Michael Moore on the War Against Terror
When George W. Bush took office as the President of the United States is where “Fahrenheit 9/11” begins. The relationship the Bush family and certain Saudis goes back for decades, culminating in members of the bin Laden family mysteriously flying from the U.S. when all other air traffic was grounded directly after September 11. There are strange parallels between the black sheep of each clan who were somehow determined to both subvert and outdo the family patriarch at each turn.
Saudi money helped prop up the younger Bush’s failed business attempts, and Moore reveals that another fellow who washed out of Junior’s Air National Guard unit later became lawyer for bin Laden’s looking to invest in the Texas oil patch. Was this coincidence? It was if you think Dick Cheney’s stint as head of Halliburton had nothing to do with the reconstruction and supply company being made ready for war.
Director Michael Moore is relatively disciplined here as he adheres to areas like Bush senior’s ongoing work on behalf of the Saudis and against American interests.
There’s much discuss, or even argue with in the film; Moore’s treatment of the Patriot Act and its trashing of civil liberties is cursory, especially for a film whose title evokes book-burning. However, the portrait it draws of W as a pampered, calculating fool is unforgettable. The film’s single most damning image, in fact, is of nothing–or, more precisely, of Bush doing nothing for a full seven minutes after being informed that a second plane has slammed into the World Trade Center. Network news footage from the day catches him biting his lip and staring into space.
The film nearly didn’t come out with Miramax owners Disney threatening to prevent its distribution, an action which Moore ascribed to political conspiracy and which others noted made a nice pile of money for the parent company when it finally sold its controversial property. “Fahrenheit 9/11” is all about politics and money and never makes any secret of its left wing agenda. Many people go to see it simply for this reason. It was always going to be a big statement. It is also a good film in its own right.
The difference between this film and other documentaries on the War Against Terror is summed up by its coverage of the events of the 11th of September 2001 themselves. These are played out against a black screen; we’ve all already seen the pictures— we only have is the soundtrack of screaming, frightened, confused people, which hits a lot harder as a result. Later footage concentrates on human reactions rather than on the event itself.
Moore’s focus is on the climate of fear experienced by Americans in the aftermath of violence. Most of the snide remarks and ridiculing of public naivete are gone. Moore came to terms with the fact that people can disagree with him and still be worthy of sympathy, and this enables him to feature powerful interviews, including that at the emotional heart of the film, with a woman whose lifelong commitment to her country right or wrong is shaken by her personal encounter with the ugliness of war.
Moore does not mention factors which run against his argument (making it easy for opponents to cut him down. Some of the archival footage we see, has been suppressed by the US media. People may find that images of American corpses upset them in a different way, and likewise the images of Iraqi children injured in the conflict. Visuals like this, running alongside Moore’s well-documented collection of links between US government officials, arms and oil companies, and the Saudi Arabian regime will probably win over some of those who previously disagreed with him. These are supported by clips of George W Bush behaving like an imbecile that contribute little to the political debate.
“Fahrenheit 9/11” balances intensive lists of facts and figures with largely visual sequences, carefully chosen music and some touching human moments. Despite the weight of its subject matter, the film has plenty of energy and keeps a sense of humor. For once, Moore manages not to let his personal sense of outrage overshadow the opinions expressed by his interview subjects and the film is strongest when these interviews, and the archive footage, tell their own story. Astute pacing means that the film grips most of the way through. In some ways it’s frustrating to see closely related issues ignored, this was an awful lot to take on and extreme editing was necessary. This is quite an example of how to make a documentary film work both as a political tool and as a piece of cinema.
Featurette: ”The Release of Fahrenheit 9/11”
Montage: The People of Iraq on the Eve of Invasion
New Scene: ”Homeland Security, Miami Style”
Outside Abu Ghraib Prison
Eyewitness account from Samara, Iraq
Extended Interview: More with Abdul Henderson
Lila Lipscomb at the Washington, D.C. Premiere
Arab-American Comedians – Their acts and experiences after 9/11
Condoleezza Rice’s 9/11 Commission Testimony
George W. Bush’s Rose Garden press briefing after 9/11 Commission Appearance
Original Theatrical Trailer