dir: Michael Moore
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It's a testament to the era that we live in that the more complicated issues of human rights, international diplomacy and the role of the media becomes, the narrower the range and scope of response is becoming. We are either for the terrorists, or against them. We are either fascists who hate everything that is anything than a darker shade of albino, or we are decent folk who hug puppies and love cherub-cheeked children. You either want to destroy every last stinking bit of Mother Nature, or you love the earth and everything in it or on it.
Was the world always so polarised? Do we really believe that there are really only two points of view on pretty much every single topic in existence? That the universe or at least everything on this planet exists in some kind of binary state, so that every molecule of matter and every thought or idea exists in only one of two possible states? It seems like with the increasing number and complexity of the ideas and concepts that permeate civilisation it might be a natural consequence that our vision somehow narrows simultaneously. Confronted with a multitude of competing voices we focus on those sounds that most conform with what we've heard and liked before. Out of the cacophony we hear only the tune we want to whistle ourselves.
A film like this seems to either have your support before you stepped into the cinema, or is something you hate with all your heart before it even got made. The pretence of objectivity is almost impossible. There really doesn't seem to be that much of a middle ground for people to sprawl across comfortably upon. The kind of people who draw comfort from conservative viewpoints clearly are not the target audience of a Michael Moore documentary. The kind of people who distrust power and see conspiracies within conspiracies already watched this ages ago and made up their own minds as to whether to believe what Moore has to say or not.
I don't personally have this belief or perception that documentaries are necessarily a more trustworthy or 'real' form of cinema than any other. I've seen enough, and been bored by enough to know that they are clearly as constructed as any other television program or movie. They have to be, by definition. The only way they can be a 'true' rendering of events is if someone points a camera at something for two hours and then puts it out unedited. Otherwise every choice a director makes affects the material. Music, editing, lighting, the depiction of chronology, juxtaposition of images, narration, all of these put forth a viewpoint. One of the main criticisms of Moore's documentaries being that he tailors them in such a fashion as to prove his agendas either with actual 'proofs' or circumstantial hearsay stuff is thus, in my humble opinion, idiotic. Every documentary maker, from Agnes Varda to Errol Morris crafts their docos to make whatever salient points they want to make. Moore's no different, in that sense.
I've had the misfortune to sit through three Nick Broomfield documentaries, (Kurt & Courtney, Biggie and Tupac, Aileen: Selling of a Serial Killer) and I can tell you that even the most incompetent documentarian constructs a film to support their dubious 'vision', whatever that may be.
Moore has, fortunately or unfortunately, risen to some ridiculous level of celebrity status which makes him necessarily a loathed figure by many. It's almost as if his documentaries and books are kind of secondary to the main purpose that he has: either as one of the most prominent alternative voices (which is kind of a contradiction in itself) in the media, or as biggest and most hateable whipping boy for those 'marginalised' Establishment voices that seem to run or own everything. His image as a scruffy idealogue, man of the people despite being a millionaire, crusader for the underdog is just that: an image. One that he has worked hard to cultivate, and one that has been added to and embellished by both his supporters and detractors. So, like any other Hilton heiress or Hollywood actor or prominent politician, the 'truth' of who they actually are is as elusive and ungraspable as the light flowing through the projector onto the screen.
It's enough to drive you to drink, or at least drink more. In the end you have to judge it based on whether a) it sounds credible or not, or b) whether it resonates with you or repulses you. Hypothetically, you could 'like' Moore and not like the film, or dislike Moore and like the film. It's possible, it's certainly possible. Of course 'possible' isn't the same thing as 'probable'.
Moore's quiet, insistent narration over his own material, I hate to say it, called to mind the voice of some stranger in a car trying to convince a kid to jump in and have some sweets. He soothes us with that sly voice, to mollycoddle even when the images on-screen are horrific. Using as he does the tools of tabloid current affairs (as opposed to the tools of documentary film making), he fully understands when to use sarcasm, when to juxtapose images with ironic musical accompaniment, when to do the foot-in-the-door stuff that rankles with some audiences on an intellectual level, yet gives them the gut reaction he desires. Who isn't going to sympathise with a mother who loses a son to a war she doesn't 'believe' in? Who can watch images of bomb-mutilated Iraqi children and not feel disgusted? Or see rooms full of disillusioned soldiers with stumps where there should be arms and legs and not get angry?
In my humble opinion, some of the more egregious examples of tabloid journalism that were present in Bowling for Columbine are mostly absent here. The focus, being the arrogance of power endemic to the current US administration, is somehow tighter, less scattershot than before, though he is just as prone to tangents. There is less of Moore himself intruding upon scenes, and more of images themselves telling the story that Moore wants to tell. That things are really fucked up right about here.
And what a story it is. The words 'corruption' and 'conspiracy' are too limited in scope to encompass the magnitude of what is alleged. Sure, plenty of people I know have said that there is nothing new in the film that they haven't already read and known for the longest time. I find that hard to believe. I'm media savvy, and I actually take the time each day to read newspapers (as opposed to just looking at random shit online, which I do as well). And much of what is covered I have heard before. But I never knew it was so naked, so blatant. So shameless. And it shames me as a human, thinking, living being that this goes on.
You can argue that the Emperor from the Hans Christian Anderson story has been striding around naked for at least four years in the White House and that clearly everyone knows that now, yet still people are pretending he is wearing the finest silks from Indochina. The harshest indictments that Moore can allege are nothing compared to what the man himself is shown doing on camera, or not doing more importantly. The famous Seven Minutes will haunt Bush until his grave, and not because he could or should have done anything, but solely because they showed how completely unsuited he is to be in charge of a tank of goldfish let alone an entire nation. Those seven minutes, something that Moore himself obviously never shot, will always be the most powerful criticism of Bush people will take away with them.
The irony for me is that no amount of criticism of Bush by Moore himself actually convinces me entirely. I don't believe he is an evil genius bent on world domination, with a secret lair beneath the White House where he puts on a Ming the Merciless outfit on and strides around menacingly whilst doing one of those supervillain laughs. I don't believe he is so completely stupid that he can't tie his own shoelaces without help from the Secret Service guys or his wife. For all I know, on the other hand, he probably thinks each and every action he's taken is beyond reproach, and in the best interests of the Western world. There is a bunch of intelligent, worldly commentators that will tell you that every mangled malapropism that drops leaden from his lips is an intentional and glorious punch-line to a well-delivered joke. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn't. I'm never going to know. All I know is that every time he tries to make unrehearsed remarks or do anything apart from read off of an autocue he ends up making himself sound diabolically stupid.
I can sympathise, since I'm terrible at public speaking (sober or drunk) and have more than once mangled some phrase or sweatily violated some desperate joke best left to the professionals. I've seen enough before, during and after this 'doco' to make me wonder how the hell he got into the White House in the first place, however. It really begs the question. I envisage decades from now classrooms across the States will be showing this doco and leading the children in debates as to what the fuck people were thinking back then, and how at least half a generation of people just couldn't admit that the Emperor was swanning about naked as the day Junior was born.
Just in the same way that I'm never going to know for sure who killed Kennedy, or who really won the vote in Florida, I'm never going to know for sure if the conspiracy that Fahrenheit 9/11 alleges is true. It's unprovable, and much of it is mere guilt by association and insinuation. Moore can't prove his case: that the ties between the current US Administration and Big Business, particularly Halliburton in its many forms means that apart from all the other fabricated reasons for which the ironically-titled Coalition of the Willing invaded Iraq, diverting obscene sums of money from public coffers into corporate hands was the underlying result. That it has happened is indisputable, but he can't prove that it was the intention, as opposed to a fringe benefit of the whole charade.
I am certain that there will be plenty of inconsistencies and mistakes in the doco, which detractors will say are lies and fabrications. I wouldn't put it passed Moore to do so. The truth is that the film doesn't need to fabricate much. If I don't believe the allegation that the upper echelons of the US government and the Saudi Arabian aristocracy were in cahoots before September 11 and afterwards, it doesn't matter. The film's point is that a nation can't maintain the pretence of moral superiority whilst profiting so openly and venally from the misery of another people who never attacked them. That to be able to get away with this the Powers That Be, the shadowy kingmakers and Cardinal Richelieus in the wings that 'support' particular leaders and orchestrate world events want a population that is powerless and afraid, paranoid and alienated from the people around them, doing naught but consuming, too powerless and apathetic to do anything about anything. Gee, that sounds like such a stretch of the imagination, doesn't it?
Fear is the tool used to keep enough people in line, he alleges. It
used to be fear of Satan, witches, Vikings, the French, the Russians, Communists, Asians, criminals, women, immigrants, Negro sexuality, Elvis' hips that kept people obedient and docile. It can't have missed anyone that the latest bugbear is Islam specifically and terrorism in general, and it certainly hasn't escaped the makers of this doco.
Are people really fooled by those government press releases that come out at certain intervals saying there's the immediate threat of something happening somewhere perpetrated by someone who intends on doing, uh, something? That the terror threat alert status never seems to get any lower than those dangerous looking colours of yellow or orange?
Of the most disturbing scenes in the film, without doubt for me it wasn't the blown up bodies, the mutilated corpses of American soldiers, or any such violence. It's the scene where a room full of business leaders are discussing just how much money is to be made from the 'war' with Iraq. You can almost see the saliva dripping down as they drool over the feasibility studies and revenue projections and Powerpoint presentations. George Orwell, whose spirit is invoked several times through the course of the doco, gave us these images already in his fiction. It is almost impossible to believe that such scenes have occurred in actuality. But they're there.
I'm not an old Marxist, honestly. I love having money, I love accumulating material possessions that I don't really need (that people break into my house to steal) and having hundreds of mindless cable channels to choose from. I do not for a second want the capitalist free market system replaced with some benevolent Wiccan-friendly proletariat-run command economy where a government decides what to produce, the quantity thereof and what to charge for it. That system (yet) doesn't work for the same reason capitalism does work: human selfishness. Of course then you have to bring in public goods, health care and such and then that just fucks the free market argument all over the place.
But by the same token to see and hear the orchestration of such events for so squalid a reason as profit and power, to know that around ten thousand Iraqi civilians died and are dying still, that young soldiers drawn from the shittiest and poorest US suburbs are dying as well for something so base, so common, it's enough to make me weep black tears of Marmite-like sorrow.
It's an important doco. There is a lot of intellectual sloppiness and a mess of lazy tabloid technique calculated to tug heartstrings instead of inflame intellects, It's not the best doco ever made. And it is a textbook case of preaching to the choir, the converted, the perverted and the diverted. But what it does is certainly document a view of a particular time in human history, where the pretence and the artifice of nobility around the arrogant acquisition and use of power was cast off and yet not nearly enough people seemed to care. Where the illusion of democracy was discarded and people went about their business like it was business as usual. As of course it was.
We certainly live in diabolically interesting times.
7 times out of 10 that this world makes me sick to my fucking stomach some days
'we are at war with Eurasia, we have always been at war with Eurasia' - 1984