You might well wonder why Michael Moore’s new documentary feature should be reviewed here in Movie Madness. Well, in some ways, Fahrenheit 9/11 resembles the old Italian psychotronic documentaries like Mondo Cane and Africa Addio – See: A prisoner’s head cut off! See: a pick-up truck loaded with bloody corpses!
Moore’s right wing enemies have been known to use such sensationalist tactics, too. For example, a few years ago a prime plank in Republican candidates’ platforms was getting rid of estate taxes. They ran ads depicting poor country folks losing the family farm they’d inherited, taken away by those heinous Democrats. Of course, these ads failed to mention that estate taxes affected only the richest 2% of estates. They also never mentioned Democratic proposals to exempt family farms, small businesses, and the first $100 million of any estate, all of which were rejected by Bush and his Republican Congress. As a result, prospective heirs like Paris Hilton and George Bush need never fear losing the family farm, the family yacht, or the family jet.
So what’s the difference between the Italians, the Republicans, and F911? While the mondo movies – and many of their reality TV progeny – build their shocks on deceit and faked footage, Moore’s documentary is based on facts. He gives us a rundown of the shocking, often amusing, George Bush résumé. Bush’s National Guard record, uncensored. How he launched his oil companies backed by Saudi royals and other wealthy Saudi Arabian families, including the bin Ladens. How Bush used inside info to sell off shares in a company he was working for days before it filed bankruptcy. How right wingers on the Supreme Court squelched investigations into voting miscounts in Florida. How Bush ignored pleas from law enforcement, military and security chiefs to act against terrorists. How Bush has spent a third of his time as president on vacation. How Bush helped hundreds of Saudis to flee the country after 9/11. How Bush put into action a weaker version of Richard Clarke’s plan to bust up Al Quaida, only to back off without capturing Osama bin Laden once a gas line through Afghanistan was assured. How the Bush regime kept the country frightened and confused in order to manipulate them. How no one who voted for it actually read the Patriot Act, and how Bush sold national security while actually slashing security budgets. And finally, how Bush sent bombs and troops into Iraq based on hearsay evidence (at best) or outright lies (at worst) about Hussein’s threat to the rest of the world, declaring victory before thousands of our servicemen were killed or crippled in the still-boiling turmoil.
It’s at this point that Fahrenheit 9/11 represents Moore at his most manipulative. He’s already shown us that Bush went into Iraq for all the wrong reasons, but he knows that facts, figures, and even jokes won’t convince some people. Some people need to be reminded of what we’re talking about when we say “War is Bad”. Some people need to see some gut wrenching footage of children with their bodies torn apart by bombs, veterans made into quadriplegics, and the homes of innocents burned to the ground. Some people need to hear the wailing cries of a woman whose lost her entire family in the bombing. Inevitably, Moore takes his camera back to his home town of Flint, Michigan – still suffering from an estimated 50% unemployment – to film a woman’s tears over her dead son. When this woman speaks out against the administration, one conservative heckler tells her to “blame bin Laden” for her son’s death. Gee, is that sneaky Osama hiding in Iraq after all, spending his spare time shooting down helicopters?
This woman’s son is one of many soldiers that express regret over Bush’s decisions. F911 doesn’t contain any costumed mascots fighting corporate crime, but in one of the film’s few wacky stunts Moore accompanies a Marine (who says he’ll go to jail rather than go back to Iraq) on an attempt to recruit the children of Congressman. This is in answer to a section that wanders off point a ways to follow Marine recruiters around a mall as they try to sign up poor teenagers – the military harvesting from poverty is an old story. Haven’t the rich always been able to keep their kids out of war? Wouldn’t you if you could?
Moore doesn’t completely spare the left wing. One section focuses on the sad fact that a recount could have been called in the 2000 election if a single Senator had stepped forward. He also spreads the criticism around a bit – one bit comments on how John Ashcroft was hired as Attorney General despite the fact that he couldn’t win an election against a dead man. Please. It should be enough to condemn Ashcroft for his singing. And Bush Sr., who was sitting in a board meeting with his Saudi bosses on 9/11, is roasted a bit. But Moore’s main target is George W. Bush, a man who has been covering up the fact that he’s been in the Saudi’s pocket for decades. Of course, some would say he doesn’t go far enough – a really thorough exposé on Bush would deal with how he gained millions of votes on his tax rebate plan, which has only really benefited the ultra-rich, and how he’s slashed social and security programs to pay for it. It’d show how Bush’s buddies have profited from the war, too, how he’s tried to shut up his critics in a veil of censorship, how he’s hogtied medical research to appease religious fanatics, and how he’s ruined financial stability and international good will. Moore lets him off easy. He paints a portrait of an inept, arrogant and lazy rich boy who rode on the fact that his daddy was president until he got the job himself, only to find himself in way over his head when one of the snakes daddy supported turned around to bite us.
F911 tells us that billions of dollars have poured into the Bush’s bank accounts from Saudi Arabia, home of Osama bin Laden and his Al-Quaida. Ask a conservative why US troops would invade Iraq but ignore Saudi Arabia, and they’ll invariably tell you, “Well, they’re next.”
Maybe they are, but not while a Bush is in office.