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Fahrenheit 9/11 – Not in our name

Moore's Almanack

Farenheit 9/11 – Michael Moore

Fahrenheit is a devastating, important film. It is passionate, partisan and manipulative; at times queasily so. But Moore knows his business: his treatment of the events of 9/11 is masterly; restricting himself to black screen for the impacts, then concentrating on human reactions. This way he evokes images indelibly seared into our minds and the superb editing stresses the human dimension of the tragedy.

It will be a disservice to a powerful film if responses simply mirror attitudes to the war. However selectively, Moore skillfully allows Bush, Rumsfeld et al to reveal, to me unequivocally, their slippery, self-serving, lethal hubris. These men should be removed from power. They area a disgrace to democracy.

The lease effective parts of the film are towards the end when Moore appears himself doing his door-stepping interviews trying to embarrass officials: in this case, having noted that there is only one member of Congress with a son in Iraq – he tries to get Congressmen to enlist their sons for the conflict. No prizes for guessing the results. While the story of the links between the Bush family and the Saudis in general and the Bin Laden family in particular lack any conviction of the conspiracy theory advanced, the cosiness of the business and other relationships is disturbing in itself. However much politicians protest that the war was not about oil, without ever being pressed to justify this assertion, no is convinced and Moore certainly reinforces our cynicism about this.

Some of the actual Iraq shots are gruesome and upsetting but if one accepts the sincerity of Moore’s anger and commitment, they are appropriate to context and not gratuitous. Even the interviews with soldiers have a certain balance in that some make one ashamed to be a member of the human race, and others equally proud to be so. At the moral heart of this film is the young soldier who says “You cannot kill another human being without killing a part of yourself.” Moore’s simple political position is that the poor fight wars on behalf of the rich, driven by economic necessity. So the poor of the nations of the world kill each other to maintain a privileged elite in permanent power. However simplistic an analysis this may be, it has enough factual basis to be resonant and disturbing.

If Moore goes over the top at all it is with the mother of the young sergeant Pederson. This lady starts out as a deeply patriotic American with close family ties with the military even though forged through economic necessity. Her position not unnaturally changes when her son is killed. We can construct validity for this sequence but cannot help but feel that to stage a street event outside the White House, during which this lady is prompted to reveal her ongoing grief to camera, at the very least goes on too long not to be unforgivably intrusive. It is also precisely because of the depth of her grief that this is less effective as a polemic against Bush. In grief we do not see things clearly. We are also, rightly, preoccupied with this mother’s grief, not the political indifference that may have brought it about. Certainly this sequence does include a telling moment when George Bush’s innate inarticulacy demonstrates a cringing inability to capture a shred of sincerity in expressing his regret at the loss of young lives.

By far the strongest elements of the film are those where Moore skillfully allows the politicians to damn themselves on camera. The 7 minutes after Bush is told of the first and then later, the second plane strike on the Towers, are devastating in their portrayal of a man who appears to be utterly out of his depth, with no personal instinct of leadership as to what to do. Moore makes little, perhaps surprisingly, of Bush’s subsequent behaviour where “on secret service advice” he is whisked off to a place of safety ostensibly to protect the continuity of government. One feels instinctively, that Jack Kennedy would have been, within a few hours, standing at the side of Mayor Giuliani at the foot of the twin towers. Kennedy we feel would simply have brushed aside the secret service advice and reminded them who was running the country. This rather reinforces everything one fears and is unimpressed by with George Bush in comparison.

I am sure there are set up and manipulative moments in the film: a dozen all black young men, all dressed up in similar black tops looked set up. However what they had to say rang true and seemed only too likely.

Much has been made of Moore’s own wealth and comfortable life-style. (Whatever else he certainly spend any of this on personal grooming). This doesn’t strike me as especially damning. In a country where you need access to a minimum of £100 million to mount a credible tilt at the Presidency, we must accept that in such a rigorously commercial culture, a media platform necessary to get your message, especially one of dissent, across to a large number of people, inevitably demands a great deal of money. Commercialism has so corrupted American culture that even the truth must turn a profit. This is always the first line of attack by the establishment: undermine the integrity of the dissident who has been forced to make compromises in order to be effective. And Moore is effective. This is a well-made, powerful, intensely felt polemical film. As he points out to good effect, the mainstream media signally and shamefully failed in their 1st amendment duty properly to inform the American people without fear or favour. Whatever one’s reservations about Moore, it has to be said that he was the first and most trenchant critic of the war and blunt and unequivocal in his condemnation of the abuse of power that brought it about.

Although ostensibly a documentary, I believe Fahrenheit 9/11 should be considered as a popular work of art, not journalism. Moore’s view is transparently partisan and committed and he puts his very considerable cinematic skills to work to express that view as powerfully as possible. One should not be detached and objective towards lies, deception, venality and self-serving warmongering. And in a world where the establishment becomes more and more adept at burying, spinning or hiding the truth, only artistic truth can engage the peoples’ anger and awake them to democratic action.

The film therefore should be judged on the basis of its artistic truthfulness not its literal journalistic accuracy. On that basis I believe it is important, effective and may in all probability, be influential. At heart, despite superb editing and good use of music, Moore has shone a bright light into some of the darkest corners of American social and political institutions and behaviour. For that, if nothing else, the American people owe him a debt of gratitude. Chippy, snippy, bad grace criticism from the mainstream media is a bit rich considering their shameful gung-ho, rally-round-the-flag lack of professional and moral courage throughout the Iraq story. Moore is using his 1st amendment rights and deserves them. He is in fact doing what they were instituted for and may even now generate the kind of benefits the founding fathers envisaged when they, in their wisdom included them in the Bill of Rights.

In the context of world politics, the Bush administration appears to display a toxic combination of historical and cultural ignorance, allied with a naked pursuit of self-interest at all costs that plays frighteningly well at home but which presages further ill-advised adventures and disasters in foreign policy – not least the fundamental Israeli/Palestinian conflict or Iran.

Finally, Moore hardly mentions Tony Blair. Apart from targeting his primary American audience, one feels he is genuinely perplexed as well he might be, that although Bush may be stupid and ignorant of history and culture, Blair has none of these excuses.

(July 2004)

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