Thoughts, notes, observations on the everyday nonsense of American Pop Culture from one of the most not-hip people on the face of the planet...

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Moore does more than Bash the Bushies

Let people say what they will about Michael Moore. Yes, he’s loud, occasionally annoying and pretty damn rude…but he knows how to make you think. And he know show to get damn good footage, which really helps his case as a filmmaker.

Fahrenheit 9/11 is a well-made film, hands-down. Its primary strength is its ability to incite emotion, as any well-made film will. Only in this case, instead of having an audience cheer over Yoda’s lightsaber fight or cry when Rick and Ilsa go their separate ways, the audience is seeing a reflection of itself. This stuff really happened and we were all there for it.

Each and every American has his or her own story of 9-11 and the war. We all remember what we were doing when the Towers fell and we all remember the night we watched the war "sort of start" on CNN with a surprise air strike. We all know someone at war, at least second-hand. We’re all involved.

That’s where Moore gets us. Apart from his opinions and his tongue-in-cheek commentary, Moore manages to show us ourselves in all of this mess: Confused, misled, angry and devastated. The raw tape, in particular, is what makes the movie so very American, so very real.

What first struck me was the sound (no video, a black screen in a dark theater, to enhance the experience even more). That god-awful, soul-searing sound of a plane flying into an office building. I wasn’t prepared for that. I wasn’t prepared to feel a lot of things. Between the uncovered footage of 9-11 at the WTC site and the too-gruesome-for-TV war video, I was mesmerized by what I hadn’t seen on the news (and I’m a journalist).

Sure, the movie had its points of laughter at the expense of Bush and his cronies. That too was more of a matter of what ridiculous footage Moore was able to dig up on these guys than a sheer verbal attack. Besides, who needs to attack when you see Paul Wolfowitz spit-comb his hair? Ew.

Sure, there's the usual Moore tactics of guerilla journalism (ex: Trying to get Congressmen to enlist their children for Iraq service), audio quirks (including a perfect use of Clapton’s "Cocaine") and the occasional outrageous insinuation.

But this movie also has the proven Moore tactic that really makes for good film: Real people with real problems. Moore’s at his best when he’s at home in Flint, Michigan, dealing with real people he really knows. In Roger and Me, he angrily showed the world how his hometown was ravaged by corporate greed and de-industrialization. Now, he takes the audience back to Flint for another story of exploitation and manipulation.

Following the exit of the auto industry, Flint’s only offer of success to its young people comes in a uniform and shows kids pretty fliers of GI Joes and Janes being fantastical Armies of One. In the midst of this, we meet Lila Lipscomb, an unabashed patriot who proudly sent her kids into military service for Their Own Good. We watch in building horror as Lila disintegrates after the death of her son Michael in Iraq. As she reads a bitter, questioning letter from her now-deceased son, we watch her very foundation of unwavering American support crumble to reveal something even more patriotic: A citizen who demands answers. By the time Lila makes her tearful pilgrimage to the White House, the audience is rapt to her experience and emotions. Who knew this summer’s standout hero would be one of us?

Moore leaves the movie primarily up to the footage and, most importantly, up to Lila Lipscomb. He asks questions, he makes statements, but in the end, viewers are left with their own questions and conclusions.

Is this film partisan? Of course. Is it unpatriotic? Not for a second (much more patriotic than the boycotting and propagandist drivel of Fehrer Disney). Fahrenheit 9/11 is thought-provoking and well-made, which is more than one can say for most summer movies. Each American owes it to him or herself to see what Moore has wrought, if only to come face-to-face with the results of our own actions.