Thursday, July 01, 2004

Movie Review: "Fahrenheit 9/11"

So there we were yesterday morning before 10 a.m. in Asheville to get ourselves in line to buy tickets to the 11 a.m. showing of the movie the Rovians don't want us to see, and indeed there was a line that got longer and longer, but we got in and sat on the front row. I expected a satiric hoot, and with such a broad target of fun like George W. Bush under the gaze of such a smart-aleck as Michael Moore, we thought we'd laugh all the way through.

We didn't. "Fahrenheit 9/11" caught me off-guard with the depth of its emotion, with, in fact, the subtlety of its depiction of the United States as an astoundingly decent country led astray by the Cowboy-in-Chief. The faces of American fighting men in Iraq speaking frankly into the camera (and how did Moore get that footage?) puts on display a wide range of American attitudes, our own attitudes, OUR America in the mirror, everyone of them endearing in a different way for the bravery/desperation/defiance/fear of young men used as pawns in a battle they don't entirely understand. We see young soldiers talking in many moods, expressing everything from stunned amazement at the costs of war, a determination to do their best, to the false bravado of the soldier singing "burn, motherf**ker, burn!"

What brings the tears welling up is the story of Lila Lipscomb, the Flint, Michigan, ex-welfare recipient and mother of two soldiers, one of whom was killed in the downing of a Blackhawk helicopter outside Baghdad. Everything about her is midwestern pure patriotism, from the American flag she's been hanging on the front of her house since well before this particular war ever started, to the maternal rage she is now feeling at the administration that lied us into Iraq and lied her son into an early grave. Moore's camera tracks her to the White House, now swathed in an impenetrable gauze of anti-terrorist fencing, where she breaks down on the sidewalk in Lafayette Park, overcome with grief for her son and anger at being so close to the seat of power that sent him to his death.

Set against this purely human-scale suffering, the smirking president is reduced in Moore's film to his more human scale too. They say you can't lie to the camera, and in fact the footage of George W. Bush that Moore has used is starkly revelatory, especially the "raw feeds" of Bush being prepped for live Oval Office TV appearances. The smirk is still very much there, only buried quickly when the feed goes "live," replaced with that down-turned mouth he's perfected, apparently to signify Deep Concern and Seriousness. The camera reveals his nervousness, his darting eyes, the truth of what someone (who?) might have said about him once, that "Down deep, he's very shallow." You can't lie to the camera, but this president has so clearly been living the lie that he's up to this job, that he knows what he's doing, that he understands the consequences of where he has taken us as a nation.

One of the most stunning sequences is the footage of the president on 9/11 itself, in that Florida classroom, in a tape evidently shot by a teacher at the school. When White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card whispers in Bush's ear that a second plane has hit the second World Trade Tower, that "America is under attack," the camera innocently stays on Bush's face -- the teacher had no idea what information the president had just heard -- and we see fully revealed the inner torment of the man -- just a flawed man, after all, tricked up and pushed into the presidency by powerful friends who've always taken care of his messes -- ruminating, painfully ruminating, "What to do? What to do? What to do?" But it's the incipient panic in those darting eyes that sends a chill as well as a clear message: our subsequent foreign policy really is based on fear and weakness, and a foreign policy based on fear and weakness will destroy itself often through its own paranoia.

Combine the fear and weakness of this boy who became president with the fear and weakness of the "loyal opposition," the Congressional Democratic leadership, and the fear and weakness of the "fourth estate," the ever-lovin' national mainstream media, and you have the present state of things as a result. Moore does not let the Democrats off the hook, and Senator Tom Daschle richly deserves the special exposure he gets in this film, along with the rest of the Democrats in the Senate, not one of whom would ratify the objections of the Florida delegation of black Democrats over the certification of Bush as president, when a single Democratic Senator could have halted the pell-mell coronation of this man for at least a discussion of what went down in those Florida precincts in 2000. If many parts of Moore's film are stunning for different reasons, this bit of now ancient history is stunning for its newness in our store of information. It happened in broad daylight, on C-SPAN, with Al Gore himself as President of the Senate presiding over the certification of the man he had just conceded the election to, and yet we never knew this, how it went down, what it looked like. It wasn't pretty, the selling out of our democracy by the very party that uses democracy as the root of its name.

And the national media? Moore gets footage of Dan Rather on camera admitting that when it comes to war, clearly he isn't going to report anything that isn't the "company line," and we know now that "embedded" journalists were also essentially propagandists who drank the Kool Aide. Moore dismisses the national media, as well he should, as wholly irrelevant now in the struggle for the truth.

My heart was in my throat through a lot of "Fahrenheit 9/11," especially during the second half. Which surprised me. Maybe because it actually reaffirms that we're a decent people, despite what this bunch in the White House have done to our good name. And that made me choke up a little bit. Actually, a lot.

Rolled back into Boone last night to hear the news that the movie is opening locally at the New Market Regal Cinemas this Friday. Everyone who cares about this country should see it. It'll make you care even more.

And we'll hope that the local mullahs of the right-wing don't do what's been happening to the management of the Abingdon Cinemall theaters, which is showing the movie "despite bomb threats and other acts of violence against us" (according to the theater's website, and thanks to Craig for the link). Although nothing has helped "Fahrenheit 9/11" smash box-office records for a documentary like the feverish shenanigans of those wishing to suppress and censor it. As someone famous famously said, "Bring 'em on!"

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