April 23, 2005
When Michael Moore delivered his controversial acceptance speech after winning the Best Documentary prize for Bowling for Columbine (2002) at the 2003 Academy Awards, he lashed out at President George W. Bush and the fictious war in Iraq. Little did anyone know but Moore was also offering a teaser of his next film, Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), a scathing attack on Bush, his link to the rich Saudi oil families, the “War on Terror” and the war currently raging in Iraq.
Moore’s documentary starts with the controversial 2000 election where Al Gore narrowly lost because of voter error in Florida. He sticks to his usual format: whimsical humour with a biting satirical edge as he shows Bush as an ineffectual President, arrogantly confident about his beliefs and not doing much of anything in the White House except for taking vacations. Moore quickly moves on to 9/11 and wisely (and tastefully) does not show the footage of the twin towers being destroyed—just a black screen and sounds of destruction and people screaming. This says more than rehashing that horrible footage ever could. And quite frankly Moore doesn’t need to show it. We’ve all seen it many times over. It is imagery burned in our collective consciousness forever. From there, Moore goes on to illustrate the baffling hypocrisy and the convoluted nature of our political system that leaves little mystery as to why so few people in this country vote anymore.
Sure, Moore is going after easy targets and showcasing information that has already been reported elsewhere but he is doing it on a mainstream level and to an audience that might not be aware of its existence. He is going after targets (like Bush) that need to be exposed for what and who they really are. Some of the most damning footage of Bush is his reaction (or lack thereof) when he is told of the second tower being hit on 9/11 while reading a book to a class of elementary children. He looks like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car and continues to read to the kids with no idea of what to say or do because no one is telling him what to say or do.
Surprisingly, Moore doesn’t appear on camera as much as he has in previous films. His presence consists mostly in the form omniscient voiceover narration. This was a smart move on Moore’s part as the footage he has assembled speaks for itself because it so powerful. When he does appear on-screen, for example, it is to illustrate a point that very few members of Congress have read the Patriot Act. So, in an amusing bit that goes back to his earlier, lighter fare, he rents an ice cream truck and drives around Washington, D.C., reading the Act over the vehicle’s sound system.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Moore’s documentary is that he puts a human face on the citizens of Iraq—something that the mainstream U.S. media has failed to do. He shows graphic footage of dead and maimed civilians killed by U.S. bombs and soldiers. He lets them speak and it becomes readily evident why many Iraqis hate America so much and why the mission to liberate them has so far failed. Moore also gives the U.S. soldiers a voice, interviewing several serving in Iraq and how some are clearly tired of fighting for people who don’t want them there. Some soldiers who have come back home are also featured and they talk about their experiences and how their view of the war has changed. Moore also shows how the deaths of American soldiers have devastated their families with one woman in particular, Lila Lipscomb, whose story is quite compelling and resonates on a deeply emotional level.
Fahrenheit 9/11 shows a deeply unhappy and divided country that has gotten even worse under Bush’s reign. It paints a very vivid and convincing portrait of the “War on Terror” as a pretense for Bush’s real agenda: to go into Afghanistan and Iraq and make money not to liberate them or get Osama Bin Laden. As he beautifully illustrated in Bowling for Columbine fear is used (and in the case of F9/11 by the Bush regime) to keep the American public in line.
“Release of Fahrenheit 9/11” is an 11-minute featurette on the film’s reception at the Cannes Film Festival. There is also footage of long line-ups and sold out screenings as the film made its way through the country. Clearly it has become something of a cultural phenomenon as evident by the scores of people who gush about it. It would have been nice if a few dissenting opinions were included.
“Eyewitness Account from Samarra, Iraq” is an eyewitness account by Swedish journalist Urban Hamid on a U.S.-led raid in Samarra. There is incredible footage of U.S. soldiers arresting a man accused of funding insurgents that is narrated by Hamid himself.
“Lila Lipscomb at Washington, D.C. Premiere” features comments from the woman that Moore talked with in the documentary and whose son died in Iraq. She delivers an impassioned speech at the film’s premiere.
Finally, there are seven additional scenes of footage, including interviews with more average Iraqis on the streets of Baghdad on the eve of the 2003 U.S. invasion. Also included is more with Corporal Abdul Henderson and his experiences in Iraq and a very funny segment with Arab-American comedians doing routines about the “War on Terror” and how they are persecuted on a daily basis.
Fahrenheit 9/11 is an incendiary zeitgeist movie that taps right into what is currently happening on our political landscape. It is an angry blast, a howling protest movie against a Presidency clearly out of touch with what is really going on. It is a brilliant film for these troubled times and is what every American, be they Democrat, Republican or undecided, should see before they vote in November.