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June 27, 2004: Less in no longer Moore, and never was

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Less in no longer Moore, and never was. 

The First Wave of Reviews.



Time to pull together what seems to be happening regarding this:


'Fahrenheit 9/11'

MPAA rating:
R for some violent and disturbing images and for language.  Explicit footage of dead and badly wounded Iraqis, shots of charred bodies of Americans being beaten and suspended from a bridge. 

Details and all that sort of thing:
Lions Gate Films and IFC Films and the Fellowship Adventure Group present a Dog Eat Dog production, released by Lions Gate Films. 

Director - Michael Moore. 
Producers - Michael Moore, Jim Czarnecki, Kathleen Glynn. 
Executive producers - Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein, Agnes Mentre. 
Screenplay - Michael Moore. 
Cinematographer - Mike Desjarlais. 
Editors - Kurt Engfehr, Christopher Seward, T.  Woody Richman. 
Music - Jeff Gibbs. 
Running time: 2 hours, 4 minutes. 


The film is now in general release. 

As this comes to you from Hollywood (a few doors down from Hollywood Boulevard and a block above the Sunset Strip) the key review is, of course, in the general newspaper of record here, the Los Angeles Times. 

You can find that here:

'Fahrenheit 9/11' - Michael Moore's partisan yet provocative film commands attention.
Kenneth Turan, June 23 2004

Ken likes it.  Ken likes Zola too. 


He didn't call it "J'Accuse!" but he might as well have. 

Like Emile Zola, whose celebrated 19th century open letter assailed the French government for being a party to intolerable injustice, Michael Moore in "Fahrenheit 9/11" has launched an unapologetic attack, both savage and savvy, on an administration he feels has betrayed the best of America and done extensive damage in the world. 


I’ve not heard Moore invoke Zola, but that works for me. 

Snippets from the review? 


Unabashedly partisan, wearing its determination to bring about political change on its sleeve, "Fahrenheit" can be nitpicked and second-guessed, but it can't be ignored. 

… Both in form and effect, "Fahrenheit" goes a step beyond Moore's Oscar-winning "Bowling for Columbine." He's never made a documentary that so literally embodies the cliché of being ripped from today's headlines, that arrives in theaters precisely as the issues he's concerned with are getting maximum attention within the context of a heated presidential campaign.  In fact, neither has anybody else.  "Fahrenheit 9/11's" determination to rewrite the rules of what Americans go to see in theaters has more kinship with Mel Gibson's equally convention-shattering "The Passion of the Christ" — but the audience it seeks to galvanize is at the other end of the political spectrum.


Many are making that comparison – Gibson and Moore.  The idea is to have some influence. 

Turan says the film is propaganda.  Of course it is.  But he comments that propaganda is most effective when it has elements of truth, and that too much here is taken from the record not to have a “devastating effect” on viewers.  

And propaganda is best when there’s a point of view, and some passion in the presentation, and we get that -


Now, seething with a controlled fury, Moore is angrier than ever; like Peter Finch's anchorman in "Network," he's fed up and not about to take it anymore.  As outraged about Sept.  11 as any neo-con, he's livid about what's been done in its name.  And he gives no one, least of all President Bush, the slightest benefit of the doubt.


So any critique that the film is not “fair and balanced” just misses the whole point.  It is, well, opinion, and a seeing things in a way that others do not. 


This film isn't about the Bush family relationship to Saudi Arabia, the excesses of the Patriot Act or the pitfalls of the invasion of Iraq, though it touches on those topics.  Instead we get a full-blown alternate history of the last three-plus years.  Moore makes a persuasive and unrelenting case that there is another way to look at things beyond the version we've been given. 


And Turan trots out examples and caps his list with what many have focused on and may be the core argument Moore is making -


Perhaps the most disturbing of all is footage showing the president on the morning of Sept. 11, continuing with a photo op involving a Florida elementary school class reading "My Pet Goat" for nearly seven minutes after having been told that a second plane had hit the World Trade Center. 

It's an unflattering picture of irresolution and even paralysis, one that informs Moore's thesis — of a president in over his head — and pervades the entire film. 


We are told George Bush is wise, resolute, clear on what he knows needs to be done (even if he cannot seem to express that very articulately) – a man of “Moral Clarity.”

Turan points out Moore finds Bush and his crew anything but -


Appropriating some conservatives' tendency to go for the jugular, Moore is not above making people look silly.  We see extensive use of "the feed," embarrassing moments culled from TV outtakes — images like Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz grotesquely licking his comb to help his hair stay in place. 

The Wolfowitz clip, one you won't be able to forget even if you want to, is a clear example of Moore at his most vulnerable and most effective.  It leaves him open to charges that he's being unfair, that he's mocking human frailty.  But he's willing to take the risk to make his point. 

Moore refuses to pass up an opportunity to show us how ridiculous, how awkward, how vain are the people who've successfully sold themselves as all-knowing Great White Fathers who have the gravitas to be trusted absolutely.  It's a daring ploy, and, silly though it may seem, it shows us how willing Moore is to use any tool he can to get his job done.  Wake up, America, he's saying, these are the people you've trusted your children's lives to. 


And that seems as good a summary of the film as any. 

Well, there are other views of the film. 

This week Christopher Hitchens, in a point-by-point analysis of events shown in the film and the implied contentions of those images, pretty much tears Moore’s film to shreds. 

See Unfairenheit 911
The lies of Michael Moore. 
Christopher Hitchens, SLATE.COM - Posted Monday, June 21, 2004, at 12:26 PM PT

The general idea? 


To describe this film as dishonest and demagogic would almost be to promote those terms to the level of respectability.  To describe this film as a piece of crap would be to run the risk of a discourse that would never again rise above the excremental.  To describe it as an exercise in facile crowd-pleasing would be too obvious.  Fahrenheit 911 is a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness.  It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of "dissenting" bravery.


And the Hitchens goes on to explain what he means by this, point by point. 

The analysis in long and detailed, and the link will take you there. 

Hitchens simply disagrees with Moore’s view of many of the facts, and certainly disagrees with the facile conclusions Moore, he says, draws from these facts -


… in spite of the film's loaded bias against the work of the mind, you can grasp even while watching it that Michael Moore has just said, in so many words, the one thing that no reflective or informed person can possibly believe: that Saddam Hussein was no problem.  No problem at all.  Now look again at the facts I have cited above.  If these things had been allowed to happen under any other administration, you can be sure that Moore and others would now glibly be accusing the president of ignoring, or of having ignored, some fairly unmistakable "warnings."


Moore is rabble-rousing, it seems, from a position of willful ignorance.  And he contradicts himself.  And Moore hasn’t thought things through, or thought very deeply at all. 

Read the detailed argument and you might agree.  You too might begin to wonder if in this film there may be a whole lot more feeling – rage, perhaps patriot rage, and despair – than there is much deep thinking, or careful thinking, or even logical thinking. 

Does that matter at all? 


Some people soothingly say that one should relax about all this.  It's only a movie.  No biggie.  It's no worse than the tomfoolery of Oliver Stone.  It's kick-ass entertainment.  It might even help get out "the youth vote." Yeah, well, I have myself written and presented about a dozen low-budget made-for-TV documentaries, on subjects as various as Mother Teresa and Bill Clinton and the Cyprus crisis, and I also helped produce a slightly more polished one on Henry Kissinger that was shown in movie theaters.  So, I know, thanks, before you tell me, that a documentary must have a "POV" or point of view, and that it must also impose a narrative line.  But if you leave out absolutely everything that might give your "narrative" a problem, and throw in any old rubbish that might support it, and you don't even care that one bit of that rubbish flatly contradicts the next bit, and you give no chance to those who might differ, then you have betrayed your craft.  If you flatter and fawn upon your potential audience, I might add, you are patronizing them and insulting them. 

… If Michael Moore had had his way, Slobodan Milosevic would still be the big man in a starved and tyrannical Serbia.  Bosnia and Kosovo would have been cleansed and annexed.  If Michael Moore had been listened to, Afghanistan would still be under Taliban rule and Kuwait would have remained part of Iraq.  And Iraq itself would still be the personal property of a psychopathic crime family, bargaining covertly with the slave state of North Korea for WMD.  You might hope that a retrospective awareness of this kind would induce a little modesty.  To the contrary, it is employed to pump air into one of the great sagging blimps of our sorry, mediocre, celeb-rotten culture. 


But otherwise he liked the film? 

I caught Hitchens being interviewed on MSNBC about the film and he mentioned a term one uses in the scientific community in the realm of pure and even applied research.  When someone comes up with a theory or an explanation that is so mind-bogglingly stupid and so divorced from any facts or observations anyone has made, well, one says, “It’s not even stupid.” That how Hitch sees this film. 

On the other hand, he was scathing about the efforts to ban the film or intimidate theaters from showing it.  [See Asking the right questions? in last weekend’s Just Above Sunset for an discussion of that business.] “ How dumb or thuggish do you have to be in order to counter one form of stupidity and cowardice with another?  By all means go and see this terrible film, and take your friends, and if the fools in the audience strike up one cry, in favor of surrender or defeat, feel free to join in the conversation.”

Fair enough. 

One also sees at SLATE.COM the Michael Moore thinks folks will charge him with libel.  My friends who have websites, and I, don’t worry about such things.  I’m no lawyer, but this below strikes me as a good primer on libel law. 

See Libel Suit 9/11
Michael Moore's hysterical, empty threats. 
Jack Shafer - Posted Monday, June 21, 2004, at 4:16 PM PT – SLATE.COM

The key conclusion? 


The first peculiar thing about Moore's libel-mongering is that most American journalists disdain libel suits as a matter of principle.  Even when they have good cause for a suit, most journalists refrain from filing, believing that libel threats keep topics of controversy from being aired.  They'd rather contest hostile attacks on their work in the marketplace of ideas, not courtrooms.  Why Moore, the former editor of the Michigan Voice and a regular purveyor of controversial journalism, has chosen to break with this tradition is anybody's guess. 


What’s this about? 

It seems Moore told the New York Times on Sunday (June 20, 2004).  "The most important thing we have is truth on our side.  If they persist in telling lies, knowingly telling a lie with malice, then I'll take them to court."

Moore "has consulted with lawyers who can bring defamation suits against anyone who maligns the film or damages his reputation," and that he's established a "war room" to monitor attacks on the film. 

Really?  What for?  Shafer say this:


… if Moore wants to sue anyone who maligns his film, he certainly has a legal right to do so.  But will he get very far? 

Not likely. 

Defamation (written libel) occurs when somebody publishes as fact something that is false, is "unprivileged," and harms somebody's reputation by making him the object of hatred or ridicule, causes him to be shunned, or injures him financially or professionally.  So unless Moore's critics call him a liar, a felon, a murderer, a chiseler, a Nazi, a child molester, tax evader or any other false statement that is objectively provable, they'll likely not receive a court summons from his lawyers. 

Likewise, no court would be inclined to find in Moore's favor if a critic accused him of lying once or twice or 12 times in Fahrenheit 9/11, or accused him of bending facts to his convenience, or damned him for being disingenuous.  This sort of subjective expression of opinion is protected under the law, and there's nothing the blustering Moore can do to stop his critics from making them.  Given the thousands of wildly hostile film, book, and restaurant reviews published each year, court dockets would be overflowing with libel suits if bringing one was as easy as Moore pretends to think it is. 


Opinion is protected. 

This does seem to be hype. 

Our friend Ric Erickson in Paris sends an email - he sees more here, and sees Moore here differently. 


I think Moore's open threat to engage lawyers to combat libel has been misunderstood.  Moore isn't gearing up to defend the film against charges of libel; he's letting everybody know he's willing and ready to defend himself and the film from libel. 

Seemingly forgotten are all those pieces over the last couple of years by maddened and insane right-wing commentators - the ones calling for the 'bombing of Canada,' the ones calling for 'killing liberals.' They were dangerously irresponsible even if their words weren't actionable. 

Moore has given them a fair warning - his lawyers are ready to defend the film against attacks from loose-mouthed pinheaded crazies. 

I don't think Moore's intent was to prohibit somebody like Hitchens from boring everybody to death. 


No, the Hitchens review was not libel.  And perhaps it was boring. 

But the battle has been joined.  The films open here in Hollywood on the 25th and perhaps I’ll cover events on the corner, at the Sunset 5 theaters, where I think it’s booked.  I’ll take my camera should there be fistfights and police action and such. 

But that is not likely here in liberal-left Hollywood. 



But libel is not the issue it seems.  Moore is being sued for violations of the Federal Campaign laws. 

See - Michael Moore Film Violates Campaign Finance Law, Group Alleges
Susan Jones CNSNews.com Morning Editor, June 23, 2004


...  A conservative advocacy group says Michael Moore's Bush-bashing movie Fahrenheit 911 violates federal election law, and on Wednesday, the group is taking its complaint straight to the doorstep of the Federal Election Commission. 

David N.  Bossie, president of Citizens United, said he will hold a press conference at 10:30 a.m.  today to release details of the complaint and explain which laws were broken. 

...  Citizens United's general counsel also will attend Wednesday's press conference to discuss details of the allegations -- and Citizens United said "documents will be hand-delivered to several government agencies immediately following the media briefing."

Citizens United describes itself as an organization dedicated to restoring the federal government to citizens’ control through a combination of education, advocacy, and grass roots organization. 

The group "seeks to reassert the traditional American values of limited government, freedom of enterprise, strong families, and national sovereignty and security," its website says. 

In recent weeks, Citizens United has run an "anti-Clinton" advertisement "exposing the real legacy President Bill Clinton left for America." The ad was timed to coincide with the release of Clinton's new book. 

Citizens United also has run an ad challenging the support of the firefighters' union for Democrat John F.  Kerry: "Many of our local heroes, firefighters and first responders are proud of Pres Bush's leadership in the war on terror and stand behind him in the fight to seek justice for those who murdered over 3,000 innocent Americans on 9/11," the Citizens United website says. 

Citizens United also offered an online petition calling on Sens.  John Kerry and Ted Kennedy to "stop politicizing the actions of a few rogue military personnel" at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.  "Stop slamming and demoralizing our troops, and stop using these awful events as a means to fortify the Kerry campaign warchest," the petition said. 


I’m not sure I understand this.  Moore’s film never mentions John Kerry.  It never advocates for him. 

Well, maybe that is implicit as the film suggests Bush should be voted out of office. 

Is the claim Kerry illegally funded the film?  Disney did, and the Weinstein brothers bought the rights from Disney to distribute the film.  Is the claim that the Weinstein brothers got the six million dollars to do this from Kerry’s election campaign fund? 

Perhaps this last item is just silliness. 


And this?


One might argue that the best remedy for "detested speech" is the "counterforce of opposing speech."  There is this showcase of "conservative documentaries" at the American Film Renaissance in Dallas. Filmmakers bankrolled by some "big-time conservative donors" will show films like "Michael Moore Hates America" - and that is as it should be.  No?


See Michael and them: Moore foes hold fest

Paul Bond, Hollywood Reporter (Reuters), June 25, 2004


Just as his "Fahrenheit 9/11" opens nationwide, several filmmakers are readying documentaries aimed at debunking Michael Moore, and a new film festival is being planned that will feature such works as well as other movies well to the right of Moore's films.


Scheduled Sept. 9-11 in Dallas, the American Film Renaissance, as the festival will be known, has just been announced by co-founder Jim Hubbard, who said it is bankrolled primarily by some "big-time conservative donors."


Hubbard currently is negotiating to show two films critical of Moore.


The first is "Michael Moore Hates America," made by newcomer Michael Wilson and funded partially by Brian Cartmell, who made a small fortune when he sold his Internet domain registration company, eNic, to Verisign. The feature film, made for $200,000 and featuring appearances from Penn Jillette and John Stossel, among others, is looking for a theatrical and DVD distribution deal.


The second is the bigger-budget effort "Michael & Me" that was made by talk-radio star and soon-to-be TV host Larry Elder. The 90-minute documentary takes on Moore's 2002 anti-gun documentary, "Bowling for Columbine," Elder said.


"My film is a defense of those who own guns and of the Second Amendment," said Elder, whose "The Larry Elder Show" from Warner Bros. Prods. starts Sept. 13 on CBS affiliates in most major markets.


Elder said that he borrows liberally from Moore, including a "Bowling"-like animated segment that has Elder interviewing an obviously tense Moore. "He's sweating and sweating to the point he's reed thin, then he pulls out a gun and shoots me."


… Hubbard and wife, Ellen, both attorneys, co-founded the festival in the spirit of competition.  Boycott efforts, like the one from the group MoveAmericaForward.org that is asking exhibitors not to show Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," "are for the weak," Hubbard said.


"We want everyone to see Michael Moore's film," he said. "We also want everyone to see 'Michael Moore Hates America.' Conservatives complain about institutional bias in Hollywood. They need to stop whining and get out there and produce."


Sounds good to me.  Let the “marketplace of ideas” stay open.  Rather that each side trying to shut down the other, everyone gets to say what they want.




Free speech.  What a concept!  Why didn’t someone think of it earlier?


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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