Judges Brett Cullum and Eric Profancik debate the pros and cons of 2004's most polarizing documentary.
George W. Bush : I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop
these terrorist killers. Thank you.
2004 will be a year remembered for two extremely controversial movies—The Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11. Both movies had a hard time finding distributors; both directors were caught in a maelstrom of controversy; and the ultimate box office take was staggering for each. They exemplify passionate filmmaking of the most courageous kind. No matter what you think of Fahrenheit 9/11, you have to admire it for what it is. Many people have called it anti-America, but the simple truth is that it is a shining illustration of the First Amendment. It represents one filmmaker's unflinching vision of propelling his opinion into the ether of election-year America. It is also one of the most entertaining and moving films I have ever seen.
Let us throw partisanship to the wind for the next few minutes. Michael Moore is not a Democrat, and he voted for the Green Party or Ralph Nader in the 2000 election. And me? I've voted for Republicans as often as I have voted for Democrats, so no need to figure out if I have an agenda. I'm here to tell you, without any bias, that this is a well-made documentary of the kind Michael Moore does better than anybody else. Is it fair and accurate? No way in hell. Does it strive to be? Absolutely not. But is it a good movie? Damn straight. Take it all with a grain of salt. These are more complex issues than a movie could ever do proper justice; you have to think of it as an editorial piece put together by a well-spoken liberal man.
Facts of the Case
Michael Moore was booed off the stage at the Academy Awards when he was picking up a trophy for his insightful Bowling for Columbine. Not exactly the most conservative audience, but they still found his condemnation of the war in Iraq and President George W. Bush outrageously offensive. So he set about to make a film defending his loathing of all things "Dubya." He made Fahrenheit 9/11 to explain his point of view. Although it won the top prize from the jury at the Cannes Film Festival, Moore had an extremely hard time finding an American distributor. Disney had decided this was one hot potato on which they wanted to pass—besides, they were already banking on all those profits from Home on the Range. Finally, several companies joined together (like a coalition), and the film was scheduled for release. Then came the MPAA controversy, where Fahrenheit 9/11 was rated "R" for disturbing images of the war. But the documentary was finally released, and, along with Spider-man 2, it ruled the Summer box office.
It is simply an opinion piece, and Moore has admitted that. Like a high school debater he cites information and incidents that support his argument, and he ignores anything that would tend to disprove it. It's propaganda in the classic sense—it shows only one opinion and does not present even a shred of the other side of the argument. He did have an army of fact-checkers working for him, and he says little the general public shouldn't already know. It's funny, moving, and disturbing all at once. And biased as hell. It is quite simply two hours of one man's opinion backed by clips and facts. Nothing here is subtle or restrained, and that is precisely the style that Moore does best. It deserves to be lauded and praised as much as it deserves to be scrutinized and picked apart. No matter where you stand it will move you, and for that reason I have to say it's a good movie.
It starts with an examination of the election of 2000, and all the strange and serpentine ins and outs of that process. 9/11 itself is handled tastefully, with almost no comment and few actual pictures of the attack. Most of it is played in a blackout, and it's very moving. Then Moore launches into George W. Bush, first showing his reaction in the minutes after the attack, then examining his political career. Much scrutiny is given to alleged Bush family ties to the Saudi Royal Family, and there are many speculations as to why Iraq would be a target even though the majority of the hijackers involved in 9/11 were Saudi Arabians. Then it's on to the Patriot Act, Homeland Security, and the war on Iraq itself. The war gets the lion's share of Moore's attention. He shows domestic dramas as well as footage shot by people in Iraq (interestingly he never goes there himself). Funny stunts abound, such as reading the Patriot Act over an ice cream truck's loudspeaker and trying to get Congressmen to enlist their own sons in the war (only one has an active duty offspring). He also follows a mother, Lila Lipscomb, and her hopes for her son as he enters the military in search of a better life. Later, we see her deal with his loss when he is killed in combat.
The DVD release has tons of deleted scenes, and enough extras that are well-thought-out to make it worth a rental or purchase, even if you saw it in the theaters. There is a feature chronicling the release of the film and the rage and controversy surrounding it. Condeleeza Rice is shown testifying before the 9/11 commission, and Bush's post-testimony press briefing is included without any commentary from Moore. A very funny excised scene shows retirees patrolling the waters of Florida in an effort to provide some geriatric form of Homeland Security. The transfer is what it is, considering most of the film is cobbled together from news sources, and digital and video cameras operating on the fly. It looks clearer than it did in the theatre, but nothing will change the fact that this is a film without any continuity to its look or feel. That is the nature of a documentary. The sound is handled very well, with a tricked-out 5.1 surround mix that lends oomph to every music cue, and delivers the narration crystal clear.
Michael Moore has learned a great deal from his last few films. He doesn't insert himself into this one as much as he has in the past, and often lets clips speak for themselves. Luckily the Bush administration is ripe with amusing sound bites from all directions, including a very funny singing John Ashcroft. To me, the most moving portion is when Moore gets away from his Bush-bashing and military recruiting ire, and focuses on Lila Lipscomb. She is a mother who has lost a son in Iraq, and is dealing with going from staunch patriot to questioning what all of this really means. If you get anything out of Fahrenheit 9/11 it is this: a moving portrait of a woman who has made a great sacrifice for this country.
This movie creates passionate responses from both sides of the political spectrum. Since no Republicans would return my phone calls, here is one of DVD Verdict's most passionate liberals offering his take on Fahrenheit 9/11.
The Rebuttal Witness: Judge Eric Profancik
I've recently opined that civil political discourse has disappeared during this election season. Instead of two adults rationally and passionately discussing the pros and cons of candidates, people are lashing out with hatred and vitriol. It's a sad state of politics we live in; left versus right, liberal versus conservative, Democrat versus Republican.
On September 11, 2001, the United States was attacked. The only positive result of that day was that our country came together. We were a united nation, and all petty differences were ignored because we realized that we were all the same. All that mattered was that we were Americans.
Since 9/11, that glorious sense of unity has disappeared. We are now at each other's throats, clearly epitomized by the relentless political attack ads on television. It's because of this hatred that we have the schism over Fahrenheit 9/11, a film praised by the left and demonized by the right. Allow me to illustrate just a few key components of the film that make it a must-see for any person in this country. Yes, every person needs to see this film.
Wait, you haven't seen Fahrenheit 9/11? Why's that? Oh, because you're a conservative and you don't think it's worthy of your time? You're more interested in such fare as Fahrenhype 9/11 or "Michael Moore is a Big Fat Stupid White Man?" Perhaps you're reading Ann Coulter's latest, "How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must)?" Or maybe you've tuned in for another serving of Rush Limbaugh's "truth in broadcasting?"
To me, this exemplifies the big problem in today's society. Most people on both sides of the aisle refuse to take the time to read "the other side's" material. Most liberals wouldn't be caught dead with a Coulter book in their hands or their TV tuned to Fox News, while most conservatives would rather jump off a bridge than read Al Franken or give Michael Moore one minute. (Please notice that I've said "most." There are always exceptions to the rule.) I like to think of myself as part of the few who aren't afraid to walk on the "dark side." I may not ever read Coulter, consistently watch O'Reilly, or religiously listen to Limbaugh, but I do try to balance out my daily political intake. I do a lot of online investigating. I always start with my favorite "liberal" sites like CNN, NPR, and Daily Kos, but I always work over to the conservative sites like Fox News. I have watched O'Reilly, and I have listened to Limbaugh. I also read many blogs, again both left and right. While I read more "professional" liberal sites, I visit many more conservative blogs, most falling under the "Blogs for Bush" umbrella. They have links to tons of stories about those evil liberals and their moral rot, and I get a great sense of what conservatives and Republicans are thinking, how they view my side, and what they plan to do tomorrow.
I am not trying to tout myself as the most informed liberal steward on the planet, but I am definitely in the minority when it comes to making the effort to learn both sides. So, again I ask, have you seen Fahrenheit 9/11? I know most conservatives haven't, and that troubles me. Not so much because they don't want to see it (which is clearly their right), but because they have vigorously denounced every cell of the film without seeing it. How can you be so vehemently opposed to something, calling it all drivel, without taking the time to view it on your own? How do you really know what the film says? Because you read blogs? Ah, I knew we were going to come back to that. You're using my own logic against me. Not really. Do you read liberal blogs as I read conservative blogs? Do you know the arguments for both sides of the debate? I'm not so sure you do.
In the spirit of even-handedness, I present this offer. I will loan you my copy of Fahrenheit 9/11 so you can learn what the film has to say. I so much want you to see the film, because of its importance, that in exchange, I'll watch one of your conservative films. Would you prefer Fahrenhype 9/11 or maybe Stolen Honor: Wounds that Never Heal? I'm willing to make a sacrifice because I want to learn. Do you?
Fahrenheit 9/11 is often derided as mere propaganda by the right. I flatly contest that blatant oversimplification of the film. Watching it again this week, I was impressed by its thoughtful, researched, methodical, and exacting examination of the facts surrounding George W. Bush, 9/11, Osama bin Laden, and Saddam Hussein. It's an amazing portrait of how events can be manipulated and twisted to serve an agenda. This film takes the time to show you an intricate factual tapestry of how Bush and his administration used the tragedy of 9/11 to invade the sovereign country of Iraq. While we all know of the three big reasons—weapons of mass destruction (not found), the link between al Qaeda and Iraq (not proven), and Iraq's imminent threat to the United States (never a reality)—Fahrenheit 9/11 goes beyond those three to show you how subtle and manipulative our president has been. There is much more to the story than you know, and this film will spell it all out.
I will concede that Moore's film is not perfect. At times his supposition is a bit stretched, and he takes an occasional unfair potshot at the President or his administration. Using these infrequent instances to denounce the whole film is ridiculous—but that is what the conservatives have done. They will point out how Moore plays the song "Cocaine" in the background as an example of Moore's bias. Thus, the whole film is biased and wrong. Conservatives will nitpick that one headline used on the front page of a newspaper in the film was really never on the front page. They'll then use this insignificant instance as a declaration that the entire film is an exaggeration or a lie. You simply cannot do that. You cannot ignore or dismiss every single position put forth in this film. You cannot state that this film is an entire lie, a crusade by Moore to tarnish Bush. You cannot declare that the film has no facts to stand on. You cannot do that, because there is proof for what you see. Moore even went so far as to pen the "Fahrenheit 9/11 Reader" so that people would have a chance to learn where these charges come from. Michael Moore wants you to know what's going on and provides all the facts to support it. He wants you to see that there are serious problems with the president and the way he's handled the war on terror and the situation in Iraq. He wants you to think for yourself.
Even if you can brazenly and mistakenly dismiss 90% of this film, the remaining 10% would still be a powerful testimony on the trickery of this administration.
Have you seen Fahrenheit 9/11? Are you willing to take the chance to see what the other side has to say? Can you be open to the possibility that your president may not be perfect? He refuses to admit any mistakes or take any responsibility for his failures, but must you be as reticent? I implore you to learn. I ask you to make sure you have taken the time to investigate both sides of the issue. You must take the responsibility upon yourself to make sure you really know what is going on. If you haven't seen Fahrenheit 9/11 because you prefer to watch Bill O'Reilly, then you don't know half the story. As an American, you owe it to yourself and the rest of the country to learn the whole story of why we invaded Iraq. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a clear and precise way to accomplish that. Until you've seen it yourself, until you've investigated the situation, then you don't have the right to casually dismiss it as propaganda.
Fahrenheit 9/11 will make you laugh, and it will make you cry. It will make you anxious, and it will make you mad. But most importantly, it will make you think.
Learn the facts, America.
I'm for any movie that sparks debate and thought outside of the cineplex. Rarely have I seen a film that was cheered and booed equally with such passion. Fahrenheit 9/11 may not be your cup of tea, but it proved that movies can still matter. Where media may fall by the wayside in a sea of political correctness, movie makers like Michael Moore can still do courageous things—like this documentary. And yes, it is a fine documentary. Like it or not, every movie has a bias behind it, and I've never seen a fair or balanced documentary in my life. Just will never happen. Hopefully this one will inspire other filmmakers to stand up and let their voice be heard. My only concern is for the future of this movie. What happens to it after November of 2004?
Michael Moore is guilty of making a thought-provoking film that got America talking. What's wrong with that? Case dismissed. Moore may be big, but he's no idiot. How else would a guy who supported Nader end up at both conventions in 2004?
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Scales of Justice
• "The Release of Fahrenheit 9/11" Featurette
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