Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Movie: Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)

I know. I’m late to the party. But I gave up being Mr. First Nighter years ago. Fanboys get on my nerves. And that includes crunchy granola, NPR-tote-bag-clutching fanboys. I’ll try to be brief. Wish me luck.

It’s gotten so you can’t shoot your mouth off about certain movies without making a 12-step-style qualification first. (“Hi, I’m Vince, I’m a lapsed Catholic and I thought the violence in THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST overrode whatever spiritual message it had.”) Even admitting that you’ve seen said movies invites preconceived notions, behavior I’m guilty of myself. It was almost enough to make me buy a ticket to ANCHORMAN and then scuttle into Michael Moore’s movie instead. If people are going to judge me on the basis of my ticket stub, I want them to think: he’s an American. If, like me, you’d like to keep politics to a minimum around here, feel free to skip the next paragraph.

On Michael Moore: I loved ROGER & ME and his early TV stuff, but found his public persona obnoxious. I didn’t see BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE in the theater because I expected a one-note anti-gun screed. What I eventually got was a thoughtful, nuanced look at a far more pressing problem, America’s culture of fear. It deserved to win the Oscar, but Moore’s acceptance speech irked me. Especially because he’d delivered it verbatim at the Independent Spirit Awards the day before. (Hire a writer if you’re so busy. I’m available.) On George W. Bush: I didn’t vote for him, but I wasn’t thrilled about the guy I did vote for. And I’m not talking about Ralph Nader.

Whew. And now that that’s out of the way: the movie’s a bust.

As a polemic it’s scattershot, hopping from the Florida recount to Bush’s finances to a ground-level look at the war in Iraq. Its argument never coheres and consists of ancient left-wing shibboleths. A few still have currency: a volunteer army that draws primarily from the lower class does have a real societal impact. But most are simply embarrassing. The fact that everyone in the oil bidness knows everyone else, and that they all have links to various governments, does not constitute a conspiracy. And the notion that, as a result of these relationships, President Bush is more beholden to these interests than the American people is insulting. Moore’s logic isn’t consistent from film to film. It’s disingenuous to make a movie dissecting media manipulation only to follow it up with one that elbows the audience in the ribs and says, “Hey! You’re being manipulated!”

As a movie, it’s boring. Moore knows how to make the most of found footage, and there’s some clever use of music. But anyone who’s been paying attention to current events will soon find their mind wandering. Perhaps, like mine, it will take up the question of the movie’s Palme d’Or win at Cannes. Jury head Quentin Tarantino says the decision was not political, that FAHRENHEIT won because it was the best film in competition. Nonsense. I’ve sat through plenty of festival crap in my time, and I find it impossible to believe that there wasn’t one movie about gay cowboys eating pudding, to quote Eric Cartman, that made better use of the medium than Moore’s jumbled agitprop. I have no problem with the Cannes jury honoring the film. But they should have had the balls to admit why they did it.

Will the movie affect the November election? Considering that attention spans are so limited that we’re already nostalgic for the ‘90s, I’d say the odds are against it. But I admire Moore for raising tough questions, especially when the media has abdicated that responsibility. They are the true villains of this film. (Why did it take three years for the infamous footage of Bush on the morning of 9/11 to surface? And when it did, how did it end up in a documentary? By what definition is the President’s reaction to a breaking crisis not news?) Say what you will about Michael Moore, but in an age when people hide behind bottom-line concerns and Internet pseudonyms, he’s putting his name and reputation on the line for matters he believes in. Which makes him an asset to the country.

Even when his movies aren’t good.