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Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) Print E-mail
Friday, 25 June 2004
The tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001 turns out to be merely one factor among many in documentarian Michael Moore’s ambitious “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which uses both footage from various sources and audio commentary that encompasses everything from the hotly debated 2000 presidential elections to President Bush’s decision proceed with a visit to a classroom full of children (shown here in video footage) even after he is informed about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center to relatively recent casualties (seen in fairly graphic footage) on both sides in Iraq.

Moore has several overall points. One is that the current U.S. government, headed by President George W. Bush is (to put it very mildly) doing a bad job of running the country. Another is that the U.S. administration, headed by Bush, used the events of Sept. 11 to justify actions that have cost lives and have not proved to be directly related to apprehending/punishing/stopping the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks. A third theme is that a number of U.S. officials, President Bush among them, have so many personal financial ties to foreign businesses and governments (particularly the Saudi oil industry) that there are questions of whether their policies are designed to benefit American citizens or the big-bucks overseas business interests. Moore also illustrates things like some rather odd fallout from the anti-terrorist policies (time and manpower expended on infiltrating a pacifist group in Fresno who seem less threatening that the average gathering of “Star Trek” fans) and the agony of a Michigan woman whose eldest son is killed in the line of military duty in Iraq.

Moore’s ironic, gently humorous tone is on the one hand entertaining, yet sometimes feels a little patronizing. There are moments when it feels as though Moore is so taken with a particular notion that he runs with it, even though it may not entirely flow from or even contradict something that he’s shown earlier. For instance, it’s hard to reconcile his depiction of Bush as both calculating and oblivious – there’s only so dumb you can be before you can’t really plot anything.

Still, there is an impressive amount of documentation here – U.S. troops in combat situations (viewers should be aware that the footage includes shots of grievous wounds to the living and the dead), the President and other elected officials in a variety of public appearances and even former Vice-President Al Gore having to preside over a session that effectively makes it impossible for the Florida vote to be decided in his favor. Some of the footage is pretty telling. No matter what was going on in President Bush’s mind, one can argue (as Moore does) that as the President of the United States, he should have immediately at least gone into conference with his advisors when he was given news of the first plane striking the tower, rather going ahead with the visit to the elementary school classroom until he received word of the second attack. (Perhaps even more surprising is that President Bush did not apparently realize the significance of the fact that his seven minutes of non-reaction in the classroom was being videotaped for posterity.) Mercifully, Moore does not include the by now extremely familiar and still devastating footage of the towers being hit and falling – he uses darkness, sound and some footage from the street to briefly tell us what we know, then moves on to show us things we haven’t yet seen. Moore tries to get so much information and diverse elements in that it’s a little dizzying by the end, but he certainly makes a case that the government’s actions past and present have enormous impact not only on the obvious (the lives of U.S. military personnel and their families and the lives of civilians in countries where the U.S. sends in military force), but also things we wouldn’t normally hear about. He also implies some things that remain unstated and goes for the occasional cheap shot (a clip integrating Bush into “Bonanza” is plain old mockery – fine if you’re “Saturday Night Live,” not so much if you’re lodging a serious complaint about someone else’s distracting spin tactics), but much of what’s on the record here is eye-widening. It would be interesting to hear either the Administration’s explanation for or refutation of the film’s well-documented assertion that the U.S. government flew 24 members of the bin Laden family out of the U.S. two days after Sept. 11, when most U.S. citizens were still grounded due to the suspension of regular air traffic.

The technical quality is overall very good, especially considering the wide variety of diverse sources of the sound and imagery found here. Moore effectively uses rock music to augment and/or comment on the mood in some sequences, and obligingly provides the hardcore anthem actually played by some U.S. tank crews (per their comments in interviews) as they go into battle.

It’s hard to imagine anybody going in to see “Fahrenheit 9/11” with a completely open mind. People who support President Bush will likely be offended; people who agree with Moore in general may feel that he doesn’t go far enough; people who don’t like Moore’s manner but don’t like Bush either will have an interesting time sorting out their reactions. People somewhere in the middle are likely to find it thought-provoking (and possibly argument-inciting). However one views it, “Fahrenheit 9/11” is a compelling document of the last several years that manages to get across a massive amount of information in two hours – it isn’t all-inclusive, but it manages to be both confrontational and fairly comprehensive, two qualities that don’t often go together.

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