fahrenheit 9/11' Review
By Brad Friedman on 6/30/2004, 11:07am PT  

By the time Friday rolled around, all showings in the area were sold out, and, of course, the Rightwing commentators had sold out long ago. Their breathless, panicked "debunkings" and attacks were as patriotic as they were on the mark. Which is to say, not even close on both counts.

We did, however, manage to find a theater some 40 minutes away where tickets to a late showing were available. Thankfully, we purchased online, because by the time we arrived at the theater, thirty minutes before it was to begin, the showing, and the midnight one that followed it, had already sold out.

Fahrenheit 9/11 is both a remarkable and landmark film --- as will become self-evident as the years march on. It's timing is simply extraordinary, as I marvelled more than once while watching on the enormous screen what it seems as though I'd just seen only weeks before while sipping my coffee on a Sunday morning while watching Meet the Press. But in this context, through Moore's eyes, instead of NBC's or Fox's or CNN's, the familiar footage looked somehow different.

True enough, this film is agit-prop in it's most robust and commercially viable form. But to my surprise and delight, it's also one hell of a piece of filmmaking.

From the simmering, surreal and ominous tone of the opening credits, a collection of satellite feeds of some of the "Major Players" (Bush, Ashcroft, Wolfowitz, Rice) being puffed and primped as they prepare to play their parts on the Media's Worldwide Stage, it's clear that this is more than hype --- it's actual cinema.

Having figured before hand that I'd already be well familiar with most of what I'd be shown, I quickly learned that Moore was, as usual, ahead of the curve. His game was bigger than mine. Bigger than the petty pundits who dutifully discredited the film before release, and before they had bothered to actually see it. Bigger than any of Moore's previous notable "documentaries".

He had more than just Bush Bashing in mind. He had a work of cinematic art to give us, which incidentally also ends up accusing just about everybody in the modern world for their part in the fine mess we now find ourselves in.

His "Op/Ed", as he described it last week on This Week is a case built carefully and deliberately brick by brick. One may find themselves wishing that the bricks would come slower in the film's first act, or perhaps it was simply a hope that the bricks couldn't possibly add up to where they seemed to be building.

In either case, these bricks are precisely what the Moore critics have tried --- so far unsuccessfully to my knowledge --- to break apart. And the truth soon becomes evident that any two or three or four bricks could easily be removed, and Moore's case would still remain as powerful. The reverberations will be felt for years.

In other words, Moore's case is larger than any number of airplanes full of Saudis secretly whisked out of the country by the Bush Administration in the days following 9/11 and subsequently denied by same for years. Larger than the silly notion of who within the Bush Administration approved such flights. Larger than any interview with a U.S. Congressman that may or may not have been misleadingly cut (transcripts made available by Moore's "War Room" suggest it wasn't). Larger than all of the shots I've seen, read or heard from those detractors who are so desperate to find something, anything to discredit Moore that --- failing that --- they'll usually toss in a "fat" crack to hold them over if nothing else sticks.

Moore's case, indeed, is actually larger than George W. Bush himself. He just happens to be the unlucky sap sitting in the Whitehouse at the time that Moore was finally able to best make his case. He also, with all his verbal fumbles and schoolboy-like enthusiasm for neat-o Photo Ops, happens to provide a crystal-clear picture of what has gone wrong in America and how terribly wrong it has gone. The smirking boy pretender is clearly over his head in a world that he didn't make, barely seems to understand, and may just be the place holder and/or unwitting errand boy for the larger more nefarious characters that actually keep the world spinning as if they were the only ones for whom it spun.

Surely it's all the stuff of the wild-eyed conspiracy set. A case more appropriate for the Rightwing Clinton-is-a-Mass-Murderer crowd. But here, with no small mountain of evidence at his disposal, and in his favor, Moore makes a ready-for-prime-time showcase of some usually ignorable Far Left screeds.

But even there, his case is still larger than the too-easily dismissed "No Blood for Oil!" arguments of the Far Left. It's a case that, in fact, he's largely made previously in the leitmotif of his Bowling for Columbine: that the collusion between Government, Media and the Military/Industrial Society to keep us Americans fat, frightened and clueless is precisely what allows the monied cretens at the top of the Financial Food Chain to manipulate the markets and the mentalities of the citizenry any way they damn please, and all to benefit their own personal fortunes. Certainly not ours. And in the bargain, it's almost always the losers of Life's Lottery who end up as their unknowing lackeys, giving up money, blood and freedom so that the Rich can get richer, and the less so might well stay that way.

Neither Democrats nor the "Liberal" Media catch much of a break in the bargain either in this film as they too passively play into the hands of those in charge and continue to be cowed by the influence of Big Money, Big Military and the Little Big Men who endeavor to keep the status quo flowing.

Lest you the get the idea, from this review, that this movie is a tedious excercise in the philosophical shadowy worlds of realpolitik, it should be added that this film is very, and too often disturbingly, hysterical.

True, Moore owes a debt of gratitude to Rush Limbaugh, who invented the very rudimentary forms of what Moore so adeptly now uses to his own advantage. (Which clearly pisses off the Right something fierce, an irony which is also clearly lost on them). But it has taken guys like Al Franken and Moore and The Daily Show and all the other Friends of O'Reilly, folks with actual senses of humor and comic understanding, to make it an art form.

And while we're at it, to make it a hell of a lot more honest than Limbaugh ever even pretended to be. If Limbaugh was willing to document and source his arguments as extensively and openly as Franken and Moore do --- so that folks really could come to their own conclusions --- perhaps we'd not be in the clueless and dangerous mess we now find ourselves in.

I'm loathe to give away too many of the details and delightfully troubling surprises in the movie to those who have yet to see it, so I'll not go into too many specifics for the time being. Though I will say that Moore may deserve the Academy Award this year if only for his choice of music during the montage of Dubya's famously lampoonable landing on the deck of the aircraft carrier to announce "Mission Accomplished" at the "end" of "major hostilities" in Iraq. Pure unadulterated genius, that.

I'd also note that, after all the Fake Conservative commentators have endlessly and shamelessly held up the severed head of Nick Berg as if to somehow justify our War in Iraq, I've not heard a one of them comment on the tape of the Public Beheading from Saudi Arabia that Moore shows in the film. (No worries, it's from very far away, and grainy enough to take the bulk of the graphic violence out, while keeping in all of the horror and sad irony.) In any case, those who would support George W. Bush for attacking Iraq, even while he coddles the Saudi Kingdom and in fact invites them over for family weekends at home, may have some 'splaining to do. So, of course, they won't.

In the days ahead, in any case, the backlash will undoubtedly continue. The idea that this polemic "will change nobody's mind about anything" will continue to show up amongst the cowards in the Media who create "Conventional Wisdom" before our very eyes and ears. The seeds for the case that "Michael Moore is a liar" will be endlessly dropped wherever there is a gullible Talk Radio listener or a Drudge Report reader. But the impact of this film, at this time, would be underestimated only by a fool.

After November 2nd, its message may still keep a new generation on at least Orange Alert when it comes to the way they'd previously passively accepted whatever they were spoonfed by the Politicians in Power and the Mainstream Media that serve them. But the message that there is a whole new way to reach a broad audience across America, and fly beneath the radar and restrictions of Federal Election Laws will likely be the film's longest lasting impact.

While I will openly admit that I hope Fahrenheit 9/11 does make a difference at the polls come November 2nd, and I think likely will, the more interesting reverberations will be yet to come.

Free Speech, real Free Speech, massive Free Speech for the masses, has only now begun to make itself heard in the new American Century. I suspect there will be a lot more noise still to come in the years ahead. And the Right and Left wings both will have Michael Moore's courageous, forward-thinking and --- yes --- patriotic vision to thank for that. Like him or not.