But he is, most of all, a magnificent creature.
If he weren't real, we'd have to create him.
For the record, I by and large sympathize with Michael Moore's politics, but I'll also be the first to admit that sometimes I wish we weren't on the same "YAY! Working Class!" side. He's a gadfly, to be sure. Sometimes he makes mountains out of molehills. Sometimes I can't figure out his point.
But I've followed his career starting with Roger & Me, through The Awful Truth on Bravo, through Bowling for Columbine (not his best work), and now this.
Short review: Amazing film. An astounding piece of propaganda that will be studied for years to come right next to Triumph of the Will.
Michael Moore is not so much for Kerry as he is against Bush. His stated intention has always been that he hopes this film is instrumental in getting Bush tossed out on his ear. To that end, the DVD will be released in September with hours of additional footage that didn't make it into the film.
What is most especially clear in the film is that Moore's been gunning for GeeDubbya for four years since Florida debacle.
And the killer is: the Bushiviks in power have given Michael Moore all the rope he needs to hang 'em all in this film.
Getting into Fahrenheit 9/11 yesterday proved impossible since all shows in two theaters were sold out from the get-go. I did stick around with coffee to watch people leave and gauge reaction.
There's nothing more frightening than seeing a cross-section of people: from disreputable liberals, senior citizens, high school students with parents, and people who look like they should be members in good standing with the Republican Party walking out of a theater with that grim look of blood in their eyes.
Someone somewhere is going to pay and pay big.
I'm just glad it's not me.
Anyway, I decided to haul my ass to the 10:45 a.m. showing figuring I'd get in, no problem.
I had to stand in line.
People in front of me were buying 16 tickets, 30 tickets, 20 tickets (no shit!) for later shows.
Hell, the 10:45 a.m. show was almost sold out by the time the film started.
As for that R rating? Heh. Parents were bringing their kids into the film. Whole fucking families were camping out in the lobby when I left.
I chatted with the exhausted concession stand employees and they were already wild-eyed at the number of people coming in to see a morning showing. According to them, almost all showings were sold out yesterday. The end of every showing ends with rousing applause and sometimes standing ovations.
They had to add an 11:00 pm showing for the duration.
As one girl put it, "We didn't even have to do that for The Piano when it won Oscars."
Her boss added, "And we're a small theater (the West Newton Cinema) and this is happening to us. I gotta wonder what Chestnut Hill (the AMC theater a few miles away) is going through."
Like I said, the 10:45 a.m. showing wasn't sold out, but the theater was full. Mostly adults, a smattering of high schoolers and junior high schoolers. Some of the "regular" senior citizens were overheard (by me) remarking that they'd never seen the theater this full on a Saturday morning showing.
It was a pretty good cross-section, pretty much like Friday night.
Anyway, for a detailed review, check out behind the LJ cut.
As I pointed out above, Fahrenheit 9/11 is a propaganda piece. A well-researched, carefully fact-checked movie, yes. But still propaganda. However, no one can accuse Moore of lying or false advertising. He's said that's the movie's point: to get you pissed off at the current administration. And, like any other Moore movie, you go in knowing his biases.
About 90% of the film consists of facts I already knew. Hell, anyone who's read the papers for 3-and-a-half years should probably know this stuff. This is the first time that it's been gathered in one spot for a damning 2 hours and 5 minutes.
Side note: One of my favorite segments in the film is a little old lady in a retirement home ranting that Halliburton has won yet another contract and the no one is doing anything about it. Word up: when little old ladies smell the bullshit and are ranting to their friends over a friendly card game, you know there's trouble a-brewin' for Bush. I'm pretty sure the Medicare situation ain't winning him friends in the AARP set.
Because I was aware of Moore's biases, I went in keeping in mind what I knew and I didn't see anything that could be termed an outrageous claim. If anything, Moore went a little easy on Bush. He certainly could've made more claims than he did, but I have a feeling that he was sticking strictly with what he could proove using major news sources. A casual search on Google would certainly get you an armload of cites that would back up the claims Moore makes in this movie. This is probably a smart move on his part.
In addition, Moore's critics are going to be hard-pressed to call Moore unpatriotic. If anything, he goes out of his way to give soldiers currently in Iraq, soldiers going through the VA system, and grieving families (I'll get to that in a minute) their voice. He further points out that many of these soliders are either working class or lower economic strata. If anything, this one element of the movie gives it a certain bullet-proof aura by underscoring that his criticism of the regime and the war in no way extends to the people who are getting shot at. If anything, we are asked to spare some sympathy for these people who got stuck in the middle.
Another smart thing Moore did is limit himself (mostly) to voice-overs. He's onscreen three times and only pulls one lame-ass stunt. The first onscreen is an interview across the street from the Saudi embassy that earns him a visit from uniformed Secret Service asking him politely what he's doing. They don't shoo him away and in fact the Secret Service guy seems distinctly amused by Moore's presence.
The lame-ass stunt was hiring an ice cream truck to drive around the capitol building so he could read the odious and Orwellian Patriot Act over the loudspeaker.
The third onscreen, which occurs near the end of the film, is trying to convince Congress people to get their kids to enlist in the military (he notes that only one rep has a kid serving in Iraq). A lot of them run so fast from the idea that it would make your head spin.
The limit on Moore's trademark shenanigans make it a stronger film overall.
If anything, this film most definitely deserved the Palm d'Or, not for its content, but because it is masterfully put together. The editing is breakneck amazing, the musical cues can make you laugh: I especially loved the Cocaine riff that plays as Moore's camera lovingingly lingers over Bush's military record and the Theme from the Greatest American Hero during the unfortunate Bush-lands-a-plane-and-declares-victory-i
The film starts before 9/11 with the Florida recount. The most astounding segment in this part of the film is seeing Al Gore preside over Congress as it certifies the election for Bush. Representative after representative comes to the podium to protest, holding petitions from constiuents, calling Gore "Mr. President." But, because they aren't able to get a single senator to sign on to their protests (they only needed one!) Gore has to gavel them into order and remind them of the rules: they can't protest unless one Senator backs them. It's no wonder Gore is a poltical bitterista: his own party didn't have the balls to even back protests in Congress.
Another segment that has everyone talking is the My Pet Goat segment. It is devastating and I almost felt sorry for Bush as he sat in the classroom with a vacant "Oh Shit!" look on his face. My sympathy isn't really up there for Bush simply because he was told about the first strike against the Twin Towers before he entered the classroom and he went in anyway. He was told about the second strike while in the classroom and sat there another seven minutes. We now know, thanks to the 9/11 Commission and Richard Clarke's book, that there was confusion and chaos while people were feverishly working out what was going on. While it's hard to see what Bush could've done, maybe he should've excused himself from the photo-op to at least get in contact with the White House.
This segment is immediately followed by what I call a master-stroke of filmmaking on Moore's part: that now-famous two minutes of complete darkness while only the audio of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers with sounds of buildings crumbling and panicked people screaming. When the picture turned back on, all we saw were reactions of people in the street as they stare at the horror unfolding before their eyes and paper fluttering down around them. New Yorkers were sobbing, holding each other, collapsed on the ground right where they were. This segment as we watched the horror reflected in people we could recognize as real people had the audience around me (and me) sobbing in their seats.
Right about there, you knew this wasn't gonna be the light-hearted romp like Roger & Me, it wasn't going to be prankish like The Awful Truth, and it was going to lack the sometimes hysterical polemic that governed Bowling for Columbine.
I've heard critics say that Moore was trying to "have it both ways" in the movie, by claiming we shouldn't be in Iraq to begin with and that we didn't have enough troops there.
That's not exactly true.
Moore's point was that we didn't send enough troops to Afganistan and that we shouldn't be in Iraq at all. As one person in the film pointed out: New York City has more police officers than Afganistan had soldiers looking for Osama bin Laden. Moore's other point was that for an administration that was hell-bent on "pacifying" Iraq, they didn't actually think about the logistics of what it would take to occupy a hostile country full of people who don't want us there.
As an ex-reporter, I was especially discomforted as Moore shows with some masterful cuts the cheerleading section made up of the American media. It seems like not one person in any major news network made any attempt to look at this thing with a smidgeon of objectivity. (cue Dan Rather's comment: "When my country's at war, there's only one side to be on." Geee, thanks Dan!) The sad thing is, this is probably why Moore was able to go relatively easy on GeeDubbya: our fourth estate hasn't really been doing its fucking job. By comparison, Moore's waving a bloody knife on the steps of the capitol even though he's not using anything anyone could call obscure as a source.
The strength of the film is giving the soldiers a voice. One soldier points out that he earns $2,000 a month while the Halliburtan-hired truck drivers earn $8,000 to $10,000 a month. (Direct quote from soldier: "There is something wrong with that.") Soldiers who are at first all "boo-yah!" at the beginning followed by soldiers who've seen their tours extended again and again as it sinks in what war and fighting for your life actually means.
Yes, there are images of dead and injured Iraqi children. And yes, thre are some quick shots of Iraqi prisoners being belittled by troops. The one segment that causes a chill up your spine is when an older, grieving woman whose relatives are dying around her thanks to the bombings beats her breasts and begs Allah to alternatively protect her and her family, rain down revenge on the people destroying her life, and asks him where the the hell he is while his people are dying. It's hard to watch and it leaves you squirming in your seat.
The most powerful part of the film is in the last third when it focuses on the soldiers and their families. There are some uncomfortable moments as soldiers describe the music they play while shooting, the treatment of some prisoners (although nothing nearly as bad as we've seen out of Abu Gharib), the midnight search of a family's house while the occupants cringe and cry and beg to know what their son/brother did wrong, the sometimes brutal attitude of the soldiers. These negative moments are carefully balanced: one soldier who demands Rumsfeld's resignation, one soldier who says that when you kill someone you loose part of your soul, another who points out that this ain't Playstation time because there are real consequences to pulling the trigger, the soldier above who is most definitely underpaid, and the officer who accompanies Moore in his "capitol recruitment drive" who says that after one tour in Iraq, he'd rather face courtmarshall than go back.
It is further balanced by interviews with the still snapshot of flag-drapped coffins, families burying their dead in Arlington, and permanently wounded and scared soldiers struggling through the VA system. Moore artfully points out that the sacrifices of these men and women are being swept under the rug by the media and are forgotten by the current administration as it cuts VA benefits and pay for soldiers.
But the crowning achievement, and the bookend to our grieving Iraqi woman is Flint resident Lila Lipscomb. I was well-aware of this segment before I walked into the movie but absolutely nothing can prepare you for the power of this segment. I've read accusations that Moore "bullied" Lipscomb on camera. Bullshit. At no point did I get the feeling she was pushed or pressured. Without a doubt she volunteered all the way.
Lipscomb's family is full of military people and she considers herself a conservative Democarat and "backbone" of America. She works as an executive assistant at a social services agency and between herself and her husband, she can barely make ends meet. She's had a daughter in Operation Desert Storm and her son was killed April 2 when his Blackhawk helicopter went down. When we first meet her, she explains that she'd always steered her children to a military career to help them pay for college, so this is a case of a very patriotic woman who felt she was doing her duty.
However, when she read her son's final letter, a letter that was distinctly anti-Bush and openly questioning of why the hell he was in Iraq, once again the audience (and me) collapsed into sobs as she slowly crumbled in front of the camera. Her quiet pride in her son and the pain of the loss is so raw and visceral that it's painful to watch. Her husband showed a real generosity of spirit by saying that yes, bad for their family, but he really feels sorry for the families who are going through what their family went through in April.
The real stake to the heart is when Lipscomb is in Washington DC for a conference and calls Moore to accompany her to the White House. Watching this woman in her not-very-expensive clothing nearly collapse in tears and heartbreak on Pennsylvania Avenue is heart-wrenching in the extreme. It's a perfect bookend in a way: She got the pox on all our houses for us and, Moore seems to say, she's throwing it right where it belongs: on the front lawn of the White House.
There are a million moments in this movie that are disturbing, disheartening, and sad. I've skipped over a lot of it because, hey, not a professional reviewer here. But feel free to toss me questions.
The film definitely makes you laugh uproarously. It makes you weep uncontrollably. I can only say: go and see it for yourself and make up your own mind. I can't stress that enough.
And yes, there was applause at the end of my showing.