Gettin’ hot in here

Our lead film critic answers some of his own questions about Fahrenheit 9/11

POWER MEETING Filmmaker Michael Moore asks Congressman John Tanner (D-Tenn.) to send his kid to war in a scene from his latest documentary, <i>Fahrenheit 9/11</i>.

POWER MEETING Filmmaker Michael Moore asks Congressman John Tanner (D-Tenn.) to send his kid to war in a scene from his latest documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11.

Fahrenheit 9/11
Directed by Michael Moore. Rated R.
Rated 4.0

So—thumbs up on Michael Moore’s new movie?

Two thumbs mostly up, but also crossed….

Is that some kind of esoteric symbol?

I hope not. I just mean it as a sign of approval clouded somewhat by mixed feelings.

I’m guessing you’re one of us anti-Bush people who agree with Michael Moore but don’t entirely admire him and/or his work?

Maybe, but ‘anti-Bush” is only part of it. I applaud Moore’s efforts to show that our emperor has no clothes, so to speak, but I also worry that Moore’s mockery of George II, however well deserved, risks trivializing much more urgent matters. Bush II’s dim-bulb arrogance is a handy symbol for his shortcomings as the ostensible leader of the world’s only superpower, but replacing him with someone who is intelligent and articulate might not, by itself, solve anything.

But isn’t Fahrenheit 9/11 more than just an attack on, and/or critique of, George W?

Yes, it certainly is, and Moore’s appetite for ridicule at times becomes a distraction from that, within the film itself and within the mass-media traffic in personalities and celebrity, however bogus. The poster for the film says basically that ‘Moore vs. Bush” is what it’s all about, and that plays right into the hands of the right-wing commentators who are ready with hit-pieces on Moore’s personal failings and gives them a reprieve from any need to respond to the actual issues raised in the film.

Still, you were saying, there is some real substance there?

Well, a big portion of the film sketches the network of connections between the Bush family fortunes and the oil potentates in Saudi Arabia, including the bin Laden family, and cites peculiar contradictions and paradoxes in the recent histories of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. And it has telling glimpses of the disconnects between Bushism’s post-9/11 rhetoric and its actual practice—the delusory military strategy, the failure to provide adequate local funding for Homeland Security, the skimping on military pay and benefits, the unchecked profiteering, the hypocrisies of the Patriot Act, etc.

Did you feel the film makes a conclusive case on these matters?

It’s perhaps more concerned with provocation than with documentation, and so it’s less a documented position paper than an elaborate editorial cartoon, with sharp documentary elements and a feature-length running time. It makes no bones about being a slanted view of things, and while it’s least interesting when the slant is Moore indulging his penchant for sophomoric sarcasm, the film is at its best in the several sequences where Moore abstains from those facilely opinionated intrusions and lets the material speak for itself.

The Lila Lipscomb sequences being a prime example?

Yes, she is a particularly powerful part of the film—and not just as a pro-military mother who feels betrayed by the war that has taken her son’s life and convolutedly guilty over the role she has played in encouraging her children to find employment and career benefits in the military. She is also part of the film’s stinging indictment of the government’s callous exploitation of an army euphemistically labeled as “volunteer.”

Which also plays into a theme of the Iraq war as the government’s “war on America"?

Yes, and I think that is one of the more distinctive points of the film. Much of the stuff about the Bushes, the Saudis, Afghanistan, the Carlyle Group, etc., is already pretty well known to anybody getting the news from sources other than network television. But the notion of the power elite’s “war on America” comes across with particular incisiveness, and Moore links it up effectively with a notion recycled from Bowling For Columbine—the Bush-Ashcroft “war on terror” as a means of terrorizing the American population.

Can it still just be written off as election-year propaganda?

Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” episode on the aircraft carrier—that was pure propaganda. Moore’s film is a scrappy but persistent retort to the Bush propaganda machine—sometimes he’s just farting in the faces of Cheney and company, and other times he’s throwing potent challenges at the Bush administration’s advertisements for itself.

Will this film affect the course of the election?

It might galvanize some non-voters who haven’t been paying attention until now, but I’d have more confidence in the film’s effectiveness had Moore devoted some of his Bush-bashing energy to building some political bridges for our grievously polarized country instead.