I'm not usually in the movie reviewing business, like these lucky critics who get paid to critique Spider-Man, but this Farenheit phenomenon is hotter than anything I've ever seen involving a political film.
I don't know whether it will actually have an impact on the election--I suspect the people who love it are not exactly potential Bush supporters--but it is, for the moment, dominating the discourse, both at the pundit level and the local cineplex level.
What's most fascinating about the Michael Moore coverage is that while conservatives are shredding his film, even many liberals say that it's a heavy-handed piece of propaganda filled with exaggerations, if not outright falsehoods.
But "Farenheit 9/11" has ignited the anti-Bush base in a way not seen since Howard Dean was warming up his vocal cords. Even though many of the scenes in the movie are old news, repackaged in a new way to make the president look like a doofus.
Moore, who's always good copy, insists it's the mainstream media that are guilty of propaganda, or at least doing a lousy job of challenging the administration's propaganda.
InstaPundit, meanwhile, reports that a new book, "Michael Moore Is A Big Fat Stupid White Man," is No. 20 on Amazon | http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060763957/qid=1088560873/sr=2-2/ref=sr_2_2/103-8717552-8367818. There's a new Web site called Michael Moore Hates America. | http://michaelmoorehatesamerica.com/news.html And MoveOn has organized 1,400 house parties linked to the film.
Let's pass the popcorn and go to the critics. Andrew Sullivan | http://www.andrewsullivan.com has a geopolitical explanation:
'Well, I broke down and went to see the Michael Moore movie. I was expecting to be outraged, offended, maddened, etc etc. No one told me I'd be bored. The devices were so tired, the analysis worthy of something by an intern in the Nation online, the sad attempts to blame everything on Bush so strained and over-wrought even the most credulous of conspiracists would have a hard time giving them the time of day. This won the top Cannes prize? Only hatred of America can explain that."
Jeff Jarvis of the Buzz Machine | http://www.buzzmachine.com/ isn't wild about the film:
"Moore has lost something: Call it his light touch (I said his light touch, light for him) or call it his sense of humor, he used to make his point by making fun. He poked at the powerful to bring them down to earth. He laughed.
"Now he's still poking fun but in the immortal words of Billy Crystal, it's not fun, it's not funny. He's deadly serious. He's downright rabid. And that makes him harder to take; don't you always want to back away from somebody who's seething at you? It also makes his role as a filmmaker and political activist different: He's no longer just ridiculing the powerful; he's no longer turning them into punchlines; he's now trying to convince us that these particular powerful people -- Bush et al -- are evil, venal, corrupt, incompetent co-conspirators out to ruin our world.
"If you're going to try to convince us of that, then you have a different obligation of fact and argument than if you're just trying to make fun of somebody. You should give us legitimate facts and arm us with arguments by showing both sides of an issue and beating down the other side. If you don't do that, you're only shrieking. You're weakening your own argument by ignoring the other side. You're insulting the intelligence of your audience by not giving them both sides. You're just seething. That's what Moore is like now. He wants to convince us he's telling the truth but he's afraid to tell the whole truth."
Jonah Goldberg | http://nationalreview.com/goldberg/goldberg200406280944.asp refuses to see the flick but blasts Moore as having "officially become one of those rare figures who simply by his existence illuminates a great deal about politics. I don't need to know very much about you or your ideas to know that if you think Michael Moore is just great, a truth-teller and a much-needed tonic for everything that is wrong in American life, you are not someone to take seriously about anything of political consequence, or you are French. But I repeat myself.
"Now that is not to say that if you think Moore is useful or coming from the 'right direction' or some such that you aren't a serious person. One liberal friend (a prominent journalist) who went to the premiere noted that while Moore is for the most part a fraud and a hack, he serves the 'cause' by pulling the debate back toward the left; he keeps people on their toes; he raises useful issues, etc. After all, Moore was the one who reintroduced the whole Bush-is-a-deserter canard, which may have torpedoed Wesley Clark's already sinking ship but buoyed the Democrats generally . . .
"The fact remains that the more you think Michael Moore is an insightful and honest person the less reason there is for the rest of us to pay attention when your lips are moving.
"Now, I have no doubt that I will be getting some e-mail from someone or other shouting 'What about Limbaugh!?' -- or Robertson, or Coulter, or Michael Savage. These are different people each deserving different defenses (and different criticisms). But whatever these guys may or may not be guilty of is beside the point. The point is that the Moore-lovers themselves think there are absolutely no redeeming qualities to the alleged monsters in the right-wing parade of horribles, and yet they hypocritically create their own Frankenstein just so they can have a brazen liar of their own."
Whew! Pretty tough language for someone who's boycotting the movie.
The New Republic's Richard Just | http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=express&s=just062804 sums up the reaction on the left:
"A mainstream liberal consensus on Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 has emerged quickly. It goes something like this: Moore's a nutty conspiracy theorist, and parts of the movie--in which he suggests, among other things, that we invaded Afghanistan not because of 9/11 but because we wanted to build a natural gas pipeline--showcase Moore at his least responsible. But he's also a talented polemicist and filmmaker; and as a result, the second half of the movie--in which he uses the story of Lila Lipscomb, a grieving military mother, to examine why it is only the poor and working class who sacrifice in times of war--is both profound and smart . . .
"If the folks with whom I saw the movie provide any indication, audiences across the country will leave the theater so moved by Lipscomb's story that they will forgive Fahrenheit 9/11 its often-incoherent points and poorly supported accusations. That, I suspect, is exactly what Moore wanted: to wrap assertions that can only be described as odd--such as his insistence that the military is failing to adequately patrol miles of deserted Oregonian coast--in the heart-breaking story of a mother's loss and the legitimate observation that America's system of military service asks too much of the poor and too little of elites."
Slate's David Edelstein | http://slate.msn.com/id/2102859/ sounds almost tormented:
"In 20 years of writing about film, no movie has ever tied me up in knots the way Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 has. It delighted me; it disgusted me. I celebrate it; I lament it. I'm sure of only one thing: that I don't trust anyone -- pro or con -- who doesn't feel a twinge of doubt about his or her responses. What follows might be broadly labeled as 'waffling,' but I hope, at least, that it is bold and decisive waffling.
"Needless to say, Fahrenheit 9/11 never waffles. The liberals' The Passion of the Christ, it ascribes only the most venal motives to the other side. There is no sign in the filmmaker of an openness to other interpretations (or worldviews). This is not quite a documentary -- which I define, very loosely, as a work in which the director begins by turning on the camera and allowing the reality to speak for itself, aware of its complexities, contradictions, and multitudes. You are with Moore, or you are a war criminal. The film is part prosecutorial brief and part (as A.O. Scott has noted) rabid editorial cartoon: a blend of insight, outrage, and sniggering innuendo, the whole package threaded (and tied in a bow) with cheap shots, some of them voiced by Moore, some created in the editing room by intercutting stilted images from old movies. Moore is largely off-screen (no pun intended), but as narrator he's always there, sneering and tsk-tsking."
Progressive Editor Michael Rothschild | http://www.progressive.org/webex04/wx0626a04.html also sees a tragic flaw:
"I admire Michael Moore's courage. I can only imagine the kind of hate mail he gets, and I suspect he is receiving death threats that he ought to take seriously.
"Some Bush backers are so hostile to free speech in this country and so inebriated with partisanship and crude patriotism that you never know what they might do.
"We need people in this country with the guts to stand up and take on the powerful and the abusive and the criminal, and Moore is doing that in this movie. So hats off to him.
"But he had a great movie on his hands, and he couldn't leave well enough alone.
"Instead, he intruded, as is his trademark, too much into his own film. He used a sledgehammer approach when a dagger would have done the job, and he tarnished his whole enterprise with a tone that will be off-putting to all but the Moveon.org crowd."
Most professional movie critics feel differently, reports Editor & Publisher: | http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1000553027
"They like Mike. While the country as a whole appears split, along political lines, over the controversial Michael Moore documentary, 'Fahrenheit 9/11,' movie reviewers at U.S. daily newspapers are not.
"An E&P survey of 63 daily papers that ran reviews, in 'red' and 'blue' states alike, finds that 56 gave the film a positive nod, with only seven abstaining, an almost 90% favorable rating. The seven in the 'anti' camp were: Detroit Free Press, Rocky Mountain News of Denver, San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News, New York Post, South Florida Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale, The Philadelphia Daily News and The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer.
"Among the 'pro' crowd were reviewers from moderate to conservative papers such as the Boston Herald, Daily News of Los Angeles, The San Diego Union-Tribune and Las Vegas Review-Journal."
Which just goes to show you that film critics don't toe some journalistic line.
Now the columnists are beating up on each other, which is why I'm coming back to Andrew Sullivan: | http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=fisking&s=sullivan062904
"The oddest response has come from liberals who concede that the movie is dishonest, but still endorse it. Here's a column by William Raspberry | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A10713-2004Jun27.html from Monday's Washington Post, which indicates, I think, the ethical bankruptcy of some of Moore's supporters.
"'Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" is everything you've heard. It is a searing indictment of the Bush administration's war on terror. It is an eye-opening expose of a president whose inexperience and limited intelligence make him tragically unsuited for the job. It is a masterful job of connecting the dots between Saudi money and the business interests of the president and his friends. And it is an overwrought piece of propaganda--a 110-minute hatchet job that doesn't even bother to pretend to be fair.'
"Hold on. How can a movie be all these things? Take one argument here: that the documentary does a 'masterful job' of 'connecting the dots' between Saudi money and the president's former business interests. But when you see the movie, you see no new evidence of this--merely a rehash of existing reports that among billions invested in energy companies in the U.S., some Saudi money ended up in some Bush oil ventures. Moore has no actual evidence that this corrupted any political decisions at all--or how it might do so. Is the U.S. too close to the Saudi government? Almost certainly yes. Have all recent administrations been guilty? Of course. Could our dependence on Saudi oil help explain this proximity? Undoubtedly. But is there some secret alliance between the Bush family and the Saudi royal family to protect the mass murderers of Al Qaeda so that the president can make money? The movie doesn't even come close to proving this. But it does imply it. If Raspberry is a journalist, how can he call this a 'masterful job'? It's a smear job."
I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted.
After Illinois Senate candidate Jack Ryan had to cough up his divorce records--which led to his divorce from the campaign--there's talk that Kerry might be compelled to do the same. Which, the Los Angeles Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/2004/la-na-divorce30jun30,1,1916784.story?coll=la-headlines-elect2004 reports, he's not wild about:
"Sen. John F. Kerry said Tuesday that he would not unseal his divorce records as he campaigns for the presidency. 'I have no intention of doing that at all,' Kerry said in response to a reporter's question. 'There's no reason whatsoever. It's history, ancient history.'
"Kerry and Julia Thorne were married in 1970 but separated in 1982. They were divorced in 1988. Kerry said neither he, Thorne nor their daughters, Alexandra and Vanessa Kerry, see any reason to open that chapter of their lives to the public. 'My ex-wife and I are terrific friends, very proud of our children,' the Democrat said. 'We've stayed close as an extended family in a sense . . . and it's none of anybody's business.'"
Kerry has other things on his mind, as the New York Times | http://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/30/politics/campaign/30loan.html observes:
"Among the many strategic decisions facing Senator John Kerry in the coming weeks, one may hit closer to home than others, whether to use campaign contributions to repay the $6.4 million that he lent his campaign or pay it off over time using his own money.
"A provision in the new campaign finance law requires Mr. Kerry to pay back the loan shortly after the Democratic convention next month if he plans to use campaign money. Although Mr. Kerry has raised millions of dollars in recent months, using those contributions could not only reduce the money he can spend on his campaign, but also perhaps draw Republican attacks."
The GOP convention has been carefully timed to be close to the 9/11 anniversary, but as the New York Post | http://nypost.com/news/regionalnews/24102.htm reports:
"President Bush will make no visits to Ground Zero during this summer's Republican National Convention, his campaign manager said yesterday . . .
"Ken Mehlman would not, however, not rule out Bush traveling to Ground Zero on the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, nine days after the convention comes to a close."
A political leader fielding questions about sexual affairs in a lawsuit? Why does that sound familiar?
"Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick defended the dismissal of a deputy police chief from his internal affairs duties, but refused to answer questions about whether he had extramarital affairs with several women, according to a deposition released Monday," says the Detroit News. | http://www.detnews.com/2004/metro/0406/29/a01-197772.htm
"The deposition comes at a time when Kilpatrick is accused of using his security officers to help procure women as part of their city-paid duties. The city could potentially pay out millions if the mayor were to lose the lawsuit, scheduled to go to trial in May of next year."
Sounds like a winner for Court TV.