Michael Moore's powerful, wrenching, drenching, heartfelt, ultimately patriotic Fahrenheit 9/11 -- a rapid-fire assemblage of what the career polemicist finds most wrong in our nation's government in the almost four years since the Supreme Court decided the 2000 election in favor of George W. Bush -- may be the electoral season's most controversial Rohrschach test.
The early, hysterical actions by some groups to harass theater chains into not showing the movie demonstrates an unusual amount of fear. Why fret? If Moore's a charlatan, won't his lies be found out? Why would any politician fear accusations that are not true? Why would anyone work to suppress the voices of the opposition? What would happen to our homeland if there were open political debate? The implications are monstrous!
As it turns out, Fahrenheit 9/11 is not a campaign commercial, but a hushed, mocking voice of outrage. And it's only one movie, and one that you have to get up off the couch, take a drive and pay nearly $10 to see. Moore's mockery of this administration is hardly a fraction of the daily diet of bile produced by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and other entertainers like him. Opening on at least 800 screens, with more in coming weekends if there's an audience for it, Fahrenheit 9/11 is a free-associative barrage compiling all manner of misdirection, feats of arrogance and outright lies. The effect is like Moore composing his own onrushing montage of material he could read by rapidly surfing through advocacy sites that he might trust (such as dailykos.com, Atrios or Billmon.org) as well as the opposite side of the aisle with the likes of the Drudge report and Newsmax.
There are passages where you'd be at a loss as to determine exactly what Moore is attempting to prove, but the cumulative impact from taking in the flood of information is anger. Let a thousand footnotes bloom, I say, but don't let the facts be drowned out in critiques of Moore's personality. In fact, while Moore narrates, his face and figure hardly ever show up on screen. (It's also important to remember that most of the loudest voices to rebuke and repress Fahrenheit 9/11 have not seen and will not see it.)
Much of the criticism, such as that leveled by David Denby in The New Yorker, regards what Moore left out, rather than the damning bits and bobs that are left in. In Denby's formulation, "[Moore] never asks how the American government should conduct itself in a war against religious totalitarians."
In two hours, you can't explain the world, but ideally, the sustained dudgeon that is Fahrenheit 9/11 can, at the very least, prompt enough indignation to encourage introspection and inspire honest questioning: Is this really our nation? Are these really our leaders? Are they really greedy, selfish, avaricious, war-profiteering plutocrats? Are these our ideals?
After a single viewing, the only grievous sleight-of-hand I would knock Moore for involves his use of music and sound. Jeff Gibbs' score partakes of the same rumbustious gloom as any old Philip Glass score for an Errol Morris documentary. To depict the attack on the World Trade Center, he uses a montage of voices with a black screen rather than showing the carnage, as Alejandro Gonzalez-Innaritu chose to do in his near-unbearable contribution to the September 11 omnibus film. More egregious is a montage of upturned faces at Ground Zero accompanied by Arvo Part's "Spiegel im Spiegel"; in Jason Kliot's sorrowful 2002 Site, a parallel montage is scored to Part's very, very similar "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten."
Moore's third act has a heroine: Lila Lipscomb, a woman from Flint, Mich., much of whose multiracial family has served in the military, and I won't describe what happens, but it is heart-wrenching.
Moore doesn't hate America, or soldiers, or life itself, which seems to be the line of a range of journalists who aren't otherwise occupied reviewing Bill Clinton's memoir before reading it. (Christopher Hitchens is Slate's hitman against Moore and his film, for instance.) Moore put it this way to the ever-frightening Katie Couric on Today this week, "My film is... a silent plea to all of you in the news media to do your job. We need you. You -- we -- you're our defense against this. If we don't have you, what do we have? And I just think a disservice was done to the American people. You know what's great about this country? You and everyone else here gets to ask any question you want. Literally, you can ask any question you want. No one can stop you."
For journalists, filmmakers, reviewers, voters, that's true: No one can stop you. Except yourself.