Sunday, June 27, 2004

Didja Hear Michael Moore Has a New Movie Out?

I saw "Fahrenheit 9/11" last night. As a regular Salon reader and a guy who generally consumes tales of right-wing chicanery the way other men devour pornography, it didn't really tell me a great deal that I hadn't heard already. But the presentation is the feature here, and there were two new things I'd never seen before:

1) The day in January 2001 when Al Gore, as outgoing President of the Senate, certified the election returns that robbed him of the White House, and had to turn away the complaints of multiple African-American members of Congress who had sworn out complaints, because no Senator would co-sign. Poignant stuff. (I have heard that it was Gore's own request that stayed the hands of Senators who might otherwise have certified the complaints; it did occur to me that the late Paul Wellstone probably wouldn't have backed down from this particular fight. If this is true, then Leo Durocher was right: Nice guys really do finish, if not last, then lecturing at NYU and sitting at home in Tennesee.)

2) all the footage from Iraq. I know Moore didn't get it himself--a point he should have made in the film--and again it's not really anything I hadn't read about. But it's very different reading about Iraqi women wailing in the remains of their destroyed homes, and then seeing it on-screen. Maybe this is my own thing; I just finished reading Daniel Ellsberg's memoir Secrets, about the Vietnam War and the release of the Pentagon Papers, and I couldn't stop thinking about the commonalities: the arrogance of "liberating" a people who don't want you there, the transparent dishonesty as to both motives and tactics, the ugly truth that those who fight and die are, overwhelmingly, those with the least stake in our society. Fifteen months ago when the war was just underway, I felt torn between my fundamental distrust of this administration and a feeling of sympathy with the arguments Paul Berman and others made that the U.S. should use its power to promote freedom in the world; with the benefit of hindsight, I am coming closer to the conclusion that we never, ever should have chosen this fight.

If you haven't yet seen it... well, you should. "F9/11" isn't the masterpiece Moore's most ardent fans are presenting it as, but it is a compelling and upsetting film, an effective piece of propaganda despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that Moore's editorial slant really couldn't be more pronounced: the musical choices, the shots of Bush administration figures applying makeup before the cameras go on and taking off their microphones after finishing their talking points; the selective images of Iraqis and U.S. soldiers at their most aggrieved and aggressive, respectively.

On the other hand, there are a lot of other points of evidence he could have included in his case here, but did not: you'll find nothing about torture in this film (the words "Abu Ghreib" are not mentioned); nothing about Ahmad Chalabi and the distorted intelligence of the "Office of Special Plans"; and virtually nothing about the tormented history of this collection of ethnic groups and tribes some drunken Englishman named "Iraq" about 85 years ago. In the place of these points (which, contrary to what you might think, were there to be made in early 2004 when he was finishing this film), he deploys fairly irrelevant and IMO ineffective antics like those he used to much better effect in "Roger and Me."

I don't think this film will change many minds, but I did leave the theater with an even stronger sense than usual that we must do everything, everything we can to throw these warmongers and shameless profiteers out of office this November. Of course, I was already onboard; maybe a bigger deal is that Sunday night, my mom--my very apolitical mother, who hasn't voted in years and who, despite her youthful left-ish idealism, found herself in broad agreement with reactionary Texas Senator Phil Gramm upon hearing him on TV eight years or so ago--called me in outrage after seeing the movie. If Moore has created something that can reach the politically disaffected, then he might come a lot closer to his stated goal of influencing this year's vote than I would have thought possible.

No comments: