Putu the Cat

Fear me, if you dare. Meow.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Putu watched Fahrenheit 9/11 and was not one bit impressed. Michael Moore can be an engaging, if occasionally quirky filmmaker. Bowling for Columbine, despite the controversy it generated, managed to outrage, move and provoke all at once. Fahrenheit 9/11 has a different agenda altogether. In fact, the agenda is rather simple- oust Bush come November 2004. To that end he uses a number of arguments-the disenfranchisement of voters in Florida that led to Gore's loss,  links between the Bush family and the Bin Ladens, Bush's incompetence in dealing with 9/11, the false case for war, the recruitment of soldiers from poor and lower middle class backgrounds by unscrupulous army recruiters and so on. But Moore takes on way more than he can tackle and the finished product is a garbled, long winded account of all that went wrong with the Bush administration with no real coherent argument.

If you read what Robert Jensen has written here and here about the movie, that quite effectively sums up what Putu has to say too. Jensen makes a number of valid points: that the Moore is covertly racist, that his movie is really made for white middle class Americans, that it whitewashes the Clinton era, that by arguing that Bush is the sole culprit for all that has gone wrong he misses the larger point about the empire building project that America has embarked on since the end of WWII, and so on.

Much of Bowling for Columbine's magic lay in Michael Moore himself- his ability to get a vast range of people- from the loony brother of Timothy McVeigh to two kids who were injured at Columbine, to talk candidly. But F9/11 has far less original footage and the bit that does, either tends to be overly dramatic and pointless (what IS the point of reading out the Patriot Act in an ice cream truck? Sure it makes for good documentary footage, but it does it serve any real purpose? Why harass senators to send their kids to war? Would he? Would the war be okay if senators' kids were fighting it rather than poor Hispanic kids?) or highly moving, as in the interviews with Lila Lipscomb. And footage like that of Bush sitting in a kindergarten classroom, just after he's been told that the second tower at the WTC has been hit, is actually rather poignant. I'm not sure what Moore thought Bush ought to be doing- and for the only time in the movie, Bush comes across as a mature, sensible leader, facing a grave crisis, before a classroom of five year olds.

There are also several inconsistencies in the movie. First, the entire focus on the 'Saudis' (Moore pronounces 'Sau' as in the Hindi word for hundred for some strange reason) is disconcerting. It's almost as if any association with any Saudi is suspicious. You are left wondering if he'd been happy if the Saudis had been bombed instead of Afghanistan. Then, there's the entire bit about army recruitment. Moore suggests that this is an unjust war, and it's being fought by predominantly non white soldiers who've been duped into fighting for a cause that many may not believe in. It's a strange case to make: does Moore think that a) a just war fought predominantly by non whites is okay? or that b) an unjust war fought by white kids is a fair deal? These are two related and in some senses, unrelated issues and Moore entangles them, all the while ignoring the 'American Project for the New Century' that had been well underway under Clinton. Finally, his big omission is not Blair and the UK, as this Guardian review would suggest, but Israel. In a film that centres around American foreign policy in the Middle East, the omission of even a mention of the I-word is baffling.

Having said all this, Moore doesn't always waffle. He has fascinating footage from Iraq showing detainees being hooded and photographed (remember he shot this before Abu Ghraib became public), he has some compelling footage from Iraq and Bush, as usual, can be trusted to make an ass of himself in public, from time to time, which is always entertaining. All in all, if you're apolitical and you haven't read 'Dude, where's my country' (which contains much of the material this movie centres around), this is a must see movie. If you have read the book, and you are a political person, it is probably still worth seeing a movie, that might well change the course of an American election.



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