In the business of theology it is hard not to be controversial - Jurgen Moltmann

Saturday, 30 October 2004

Film Stuff: Fahrenheit 9/11

Fahrenheit 9/11 (dir / pro / writ: Michael Moore, USA 2004)
§ Winner of Palme D’Or at Cannes 2004
§ Watched @Cameo @£1

It is a brilliant advocatory-documentary: it documents to advocate for an explicit political stance. This stance is clear and simple throughout the whole film, but is explicitly put forth right at the opening and the ending.
Opening sequence: from Al Gore celebrating the winning of presidential election in 2000 to Bush’s inauguration in DC which encountered unprecedented protests. The film starts with a reminder to the US American people that they did not elect GW Bush, the court did. Moore tries to establish the illegitimacy of Bush’s presidency by saying that it is merely the product of his daddy’s network with influential people.
Then the film continues to discredit GW by showing his apparent impotence or inactivity during his first few months in office. He spent 42% of his first half year on vacation. Two days before 9/11 he was still on vacation. Then came the attack. Instead of figuring out how to deal with the national crisis, Moore tells the audience that the president was trying to sort out ways to get out of trouble – thinking of ways to hide his family’s close connection with the Bin Laden family.
The first half of the film is basically an attempt to show how the two families are linked in terms of interests, and how GW is trying to stop the congress from starting immediate investigation into 9/11, and how the Bush administration has been ‘stealing the sky and changing the sun’ to divert public attention toward Iraq by artificially connecting Saddam Hussein with Al Qaeda.
Then the second half of the film is an exhibit of the absurdity of the war on terrorism and the ungrounded invasion of Iraq. Innocent American citizens come under secret agent surveillance simply because they have said something about terrorism. Innocent Iraqi civilians are killed, and their homes blown into pieces. Innocent US American young people from poor communities drafted into the army for the sake of a better future, only to find themselves killed or severely wounded or carrying out their duties in desperate situations. Big corporations get together to make business plans for ‘rebuilding’ the country. The senators voted for going to war but would not encourage their own children to be enlisted.
The film’s premise is that Bush is actually targeting the war on his own fellow US American citizens. He takes the war on terrorism as a pretext to manipulate the country and create business opportunities for the defence industry.

There are several especially powerful moments.
The treatment of the 9/11 attack is an audio-only sequence with total visual blackout. Then we see the reaction of people in the street in NYC.
The Iraqi woman who have lost her son in the bombing calling to Allah.
The American woman who lost her son reads his last letter home: ‘don’t vote for this stupid guy again’.

Somehow you have to know at least something about US American society-culture-politics to appreciate this film. It plays around with a lot of old American songs, TV programmes and film clips, such as superimposing the heads of GW and others (including Tony Blair) onto the opening jingle of Bonanza. The analogy of GW Bush being a cowboy is clear.

Is it a balanced documentary? No. Are there evidence and viewpoints from different sides? No. It is never intended to be. It is unabashedly a political statement against GW Bush government. Understandably the Bush supporters would refrain from watching it, and those who dislike him would like the film. It is no wonder that audience in the USA, as told by Hoi Sue, cheers and screams in cinema.
Forget about the balanced reporting baggage. A filmmaker’s mission, as a producer of culture, is to go for what she or he thinks, as far as it is well grounded with sound evidence, well presented in a clear and convincing and attention-drawing manner. To bring forth viewpoints of all sides and tell the audience to decide for themselves is the job of a messenger.
Michael Moore has always been doing this, successfully. This time, in Fahrenheit 9/11, his effort is to be celebrated.

(originally written on 14 July 2004)

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