A Bur Under the Saddle: Michael Moore in Texas
By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 26, 2004; Page A07
CRAWFORD, Tex., July 25 -- President Bush's weeklong trip to his ranch will be rudely interrupted Wednesday when filmmaker Michael Moore drops in to show his antiwar satire "Fahrenheit 9/11" in enemy territory, eight dusty miles from -- in Moore's view -- the scene of the crime.
Bush held several councils of war at his Prairie Chapel Ranch before invading Iraq, and the Go-Go's song "Vacation" accompanies Moore's barbed cinematic commentary on the amount of time the president spends chopping cedar, golfing and talking to cows.
The film has taken in more than $103 million at the box office through this weekend, and is the first documentary to pass the $100 million mark. But it has never been shown in Crawford, population 705, where flags and yellow ribbons dot the roadside. In an interview Sunday, Moore said he had received several letters from residents who felt deprived. The opinion page editor of the Tribune-Herald in nearby Waco wrote a column offering to drape a bedsheet on a barn and show the movie if Moore would spring for the generator.
Moore's staff agreed to lend a print of the film to the Crawford Peace House, a hovel near the railroad tracks that an activist bought after raising the $6,000 down payment by selling "No War in Iraq" buttons for $1 apiece. The Peace House, which promises "a culturally diverse environment for spiritual growth" and is decorated with slogans like "Question Consumption," put out a red-and-white sign Saturday announcing a screening Wednesday at dusk. The suggested donation is $8.
What few if any people in town know is that Moore is coming along with the film and will introduce it and take questions afterward. He plans to send Bush an invitation to the Crawford premiere.
"He'd get a front-row seat," Moore said in a telephone interview from his native Flint, Mich. "I'd personally pop the popcorn."
Although fans have overrun Moore's appearances elsewhere, the problem here may be filling the 100 seats with anyone besides reporters and imports. Bush has been very good for business, as all the new knickknack stores along Lone Star Parkway attest. One shop, Main Street Place, has sold more than 40 T-shirts ($12 each) that say "Moore" with a slash through it and "Vote Bush 2004" since they came in on Thursday. And many rural Texans have little use for Michael Moore, his stunts or his peacenik agenda.
So of the 45 reservations that had been placed by late Sunday, exactly five were from Crawfordians. The rest were residents of such foreign parts as Dallas or Austin.
"There's definitely the feeling that supporting this film may be related to being unpatriotic," said Josh Collier, 24, the Peace House's volunteer resident. "Being seen near the Peace House is not looked on very highly by some folks in Crawford."
A local store that had agreed to rent the Peace House a tent for the screening later bugged out because of complaints from customers about aiding and abetting the liberal Yankee.
Crawford Mayor Robert L. Campbell, a Methodist minister, created such a fuss earlier this summer when he endorsed John Kerry that now he doesn't even want to talk about it. "I've already been through that hassle once," he said. "Until Bush moved here, no one even asked what your politics were." Not even Campbell is coming on Wednesday. "I'm not a moviegoer," he explained.
Johnny Wolf, the shaggy, bearded owner of the Peace House, was using a gasoline-powered mower to get an adjoining field of coastal Bermuda grass ready for the tent. He bought the house for $54,000 and has used it for rallies during visits by foreign leaders (British Prime Minister Tony Blair was the first target). Last summer, the liberal group Public Citizen protested Bush's relentless fund-raising by using the same field to show off a huge inflated mock White House with a "For Sale" sign over the door.
"We're confronting the culture of war," said Wolf, a 49-year-old former goat rancher. "We're not intimidated. Back in the '20s and '30s, Texas was hotbed of socialism and progressive farming. Now, it's just easier not to think."
Moore said he regards "the whole ranch-at-Crawford scene as almost a movie set where the president can go and play cowboy."
"The Bush White House works very hard at creating a story line for this president," he said. "The purpose of my film is to provide an alternative story line -- one that is not controlled by the White House press office."
A poll released last week by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that Moore is "preaching to the choir," with those who had seen the movie breaking down as 57 percent Democrat, 33 percent independent and 9 percent Republican. A Los Angeles Times poll last week concluded that the movie -- which the White House and Bush-Cheney campaign decided to ignore or brush off when officials were asked about it -- was wielding less influence among potential voters than Moore had hoped.
Bush has not seen the movie and does not plan to, an aide said. Some of Bush's preppy young workers don't want to support Michael Moore but are curious enough that they have been paying to see another film at a multiplex, then sneaking into "Fahrenheit."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
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