Now, Other Charlotte, I was with you when you saw Fahrenheit 9/11–and you, like me, got bored somewhere during the part when the wicked Marine recruiter tries to line up prole kids to die in Iraq, and we both decided to walk out of the film a little early. You can’t tell me you just loved that movie! (See TOC’s take, Intrepid Inkies Go to “Fahrenheit 9/11“, today below.)
That was the problem with Michael Moore’s new flick. It had exactly one point to make–George W. Bush is bad, and so is everyone else in his administration–and it hammered it home over and over and over. As the movie churned through its high points–Dubya’s sparse National Guard records, the so-called “stolen” 2000 election, the bombing of little children in Iraq–without much change of tone, I started to shift restlessly in my seat at the plush Loew’s theater in Georgetown. Plus, whenever TOC or I let out a gasp of mock-horror at one of Moore’s breathless revelations–that, for example, Dubya had the gall to take a vacation during August, 2001–the limo-libs in the seats next to us would flash us dirty looks.
Admittedly, there was some genuinely funny stuff in this movie. I loved the “Dragnet” intercutting: the scenes of Joe Friday demanding “just the facts, ma’m” interspersed with reminders that the Bush administration let members of the Bin Laden family fly out of the country right after Sept. 11 without questioning them about Cousin Osama. (Although I couldn’t help noticing that Moore failed to present any evidence that the other Bin Ladens knew anything about the terrorists attacks. There was never a smoking gun–or even a gun.) The biggest laugh that Moore extracted out of me came from another bit of undercutting, as Moore tried to make the point that the press gave Bush a free ride over his supposed slow response to the Sept. 11 tragedy. “What if Bill Clinton had acted like that?” intoned Moore’s voice-over. Then followed two swift black-and-white intercuts: Clinton’s lubriciously grinning bobble-head, followed by some old-movie footage (“The Crucible,” perhaps?) of a mob of angry Puritans with burning brands in their hands. TOC and I guffawed, and so did the rest of the audience.
The problem with “Fahrenheit 9/11” is that it never gets around to making a case to prove its cynical main point: that Bush and his cronies in the oil business cynically manipulated both the U.S. response to Sept. 11 and the invasion of Iraq so as to get a pipeline across Afghanistan and access to Iraq’s petroleum deposits. So Moore tries guilt by association. We learn that Bush’s Texas family is in the oil business–and so are the Bin Ladens! Bush’s father, G.H.W. Bush, gets daily briefings as a former president from the CIA! His son had Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar over to the White House for dinner!
Moore also wants to have it both ways with Bush. In one scene Moore will insinuate that the president is a bumbling, smirking fool; in the next scene, he’ll paint Bush as an evil mastermind. Fool or mastermind? Make up your mind, Michael. Similarly, on the one hand, says Moore, the U.S. government overdid the security precautions after Sept. 11, to the point of confiscating one poor mother’s bottle of her own breast milk at the airport. One the other hand, says Moore, the government, didn’t do enough, failing to fund the Oregon Highway Patrol to monitor that state’s coastline. The government is faulted for failing to be zealous enough in looking for terrorists before Sept. 11.–and also for being overzealous in looking for them after Sept. 11. Moore’s point seems to be that any stick will do, as long as it beats up Bush. When all else fails, let’s show Bush being made up for the television cameras! That’ll make him look stupid!
As TOC notes, Moore isn’t interested in building a logical, or even a plausible case against Bush. “Fahrenheit” preaches strictly to the converted; it’s aimed at those who already despise the 43rd president and are thus willing to suspend not just disbelief but all critical faculties. Getting a cheap laugh out of Bush’s seven-minute hesitation after learning about the Sept. 11 attacks (and remember that he was in a classroom full of small chilldren when an aide whispered the news in his ear): that’s a trick designed to appeal only to sniggering Euro-intellectuals at Cannes and their epigone wannbes among the American intelligentsia. Not surprisingly, then, the elite film-critical establishment has slavered over “Fahrenheit” and proffered every imaginable excuse for its intellectual cheesiness and fundamental dishonesty. (See my Raves for Michael Moore, Pans for Mel Gibson, July 1.)
By the time TOC and I walked out, Moore was straying into Tokyo Rose territory. There were scenes of the charred bodies strung up on the Fallujah bridge, there was talk of “the highest number of combat deaths since Vietnam” (that’s comparing Iraq’s 875 deaths to Vietnam’s 52,000, by the way), there was the intimation that the U.S. government was luring blue-collar youths to certain (and by Moore’s lights, deserved) slaughter. That was the point of the Marine scene. The kids the Marine was trying to recruit were black, the mother of the slain soldier whose lament Moore films is black, and the movie’s message was: You’re being sent to die for white men’s oil. That’s when TOC and I decided we’d had it.
Fortunately, I don’t think many blue-collar people are going to flock to “Fahrenheit 9/ll.” It wasn’t made for them. And here’s another thing I noticed about the elite Georgetown crowd that filled the theater when I saw the movie: It wasn’t laughing a whole lot, either, and maybe it, too, was a mite enervated by Moore’s one-note propaganda tune. Even the dreaded Bush wasn’t quite drawing the desired response.