Here's Why You Should Go See "Fahrenheit 9-11"
The scandals and foibles surrounding the production and distribution of the film, as well as its content, long ago ensured that it would become the progressive's answer to "The Passion of the Christ," except of course that the Romans here speak English instead of Latin, and The Crucified speak Arabic instead of Aramaic.
When I went to see "The Passion," the lady in the seat right next to me (yeah, it was sold out also) wept profusely as Ecce Homo suffered lashings at the hands of his captors in scene after ruthless scene of Mel Gibson's retro-medieval passion play -and she wasn't the only one.
This time around it was me reaching for the pocket hankie, as I struggled to hold myself together in the face of footage of a middle-aged Iraqi man placing the charred remains of a lifeless toddler into the back of a truck filled with the corpses of Iraqi civilians--and I wasn't the only one. It wasn't easy to keep from outright sobbing at times.
When "The Passion" was over and the lights came back on, there were dozens of people standing with their arms outstretched and their eyes pointed skyward. When the lights came on after "Farenheit," the film got a standing ovation. So if that insufferable right-winger in the cubicle next to yours couldn't keep quiet about it in the weeks following his viewing of "The Passion of the Chirst," then this might be your shot at a little revenge. Even if that's not the case, you should probably go see it anyway. Here's why:
As I have already mentioned, the film begins strongly enough. Moore opens with a brief recap of the Florida election debacle that placed an arguably unelected man in the presidency. Al Gore's concession, which was portrayed by the mainstream media as a gracious gesture that allowed the country to "move on" with its business, is instead shown, very skillfully, as the betrayal of African-American voters by the Democratic party that it really was. The scenes of African-American legislators lining up on the Senate floor to register a protest in the face of Governor Jeb Bush's illegal and unconstitutional disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of African Americans in Florida, only to be shot down for purely procedural reasons (they couldn't get a single, solitary white senator to sign on) is the first "Kleenex moment" for anyone who truly values America's all-too-often broken promise of justice and equality to her minority citizens.
What follows the Florida recap are various scenes of George W. Bush's trademark buffoonery as our unelected President vacations on his Texas estate, largely neglecting his duties as commander-in-chief-according to the Washington Post, Bush spent 41% of his early Presidency on vacation. Then, the screen goes blank, and Moore hits us with a powerful but very tasteful evocation of the 9/11 attacks, a series of scenes and authentic footage that strives for pathos over cheap sensationalism, and largely succeeds.
While I'm not sure that any scene of cinéma vérité will, for me, ever possess the emotional power and horrible beauty of Moore's juxtaposition of surveillance camera footage from inside Columbine high-school with a melancholy unaccompanied acoustic guitar and police dispatch tapes of terrified and unwilling participants, the scenes of 9/11 in "Fahrenheit" come heroically close.
Most effective and touching is the "ballet" of office paper that envelops downtown Manhattan just after the planes have struck. It is, in a sense, a "negative image" of the Columbine scenes: on the one hand we are spared the ubiquitous images of planes crashing into the towers for the minimalist imagery of swirling papers, but on the other hand, the minimalist guitar strumming of "Columbine" is replaced by a full symphonic score. In either case, it works rather well.
A good portion of the film that follows focuses on two things: (1) Showing G.W. Bush to be a buffoon through video clips and his own words (fish in a barrel, anyone?) and (2) Exploring the financial interests that link Bush/Cheney/Halliburton/The Carlyle Group and the Saudi royal family.
Moore's thesis throughout the film is that Bush exploited the events of 9/11 to put in motion a pre-existing plan to seize Iraq and turn it into a US client-state open to US exploitation of its natural resources. At the same time, the Administration was guilty of ignoring Osama Bin Laden and the pressing needs in Afghanistan and of shielding the Saudi royal family from blame or accountability for the actions of the terrorists they had long funded-in a Faustian bargain that was originally struck to insulate their regime from attack. It is a theory that will be familiar to most dedicated opponents of the war, and how it was that the Bush administration managed to convince the American public that Iraq was a greater threat to national security than Saudi Arabia, when 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis and none were Iraqis, is the story of one of the most successful efforts of media manipulation in US history. Karl Rove should be given some sort of a medal in recognition for so successfully pulling off that audacious gambit-just before he's shipped off To the Hague for his war crimes trial, of course. (Just one man's opinion, folks.)
Now, in the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the pictures and footage that have thus far been released, the much-touted images of prisoner abuse in "Fahrenheit 9/11" seem rather tame by comparison.
In Moore's film, there are no naked prisoners cowering in a corner, no unmuzzled attack dogs, no electrical or water torture, no bloodied corpses post-interrogation. However, the terror that envelops the hapless men, women and children who are subject to midnight raids by US forces is another story altogether. This we haven't seen on TV. I challenge anyone not to shed a tear when a young girl of maybe 16 desperately cries out "mamma, mamma!" and clutches her mother's arm as heavily armed and camouflaged US troops invade their home. Likewise the scene of an Iraqi woman crying over the death-in a bombing raid-of her uncle and his family ("We had five funerals yesterday!") is powerful stuff.
The Neocon Right calls these images propaganda, implying that Americans have no need nor right nor duty to see the severed limbs of children and shattered lives of the relatives of the dead that inevitably result from even the smartest of smart bombs. Might I suggest that the smartest bomb is the one that's never built?
If these the scenes of Iraqi civilian casualties-that the US mainstream media, in cowardly fashion, has largely denied us- are heart-rending, so is is the story, much closer to home, of the patriotic, flag-waving mother who sends her son off to war only to have him returned to her in a flag-draped coffin.
How in the world does Moore get these "before & after" interviews? He must have filmed dozens of different mothers of service personnel, knowing that at least one would inevitably yield such a tragedy-it's a troublingly Machiavellian move, if that's how he does it, but it is, ultimately, very effective.
If the film sounds gripping from my description, it's because there are moments that are exceedingly powerful. Wait, for instance, 'till you watch the scene in which the aforementioned mother of the fallen soldier confronts a skeptical right-winger on the Washington Mall. The conservative skeptic at first doubts the mother's story, and then offers no words of comfort or remorse when she finally accepts its veracity. It's unbelievable.
There are also long spans that do drag on somewhat. The presentation of George W. Bush's biography-complete with a string of failed business ventures and bailouts by wealthy Saudis- and his and his family's ties to Saudi business interests-including the Bin Laden family- suffers a bit from an inevitable academic dryness. Though it is enlivened every now and then by surprisingly candid admissions of a young G. W. Bush that the only reason any businessperson ever looked twice at him was because of who his father was.
The scope and breadth of scandal and inhumanity that was and continues to be the second Gulf War is impossible to encapsulate in just one film. For that reason, I would recommend that anyone who has an interest in seeing "Fahrenheit 9-11" also try and take in "Control Room," a film that explores the media's role-and specifically Al Jazeera television-in crafting the public's view of the Iraq war. (I believe that it's still playing at The Charles Theater in Baltimore, for example.)
Also worth watching is "Uncovered: The Whole Truth About The Iraq War," which explores the distortion of intelligence reports and evidence that served as a justification for the war. The film is available for purchase on DVD from http://Moveon.org, and is, I believe, slated for release in theaters this summer.
By all means, though, do go see "Fahrenheit 9/11." Moore's perspective is refreshing and necessary in this age of corporate consolidation and journalistic cowardice. That the Neocon Right Wing is comparing Moore to Leni Reifenstal-just as Charles Krauthammer not long ago compared the New York Times supposed "anti-war bias" to Randolph Hearst's pro-war editorializing just prior to the Spanish-American war-shows the Orwellian depths to which the Right is willing to sink attacking the film. So, then: Big Brother doesn't want you to see "Fahrenheit 9/11." Isn't that in itself reason enough to go?
David Flores, of Baltimore, works in the foreign language department at Loyola College of Maryland.
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This story was published on June 28, 2004.
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