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I just saw Fahrenheit 9/11...

...so I can finally answer therealjae's rant/blather suggestion. Note: Spoilers follow. Tell me what you think of Michael Moore. :-)

Before I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 I figured I was going to say that Michael Moore reminds me of Oprah, only without the emphasis on weight loss. They seem similar to me because they both tend to bring up important subjects in emotionally manipulative and superficial ways, and then drop them leaving you wondering what that was about and what to do next. Another reason they remind me of each other is that the only Oprah show I've watched in recent memory had Barry Glassner, author of Culture of Fear, as a guest. Barry Glassner and Culture of Fear also figured heavily in Moore's Bowling for Columbine. (In fact, the Glassner-inspired portions of Bowling for Columbine were the only parts of the movie I thought were worth the celluloid they were printed on.)

I really, really don't like some of Moore's dissembling/lying. I was disgusted by the thing he pulled regarding the distribution of this film, implying that Disney's Miramax had promised to distribute the film and then reneged, and then admitting they had never really promised to distribute it in the first place.

I was fairly impressed with Fahrenheit 9/11. But I'll start with the negative stuff. The movie is 2 hours and 9 minutes long, but it felt like it was about 2 weeks long. Moore is still up to a bunch of his old tricks that I find tedious or embarrassing, like chasing Representatives around trying to get them to sign up their children for tours in Iraq, and using the grief of mothers who've lost their children to manipulate the audience (that part of this movie disturbed me quite a bit...I kept imagining her waking up five years from now and being furious that she was used...probably just a projection of course).

But the movie didn't feel as much like a dancing bear as Bowling for Columbine did - most of the political performance art sequences were brief and used in service to larger points, rather than being ends in themselves; and Moore himself mostly stayed out from in front of the camera. He narrated the movie and occasionally was shown interviewing someone, but he wasn't in almost every shot the way he has been in some of his previous films. Although I still had the uncomfortable feeling that Moore was patronizing most of the people he interviewed, even the ones on his side, I didn't so often have the feeling that he was making fun of them. Overall I felt that Moore had matured somewhat stylistically, perhaps related to the fact that he is taking on a larger, more serious subject. And he's using some of his trademark stylistic elements in nimbler ways. I liked some of his use of brief song riffs in this film, especially the use of a certain J.J. Cale tune.

I've shielded myself from much of the mainstream news since 9/11, so most of the TV footage that made up much of the film, was new to me. Made me glad I don't usually watch TV news programs. There's something about watching TV news or listening to politicians' rhetoric that feels like being attacked by bees.

I also hadn't followed the money to the evidence of longstanding financial ties between the Bush family and the Bin Laden family, although I know that information is available in a number of places, including Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. Moore set up the evidence here pretty carefully. This part of Moore's movie reminded me of a Dickens novel - all these people kept popping up in multiple places and turning out to be distant cousins of multiple other people.

I knew already about pretty much everything else Moore covered, thanks to my access to alternative news sources and lots of intelligent fellow left-leaning sorts. I liked that Moore spend a lot of time showing how the "war on terror" and the terror alerts are being used to manipulate people to be afraid so they'll give up their liberties and be willing to support pre-emptive wars. I'm glad he is continuing to deal with the theme of fear (which BfC also dealt with) because I think it's a really important one.

I liked that Moore continued his efforts to put lots of different kinds of people into his films - old, young, various cultures and classes.

One bit from the "horrors of war" part of the movie was a surprise to me: Some of the soldiers he interviewed had some of the most articulate and emotionally moving statements in the movie. (I don't mean I'm surprised that soldiers are articulate; I mean I'm surprised that Moore chose to portray that.) A couple of them also said some of the most frightening things - he really brought home the extremes that war brings out in people.

So I guess I could summarize that although I still don't trust Moore, I've added a certain amount of grudging respect to my opinion of him, and I'll be watching with a bit more interest to see what he gets up to next.

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
epi_lj
Jun. 30th, 2004 05:14 am (UTC)
I really do think he's improving, although I wouldn't go so far as grudging respect just yet. I still feel that it was an immensely manipulative film. Also, while he took great pains to set up the implications, he didn't take great pains to set up a lot of real evidence. Many of the links he made in the early portions of the film with regard to establishing a direct tie between Bush and Osama Bin Laden via the Bin Laden family, such as his argument for why we can't believe that the Bin Laden family has cut off ties with Osama (because one member had attended a wedding once -- you know, I go to lots of weddings of people I don't really like, often just as a "a member of the family should be there as a representative" thing) seemed to me more of the, "If you mention the two in the same sentence enough times, people will make the connection," ilk than hard evidence.

That said, I wonder who the target audience of the film is and whether or not they'll get much out of it's aboveboard purpose. I didn't encounter any news or surprises in it, nor did anybody I know who's seen it. I think that the very people most likely to go see the movie are the people who know all this stuff already. However, I think that the bit you didn't like with the grieving mother was probably the real crux of the movie's intended impact. While people might know the same information, there's a growing controversy around the death toll, and I think that this movie was primarily intended to push people's buttons *hard* on that issue. That's not an entirely invalid issue to be pushing buttons on, so that's not necessarily a complaint.

The movie does seem to have more focus than his previous films, and I did like that there was more content and less Moore.

I thought that the bit about asking politicians to sign their kids up to be sent to Iraq was one of the most ridiculous stunts in his career, though. I mean, first, who signs their kids up? Almost nobody. Mostly the kids sign themselves up. Second, who signs their kids up just on the spot like that, in the middle of the street? Third, who would sign their kid up via Michael Moore in the middle of the street rather than through a regular recruiting office? I mean, I think it'd be political suicide if nothing else: "Representative packs kid off to Iraq to save face in on-camera stunt." Like, it would be reprehensible. Also, how many representatives are there? I think he said four hundredish? And one of them has a kid in Iraq? How does that compare to the rest of the U.S. population? It might be incredibly low, but if you want to convince me, you need to show me that comparison.

Most of all, though, I'm curious as to what exactly a dancing bear feels like. ;)
firecat
Jun. 30th, 2004 08:53 am (UTC)
It was certainly a manipulative film, but you're not going to get anything other than a manipulative film out of Michael Moore. That didn't bother me as much this time because the film's agenda was clear from the get-go. BfC was presented as a film that was fair to both sides of the gun debate, which just wasn't so, even if Moore did have an NRA membership.

I don't think he was really trying to establish a direct tie between Bush and Osama Bin Laden; if so, he did it poorly. I thought his point was that there was a tie between the Bush family and the Bin Laden family, and the Bin Laden family is not completely estranged from Osama even though Osama is a wanted terrorist (from before 9/11), and that was a reason why Bush didn't really try to find Osama. But I think a far more compelling reason was that Bush didn't care to find Osama or thought Osama's being loose would be a benefit to him.

I am afraid you're right about the people who are seeing the movie - but my sweetie told me that a lot of people in middle America are seeing it because it's generated some controversy - and if it's top weekend box office, they pretty much have to have turned out in middle America - and I know (because some of my relatives there are conservatives) that some of them don't know all this stuff. I still kind of doubt that it's going to change the minds of many voters, but I suppose it's possible.

I agree that the death toll of the Iraq war is one of his primary points. I hope that his treatment of that helps turn some people against the war, even if I didn't like some of how he handled it.

Yeah, the stunt was ridiculous. I'm sure if anyone had signed his sheet of paper, he wouldn't have put it on camera, because what he wants out of those stunts is to have film of people walking away from him, implying they don't care about the issue he is raising. Those parts of his films always embarrass and anger me, and I end up feeling much more sympathetic to the people he is confronting than toward him or his issue. That was one reason I hated BfC: I felt that way about his interview with Charlton Heston.

I just bet you're curious what a dancing bear feels like! ;)
therealjae
Jun. 30th, 2004 06:45 am (UTC)
Very interesting, thank you.

I didn't hate Bowling for Columbine, but there were a lot of points where I was annoyed that he seemed to be deliberately setting up a point that was just one skew off from the truth (like when he was trying to convince people that Canadians didn't lock their doors). That not only annoyed me and made me lose respect for him, but it detracted from my enjoyment of the film because I spent a lot of brainpower trying to figure out why he was doing things that way.

I'm very glad Fahrenheit 9/11 was better. I really wanted it to be.

-J
wild_irises
Jun. 30th, 2004 06:55 am (UTC)
So it isn't true that Canadians don't lock their doors? I've been wondering about that since Bowling for Columbine.
therealjae
Jun. 30th, 2004 07:04 am (UTC)
My problem with that segment of the film was that Moore didn't distinguish between locking your doors when you're home, and locking your doors when you leave. He just said "Canadians don't lock their doors." Canadians mostly don't lock their doors when they're at home, but *always* do when they leave. (Some do lock them when they're at home, too, but inconsistently.) But Moore made it sound as if the locks on Canadian doors never get any use, and that's just plain wrong. It would have been so easy to do that segment in a way that was completely true, but he had to have it just one skew off from the truth, presumably for the shock value of the incorrect impression. I have so little respect for that.

As for me, I leave the front door locked most of the time not because I'm afraid someone's going to shoot me, but because my house is large, and someone might presumably walk in and steal something when I'm upstairs and can't hear them. I unlock it when I'm waiting for someone to arrive, so that they can let themselves in. And you know what? I did things the exact same way when I lived in the good ol' US of A.

-J
(Deleted comment)
firecat
Jun. 30th, 2004 02:44 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the "X killed in Y country" stats annoyed me too.

And I have no problem with people who aren't balanced in their political views. I just wish, like you, that they would present accurate, meaningful facts supporting their position, rather than nothing but vague, unsubstantiated, twisted implications. I mainly wish that because it seems to me that presenting facts would strengthen their arguments. Implications can be easily dismissed as such. (Although perhaps I'm entirely wrong about this when it comes to the population at large. Perhaps they are more swayed by implications than facts. It's not something I like to think about.)
therealjae
Jun. 30th, 2004 06:44 pm (UTC)
I don't expect -- or want -- fair and balanced from him. But I do wish he were more accurate. Accuracy and balance aren't the same thing.

-J
(Deleted comment)
therealjae
Jun. 30th, 2004 08:27 pm (UTC)
Huh. Interesting datapoint. Thanks.

-J
firecat
Jun. 30th, 2004 08:34 am (UTC)
Hehe. Yeah, I know what you mean about spending brainpower. And besides, a lot of Americans don't lock their doors (when they're home) either. That wasn't a good example of a huge difference between Canadians and Americans, if you ask me.
red_frog
Jun. 30th, 2004 10:32 am (UTC)
I know some Americans who don't lock their doors when they leave, too. :) I haven't seen Bowling, but I've got to agree that that does not sound like a good argument to support the proposition that Canada is safer than the United States--I assume that that was his point.
firecat
Jun. 30th, 2004 10:36 am (UTC)
His point was more that Canadians don't feel as fearful of crime as Americans, and that less fear translates to less gun violence even though many Canadians own guns.

I think, anyway.
(Deleted comment)
firecat
Jun. 30th, 2004 08:55 am (UTC)
Yeah, I think the only reason he pulls those stunts is to have film of people walking away from him, implying they don't care about the issues he's raising. If anyone of the politicians stood there and said "I support what you're doing" or "I don't have any children, you dickweed," I suspect it wouldn't have gotten into the film.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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