Michael Moore’s Anti-Bush Polemic Entertains, Enrages
by Tony Ellis
And May Even Change the Election
It’s 6.30 p.m. on a Sunday evening and I am sitting on the marble floor of the Capitol Mall in Iowa City eating Chinese take-out, waiting for a good seat for Michael Moore’s incendiary new film, Fahrenheit 9/11. I haven’t had to wait this long in line since I saw The Rolling Stones when I was eleven year’s old. We had arrived at 3.30 p.m. that afternoon only to find the 4.30 p.m. show sold out. Shortly after buying tickets for the 7.10 p.m. show, that too was sold out. Five minutes later, we were calling our friends already on route from Fairfield and shelling out mucho buckos to ensure that they could squeeze into the late, late show.
This morning, the self-important pundits on the political news shows fluffed up their feathers and smugly declared that Moore’s film would of course play well on the Coasts, but could never be expected to raise a spark in Middle America. Well, you can’t get more Heartland than Iowa City and things seemed pretty busy to me. In fact, on its opening weekend, Fahrenheit 9/11 broke all box office records and stunned industry pollsters, playing well even in the most red-neck of states. But then six months ago those same TV political evangelists were pompously dismissing the idea that the forthcoming election would be fought over the Iraq War, and now it seems to be the only issue. So what do they know?
The war in Iraq is the principal subject of Moore’s film. A firm believer that the Bush administration cheated its way into power and then used the excuse of 9/11 to manipulate the American people into accepting its pre-conceived agenda of government supported global corporate expansion, Moore is relentlessly thorough in his criticism of Bush and his corporate amigos. Beginning with the Florida election fiasco, and following Bush through the collapse of the Twin Towers and the subsequent “war on terrorism” , he systematically makes his case that the real Bush agenda is not protecting Americans against terrorism nor giving the Iraqi people their freedom (in fact, he says, they have blatantly failed to do that) but is instead to cynically boost the profits of his elitist business buddies (Halliburton, Enron, and, lo and behold, the Bin Laden family!) In other words, it is all about oil and arms sales. Although the film wanders in parts, he makes a powerful point and it is hard to dispute the facts; they are, after all, documented on film. Much of the most damning material is in the words of the chief culprits themselves. As in all his films, Moore swings the emotions from shock to sorrow, to pity to outrage, all mixed in with a good dose of laughter. There are images shot in Iraq that will make you cringe in disgust and are not for children to see. Although, personally, I thought the most disgusting scene was Deputy Secretary of Defence, Paul Wolfawitz, grinning “woflishly”, sucking his comb and slicking back his hair with spit prior to a TV appearance.
Whether you agree with Moore or not, there is no doubt that he is a master film-maker who can make even the most serious subjects entertaining. He also has the comic touch of a Chaplin, able, with his feigned everyman innocence, to tempt even the most powerful to condemn themselves. The revelation that none of the Congressmen who voted for the Patriot Act had actually read it, Attorney General Ashcroft singing his self-composed patriotic dirge about soaring eagles, Bush smirking that his base is the “haves’ and the “have mores”, and government officials scattering like pigeons on the streets of Washington D.C. rather than face a Moore on-the-spot interview are classic film moments.
There has been a lot of discussion about whether this film can influence the way people vote. There is no doubt that this film is not a “fair and balanced” point of view and is strongly influenced by Moore’s personal agenda: he definitely wants Bush removed from office. But his reasonable response to this is that a) what we have been hearing for the last three years is only the government’s point of view backed with what are, at the least, very dodgy facts and may well be outright lies, and b) his view is backed by solid, documented fact. And this is, after all America, where freedom of speech is supposed to be a right. And, well, people obviously like the film. It is hard to leave the cinema liking Bush. He comes over as smug, incompetent and corrupt. Even staunch Republicans have been reported leaving the theater in tears and ashamed to be American. One man in San Francisco threw his shoe at the screen during the final scene. I agree that Fahrenheit 9/11 will probably not make many decided voters change their minds. However I do suspect that it may stimulate non-voters (over 60% of the electorate) to actually cast their ballots; and it won’t be for Bush! Americans are, at heart, a very decent and trusting people who tend to put far too much faith in their elected leaders. Unfortunately, over the years this innocence has led to gross manipulation by advertising executives, marketeers, infomercialists and, most of all, politicians. Moore has had the guts to expose some serious government deceptions that have cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars. My feeling is that when America finally wakes up to these lies, and this film may be the catalyst for that, then there will be landslide of public opinion against the perpetrators. You can’t fool all of the people all of the time.