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Thread: Public responses to FAHRENHEIT 9/11: style vs. substance

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    Public responses to FAHRENHEIT 9/11: style vs. substance

    [FOUND AT: http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/vi....php?p=335#335]

    MICHAEL MOORE: FAHRENHEIT 9/111

    Explosive, or merely leaky? The critics duke it out, but many miss the substantive issues

    by Chris Knipp

    One of the first pieces about Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/1 on the eve of its US release was about facts and fact-checking. "Michael Moore Is Ready for his Close-Up, by Philip Shenon, published June 20, 2004 in The New York Times http://www.libertypost.org/cgi-bin/r...?ArtNum=54305, listed various points where the film might be questioned and said Moore’s staff was ready with a "political style 'war room' to offer an instant response to any assault on the film’s credibility."

    Most of the advocates of Bush’s policies and especially his invasion of Iraq were poised to attack Moore’s movie as a wrong argument based on wrong information. Surprisingly – or perhaps not; wasn’t this the safest approach? – most reviewers of Moore’s film in the US nonetheless focused on its style and tone rather than the validity of its facts or arguments. As the reviews emerged, they weren't as enthusiastic as some leading critics’ raves and the enormous public turnout to see it would have led you to expect. Perhaps the Cannes prize put American reviewers, spoiling for a fight with the French, in a contrary mood. There were grumbles that the film only fed European anti-American feeling and that Cannes was rewarding that (never mind that the president of the Cannes jury this year was Quentin Tarantino). Or maybe they were just annoyed at having so many facts and arguments to deal with, presented in such an inventive and outrageous variety of ways.

    There is logic in the focus on tone. Fahrenheit 9/11 (the very title underlines its incendiary nature) is above all an impassioned polemic. It’s wrong to argue that documentaries are never biased and that therefore Moore’s film isn’t one – they often are, and intensely so. What emerged from the reviews was that the first half of the film is tightly edited and contains stunning moments, most notably the coverage of Bush’s non-election and the haunting way the attack on New York is presented as a darkened screen followed by shots of running, grieving people, rather than the familiar footage of the Twin Towers in flames. J. Hoberman wrote in his tellingly entitled "Eviction Notice" (http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0425/hoberman2.php) in the Village Voice that Moore’s opening sequence is the best work he has yet done.

    "The film's long opening movement,"Hoberman wrote, "which segues from the stolen election of 2000 and Bush's 2001 summer vacation through the events of 9-11 and the cowboy invasion of Afghanistan to dwell on the oil politics uniting the Bushies with the Saudis, is the strongest filmmaking of Moore's career. Moore shamelessly exploited 9-11 in Bowling for Columbine, but Fahrenheit's first half-hour, tightly edited and scored for maximum impact, is succinct and hilarious in making its points—as well as infuriating and tragic."

    Perhaps J. Hoberman gave the movie its finest praise because it is both serious and frank: he wrote, "If Moore is formidable, it's not because he is a great filmmaker (far from it), but because he infuses his sense of ridicule with the fury of moral indignation. Fahrenheit 9/11 is strongest when that wrath is vented on Bush and his cohorts. Let us not forget that Dana Carvey did more than anyone in America, save Ross Perot, to drive Bush père from the White House. There are sequences in Fahrenheit 9/11 so devastatingly on target as to inspire the thought that Moore might similarly help evict the son."

    This recalls the fact that Jonathan Swift, whose impassioned satire had some little effect in his lifetime and has echoed down the centuries, spoke on his own tombstone of his "savage indignation."

    Yet many of the critics "didn’t go there." A.O. Scott, now chief New York Times movie critic, was typical of writers who depicted Moore not as a bitter ironist but a charming bumbler. In his piece entitled "Unruly Scorn Leaves Room for Restraint, But Not a Lot" (NYTimes, June 23, 2004 -- http://movies2.nytimes.com/mem/movie...it%209%2F11%20(Movie)), Scott wrote that the film’s confusions are a strength in the sense that it’s "an authentic and indispensable document of its time. Blithely trampling the boundary between documentary and demagoguery…[Moore is] obnoxious, tendentious and maddeningly self-contradictory. He can drive even his most ardent admirers crazy. He is a credit to the republic."

    Very good, as one of my professors used to say, but what does it mean? Given that Fahrenheit 9/1 has the power to attract an audience and hold its attention, and that the film may be both provocative and convincing, what are the strengths and weakness of its arguments? And does it marshall the most relevant facts? The answer is yes and no.

    It seems to have been an anonymous blogger published on the Tom Paine website -- "Blind, Or A Coward?" -- (June 30, 2004 -- http://www.tompaine.com/print/blind_or_a_coward.php) who was the first to point out a stunning omission: that Moore never mentions Israel -- or the fact that it was the Israeli government that wanted the Iraq invasion, not the Saudis.

    It's certainly true that at bottom control of the Gulf region and of Iraq is all about oil and so is the Bush administration (and so is the United States of America). Still, this focus on the Saudis is a bit of an unhealthy obsession of Moore’s. Indeed, the most thorough and sympathetic discussion of the film and of Moore as an artist and political being -- "Michael Moore’s Contribution" by David Walsh, on the World Socialist Web Site, June 30, 2004 (http://wsws.org/articles/2004/jun2004/911-j30.shtml)-– it runs to just over 3,000 words –- points out that “Moore strikes his most truly false note” in his section about the Saudis. They’re merely puppets, not manipulators of US moneyed interests, Walsh points out.

    Walsh also quotes with approval Moore's quotation from George Orwell, "The war is not meant to be won, but it is meant to be continuous.... The hierarchy of society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance. In principle, the war effort is always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects, and its object is not victory...but to keep the very structure of society intact."

    The use of the poor as tools and victims of war is a theme implied by Moore’s treatment of the lady from Flint and the young people recruited from the shabbier malls. Even if it may not seem so explicit in Moore as it is in Orwell's statement or Walsh's socialist interpretation of it, this undercurrent of advocacy for the working class and poor and abhorrence of the oligarchy of the rich the Bush administration represents runs throughout Fahrenheit 9/11 and many critics seem to misinterpret the film in failing to see that. That's the power and the anger behind the famous clip of Bush at one of his rallies saying, "This is an impressive crowd -- the haves ... and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite; I call you my base."

    Frank Bardacke has written in "Erasing the Anti-War Movement: What Michael Moore Left Out" (CounterPunch, July 29, 2004, http://www.counterpunch.org/bardacke07292004.html) that Moore omits coverage of the global pre-Iraq anti-war demonstrations in Fahrenheit 9/11, arguing that he does this because his primary interest is "helping the democrats beat George Bush" so he doesn't want to encourage independent action against the war.

    Israel isn't the only glaring omission in discussing the origins of the Iraq invasion. Hussein Ibish , an Arab writer who writes frequently about the Palestinians and American policy for the Daily Star and the Electric Intifada website, points out in a column, "'Fahrenheit 9/11' Misses Mark on Concpiracies," (Daily Star, Beirut, July 12, 2004 -- http://dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?...rticle_id=6169) that not only are the Saud-Bush links something of a red herring in the overall discussion of the war, but Moore never even talks about the neo-cons’ long-prior plans to invade Iraq -- a topic thoroughly discussed in the later documentary release, Sut Jhally and Jeremy Earp's Hijacking Catastrophe. Ibish asserts that the Saudis are demonized in the US now, while in the US there is no “Iraqi perspective on the conflict other than [the] howls of suffering and rage” that this and other films record. But while Ibish has a bone to pick, he, like A.O. Scott, sensibly praises Moore for the remarkable feat of seeming to “have found a formula which allows blistering criticism to come across as not only acceptable but even patriotic…”

    That's true: as A.O. Scott's remark suggested ("he is a credit to the republic"), Moore has become nothing short of a national treasure. And in an imperfect world, I’m glad to have him, and awed by the success of his movie. It has its faults, and they’re as big as the man. But I'm also awed by how the connected narrative he builds can have such a powerfully depressing impact even on someone like myself who has followed the events so closely; and by how Moore's sympathies for the working class come out as a powerful anti-war message. But what counts to me most is that he’s proven a political polemic can not only bring out Americans in droves -- to vote with box office receipts against the war in Iraq -- but also can get them talking, just as Bowling for Columbine did and more so. I hope this is the beginning of a more politically aware electorate, and a US in which the Rush Limbaughs are on both sides, yelling out their arguments for all to hear. I hope also that Fahrenheit 9/11 isn’t just-fast food politics; that it will stimulate people to think and actually will grab those undecided voters critics and viewers argue over and not let them go. As film critics we have to discuss the merits of Moore's work objectively, but the material is crucial.

    Which brings up the issue: is attacking the movie political suicide if you're anti-Bush? That's actually kind of a tough question. Stephanie Zacherek in a review for Salon.Com -- "Fahrenheit 9/11: Nay!" (http://www.salon.com/ent/movies/revi.../index_np.html)-- panned the film, saying that "Moore's latest has some powerful images that are invariably overwhelmed by his jokey, faux-populist self-righteousness." Some of us don’t agree. "Populist self-righteousness"? yes. "Faux"? I don't think so. But Zacherek could have a valid point when she rebukes Moore fans for ad hominem attacks on critics of the film. "For them," she says, Michael Moore is the issues he talks about, so his detractors must be enemies of democratic principles. It's an old trick, akin to the way Pauline Kael was accused of being insensitive about the Holocaust when she didn't like "Shoah." That's right -- isn't it? Only, the thing is, there’s a big difference between writing about Fahrenheit 9/11 and writing about Shoah: the Nazis aren’t up for reelection in November.

    Or are they?

    Think about it. Which side are you on?
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-22-2018 at 12:43 PM.

  2. #2
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    Re: Public responses to FAHRENHEIT 9/11: style vs. substance

    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    The use of the poor as tools and victims of war is a theme implied by Moore’s treatment of the lady from Flint and the young people recruited from the shabbier malls. Even if it may not seem so explicit in Moore as it is in Orwell's statement or Walsh's socialist interpretation of it, this undercurrent of advocacy for the working class and poor and abhorrence of the oligarchy of the rich the Bush administration represents runs throughout Fahrenheit 9/11 and many critics seem to misinterpret the film in failing to see that. That's the power and the anger behind the famous clip of Bush at one of his rallies saying, "This is an impressive crowd -- the haves ... and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite; I call you my base."
    This paragraph of your article is quite good, Knipp. I think you've definitely hit on an important point. The "undercurrent of advocacy for the working class and poor" is present in all of Moore's works and so not surprisingly present in F9/11. Certainly, this advocacy is part of Moore's whole appeal and he works it into his entire persona and appearance, on and off-screen. Undeniably, in my opinion, he attempts to tap into the "average" man's fears of and mistrust for the rich and powerful. In fact, I'd argue that this is at the very core of Moore's technique.

    Oh, one other thing, it is somewhat ironic that you would comment on Moore's 'socialism' (or at least connect him with socialists) and then in your flourish of demagogery at the end of the article imply that the Republicans are comparable to Nazis. The Nazis were, of course, the National Socialist Party.
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    WORDPLAY

    I'm glad you liked one of my paragraphs. We agree on this important aspect of Moore's outlook--though I assume you still have not seen the film.

    It's not I who connect Moore with the socialists, but David Walsh. As for the National Socialist Party, those were another kind of socialist, shall we say? I don't think there's anything particularly ironic about mentioning Nazis and socialists of the usual kind in the same paragraphs. As the "Word IQ" website discussion of Nazism (http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Nazi) puts it, "Established socialist movements did not view the Nazis as socialists and argued that the Nazis were thinly disguised reactionaries."

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    Socialism of a different type... sure, a radical, extreme socialism... but still a socialism. And, anyways, ironic also that you should link the right-wing party in the United States with an extreme left-wing ideology in Germany. But, I digress...

    I also found apropos that you should quote and apparently agree with those who regard the Bush and Saudi links as a red herring. Another point on which we would agree...

    The Israel link is an interesting observation and certainly a more likely contributory explanation than many Moore offers given Bush's Christian Fundamentalism and the historic advocacy of Christian Fundamentalists for the State of Israel not to mention, of course, the historic support that the United States has always shown towards Israel. It is also not insignificant that Bush repeatedly condemned Iraq for its support of suicide bombers in Palestine.

    (Oh, and Knipp, why not just try and discuss the film with me... pretend I've seen it if that helps... see if you can make me look terribly out-of-touch instead of just making that assumption a priori.)
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    This whole Nazi/socialist issue is irrelevant except for the fact that I indulged in demagoguery by mentioning the Nazis, which Zachereck brought up by mentioning Kael and Shoah. I was being emotional. I had a point though, that's highly relevant to Moore's movie: that the issues are crucial, and we need to vote Bush out. That's what Fahrenheit 9/11 is ultimately about. Dude, give me back my country.

    We agree, though, that the Israel link is important, and why it is, and why it shouldn't have been omitted from Fahrenheit 9/11. Good.

    (Oh, and Knipp, why not just try and discuss the film with me... pretend I've seen it if that helps... see if you can make me look terribly out-of-touch instead of just making that assumption a priori.)
    I'm not here to entertain or convince you alone. This thread is open to anybody. I can't "pretend" that you've seen a movie you refuse to see. As long as you haven't seen it, you're automatically "terribly out-of-touch" in any discussion of it in a fundamental way. I've had my say, and you've had your say; how about leaving the thread open for others to participate in?

    There's a whole lot in the movie that I haven't even touched on in my piece, and I don't want to narrow the discussion but widen it.

    DISCUSSION ON MY SITE OF THE MOVIE:
    http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?t=332

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    I've never closed any thread, Knipp, and I'm disappointed that you won't engage me in a discussion over the film. I've only encouraged discussion about the film--you, on the other hand, want to throw me out of the discussion even though I have capably addressed issues in the film to this point (albeit from a different perspective than yours). Very well: like the Eve of Destruction thread, I shall stay out of this thread too.
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    Michael Moore in his own words

    Here's some defence of his own film, from the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly:

    "I'm ready for anyone (who's looking for threadbare weaknesses). I'm really ready for them this time.
    That's right. F--- with me and I've got the chief motherf---er: Dennis Lehane. I don't get sued because my facts are correct."


    About the scenes he shows of Iraqis "enjoying life" before the bombing began:"In 20 seconds I show a child in a barbershop, a young boy flying a kite, a couple getting married. People having lunch in a cafe. Anyone who takes that and says that I'm trying to say that Saddam's Iraq was some utopia is just a crackpot. We killed a lot of civilians. They were just human beings who were just trying to get on with their daily lives. I didn't need to state the obvious."

    About his critics: "There are two Michael Moores- there's the one the right-wing lunatics have created- the fictional Michael Moore, the one they make stuff up about, and then there's me. This time, I'm gonna start suing. If you libel me, if you knowingly tell a lie and do it with malice, I. Will. Sue. You."

    About calling Bush a deserter: "look at the legal definition. Under 30 days is AWOL, over 30 days is DESERTER. He didn't show up anywhere from 8 months to a year and a half. I would never say he hates America or is a traitor. "

    About the notorious footage of Bush in the classroom: "I'm telling you, we're being kind to Bush. You should see the longer version where I let it run for, like, three of the seven minutes. It is painful. PAINFUL!


    and Moore clears the air over the "who screwed me" voiceover:
    "Clearly he's not thinking that. I'm imagining that in a satirical voice. I libel no one. My opinions may or may not be correct, but let's have that debate."

    Are you listening anduril?
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    I've been listening, Johann, but I don't think you've been listening.
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    There's a spirituality in films, even if it's not one which can supplant faith
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    Uh huh.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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