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Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Comments

MercuryX23

Excellent review, Aaron. I really only disagree with your assessment of the opening credit shots of the Bush administration being made up. I do not believe that Moore is presenting these shots as a means of ridicule (with the exception of Wolfowitz using saliva as hair product). Along with the closing shots of the same people leaving their interviews, he is setting up his dramatis personae, the "bad actors" that he wishes to expose. By showing them in the moments before and after their scripted appearances, he is telling his audience that they are going to see the faces of Bushco in a different way than they normally do. He is going to strip away the make-up and show us the ugly faces. And he does just that.

The wife and I appreciate that you address that this is propaganda, BTW. When we left the theatre, we were discussing the film with a group of people and I commented that Moore is a first class propagandist in his ability to pull emotional strings. I meant this as a compliment, but a few people I was with believed the word propaganda to be a prejorative and quickly protested that it was in no way propaganda. Knowing the company I was in, I didn't press the issue, but the wife (who spends a great deal of time studying rhetoric and knows a thing or two about it) and I (who wrote the senior thesis for a "propaganda" major) were happy to agree with one another.

Oh, and I absolutely disagree with you about Bush's reaction in the classroom. You or I might have stood by not knwoing what to do. But you and I are fundamentally different from Bush (aside from the obvious superiority in intelligence) in that we have not been elected to lead the most powerful natiion in the world. I guarantee you that perhaps aside from James Buchanan, no other US president would sit idly by while the US was under attack. There are those out there who claim that Bush became a great leader on 9-11. I really believe this video proves otherwise.

Aaron

I wasn't excusing him for sitting by and doing nothing; I was saying that I understood why he did so and that the footage was a great example of how lost he looked. I was also trying to indicate that I wouldn't be surprised if he always remembers that moment and if his aggressiveness regarding everything related to 9/11 and then Iraq is possibly in some way overcompensation for the way he felt during those seven minutes.

As far as the credits, yours is a perfectly straightforward read of it with which I can't argue, except that I think you're not giving Moore enough credit for predicting his audience's reaction. There is no way he didn't think that people would laugh at those shots; that people would think that it was an example of these people trivializing the issues. The majority of the people in my theater laughed at every single moment (especially the Wolfowitz combing his hair shot), and I don't believe they were thinking, Look at the dramatis personae.

FIlmbrain

Very nice, well thought out review (even if you do disagree with the almighty Filmbrain!) On the issue of aesthetic – I saw a commercial the other night for this new Disney-released movie that appears to be nothing more than images of ‘nice’ Americans – at work and at play, and it includes people of all races and economic backgrounds in an attempt to emphasize the melting-pot aspect of America. It’s not about the content – it’s the images that will tell this story, and hopefully fill our hearts with national pride. (A quick aside – I learned today that the film was made by the Move America Forward group – the same group that launched a campaign to get theaters NOT to show F911.) While this is nowhere close to the fascist aesthetic of Riefenstahl, it’s using many of the same concepts – particularly that of heimat, love of the fatherland, as it were. Given that very little of F911 was shot by Moore, can he truly be credited with creating an aesthetic? I honestly don’t know if using found images and twisting them to yield a desired result (laughs, tears) can be considered the same as what Riefenstahl did. The presentation of the Nazi party in Triumph of the Will went a LONG way in their success.

You are absolutely right about those using the P-word as a means of criticism. Ludicrous.

Thank you SO much for bringing up the opening montage – you’re spot on with that as well. I felt that was a cheap shot by Moore, and as you pointed out, EVERYBODY has that done before going on camera. (Still, seeing Wolfowitz shove his comb in his mouth was kind of disgusting.)

Back to Moore and aesthetics for a moment – one thing that Moore has done that is very much his own (and perhaps equal to an aesthetic) is his unique style of agitprop that made up the bulk of his early films, and especially his two television shows (i.e., challenging the CEO of IBM to format a floppy disk, or driving around the deep south in a ‘sodomy van’.) There’s very little of that in this film, which surprised me a bit. Mind you, I didn’t miss it, but it definitely shows a change in Moore as a director.

Ultimately though, I think we agree about the film as a whole, and we both share the view that this probably won’t change many minds, nor will it likely have huge impact on the number of votes Kerry receives. There was a headline on the front page of The Onion a few weeks back that was unintentionally more true than humorous – “Many Americans Still Unsure Whom To Vote Against”.

karen

Now that's what you call an exhaustive posting. I liked many of your points, and again I'm impressed with your (and Filmbrain's as I mentioned on his posting) recall of details from the film.

My only issue is with your reading of the make-uping of Bushie, Rummy et al just after the credits. I thought that moment could be interpreted a few other ways, and with less of a prejorative critique of Moore's intent. It could be intended as a Brechtian device, ie. here are the actor's preparing for the play. Or it could be a comment on these individuals applying their "war paint" or putting on their masks. Mostly I just felt it was a nice touch, i think it should understood as a moment of these people's lives caught unawares, when they think they're not being observed.

Aaron

I'm actually fascinated that you (Karen) and Filmbrain had the same reading of the credits. As I mentioned in my earlier comment, though, while I agree that very well could be part of Moore's intent, I absolutely don't believe he did so with no idea of how the audience might react, and I would also venture to bet that most people in the audience, especially the ones laughing at each and every shot, thought to themselves, "Oh, it's the dramatis personae. He's so Brechtian." Or even, "Look at them putting on their war paint." It would be a very interesting survey to conduct, actually, outside a theater. But the giggles and laughter I witnessed was a visceral rather than thoughtful reaction, and based on Moore's other work and his fans reactions to such work, I believe he knows how they will react. The entire movie makes Bush look foolish, but it works when it's Bush making himself look foolish and Moore just edits it together. There would be plenty of other ways to introduce the cast of characters ... but they wouldn't have been comical. It's the only hands-down manipulation that I believe is a bit unfair only because literally everybody does it the same way.

Greg Dobbs


Aaron, your review is terrific. So was the juice I drank--- at your suggestion--- while reading it. Apricot, if you want to know.

The review is terrific because it matches my own feelings about the film, which I saw just last night (30 June). It is propaganda, but no more “unbalanced” than any newspaper column or talk radio monologue. This is something I understand fairly well since I have produced plenty of both. Propaganda is an expression of opinion, and Michael Moore’s opinion is that George W. Bush is in over his head, and we need to help him get out. By the way, that’s a “Coalition of the Willing” I happily support. If propaganda has a negative connotation, so be it. Those who applaud Michael Moore have negative emotions about Bush and, by and large, negative emotions about the Iraq war.

Personally I don’t mind the “malicious” digs at Bush & Co over the pre-TV makeup. Why not? Because as you have written, it sets them up visually for what we’re going to learn about them viscerally anyway. Sure, it’s just a filmmaker’s device, but an effective one. Their arrogance comes across with or without the makeup scenes, so why not include them?! However, you didn’t point to the more egregious device that gives the critics an opening to denounce the credibility of the whole film, namely, Moore’s speculation two or three times during the film about what Bush must be thinking. The most memorable is during those chilling seven minutes in the Florida classroom. Bush looks as distracted as any of us would, and while I agree with those who say the country was under attack for God’s sake and our leader should immediately have gone into consultation with his aides, he probably was not (as Moore suggests) thinking, “Maybe I shouldn’t have spent so much time on vacation.” It’s a bit hard to defend this film as a documentary when significant parts of it cannot be documented.

On the other hand, it is easy to praise it as a groundbreaking documentary when it includes so much footage we’ve never before seen, like Rumsfeld/Rice/Cheney etc explaining before September 11th that Saddam was not indeed a threat to our security! Or the grisly scenes from the war, which as a lifelong member of the media myself it pains me to say, our own media should have been showing us. (Credit to Moore and his organization, by the way, for their sometimes aggressive, sometimes clever, sometimes downright underhanded methods of collecting so many illustrative pieces of film.) I’ve heard Moore criticized for sparing us the oft-seen footage of the World Trade Centers collapsing, relying as you point out on the chilling sound and chilling faces of spectators, and the criticism has been along the lines of, “He knew if he showed us the actual scenes, we’d know full well why we have to fight this war!” Left unsaid by said critics is that the Bush administration has played the same game with the coffins of our war dead. I’ve always said, and tried to implement the theme in my own news reports, that if public policy cannot bear public scrutiny, then perhaps that policy is hollow.

Something else I’ve long said is that I can’t make a politician or anyone else in public life look foolish without his help! You mirrored that very thought by writing about “examples of Bush making himself look foolish with no help from Moore.” You also made a profound observation about the difference between leadership and bullying (“getting others to trust and follow you, versus stepping over everyone’s opinions and doing as you like.”). That attitude in Washington has cost us dearly, and serves perhaps as the single best reason to force change in November.

I do not agree, however, with your definition of the difference between liberals and conservatives--- that libs are somehow more tolerant of the other side’s views. In fact I don’t just disagree, which suggests two subjective points of view; I know you’re wrong. Having been in the media all my working life, including the “commentary” side for the last decade and a half, I’ve come across plenty of liberals as intolerant as the conservatives you describe, while I’ve seen plenty of conservatives who’re perfectly open-minded. I think you make the mistake many make, assuming that there’s some sort of genetic difference between liberals and conservatives. Nature or nurture?!

All in all, I like your review and like Fahrenheit 9/11. Sure it has flaws, and the most serious are the ones that allow Bush’s most fervent defenders to dismiss the film as fiction. But although Michael Moore is about ten times as liberal as I am, he and I share the same ultimate goal, so I allow him his small mistakes.

Aaron

Greg --

I appreciate your comments, but oy ... since you seem to have some minor comprehension problems, I feel the need to clear-up one or two things ... to everyone.

First, you seem to miss or misunderstand my point about the opening credits, and from a filmmaking perspective, I do not agree with you whatsoever as to what you consider a more "egregious device" -- Moore's speculation two or three times on Bush's thinking. My point about showing the film's cast (essentially) being made-up was that Moore was using a very specific manipulation of the audience to make these people look foolish when it simply wasn't necessary. He has plenty of examples of each of them looking ridiculous, but in presenting these individual shots of people getting made-up for the cameras (as I'm sure even you did a bit whenever you had on-camera reports in your ABC days), especially with the foreboding music running underneath, he is doing so for comic effect. It is those kinds of sequences where conservative critics cry foul; it is those moments when they say, "Through editing, he's manipulating the facts." And in this case, the fact is that he IS manipulating the facts to create an impression that is not completely true. It simply wasn't necessary.

As for your comment that Moore's narration about what Bush is thinking is more damning, I completely disagree. In those moments, Moore is editorializing, and he is doing so specifically for comic effect. There is a difference between editorial voice through narration and editorial voice through editing, especially when it comes to people criticizing someone like Moore of "propaganda" -- even though as I discussed, doing so simply shows the ignorance of such critics in regards to that word. I don't think many intelligent audience members would actually think that Bush was thinking "Maybe I shouldn't have spent so much time on vacation," and these same people are able to recognize that in this moment, Moore is simply ridiculing the fact that our "leader" looked so lost and was unable to process what he should do next. Also, most audience members are able to recognize that Moore can't actually say for sure what Bush would be thinking, so he probably made up that line. He may still be criticized for bashing, but it's not because he is seemingly manipulating the facts because his comments are sarcastic. It is simply a different dynamic than implying that every member of this administration is more concerned with his/her own vanity than anything else, especially American lives.

The other comment with which I must take exception is your apparent understanding of my "the difference between liberals and conservatives--- that libs are somehow more tolerant of the other side’s views." Your use of the word "tolerant" is the problem, and in fact indicates a complete misunderstanding in what I wrote. I don't think liberals are more "tolerant" of conservatives whatsoever. I do believe, and I have my own experience with people on both sides of the fence -- as well as my own theories based on the relative success of conservative versus liberal commentary media -- that liberals will seethe inside while listening to the person with whom they disagree while conservatives are more apt to pay no attention whatsoever and simply criticize. I think part of the conservative culture might actually consider it unpatriotic to contribute money to anything created by Michael Moore, and therefore they would never think of picking-up one of his books or going to see the movie. (Box office figures will indicate over the next few weeks whether Moore's movie is being seen by an audience beyond his followers or those with an open-minded curiosity, but I have heard plenty of people say they would never see his film simply because they know he's a liar.) I think that plenty of liberals listen to Rush Limbaugh and watch Fox News Channel if only to actually get themselves angry about what these commentators say. They'll read "Treason" by Ann Coulter so as to hate her even more. This does not make them more "tolerant" of the other views in the least; but it does mean they'll experience them (if that makes sense). The continued success of conservative talk radio and Fox News, and the still somewhat stagnant world that is liberal talk radio (Air America, for example) is proof of that, in my mind; the fact that Air America Radio hasn't caught on at all is as well.

I agree that there are plenty of both liberals and conservative who are open to others ideas: my argument had nothing to do with that. My comments essentially were regarding patronage.

And by the way ... while I appreciate you taking my suggestion at the beginning of my 3800 words (I hope you put your feet up as well), don't apricots produce something more akin to a nectar than a juice? I'm just saying ...

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