Definition of Documentary:
noun (plural doc-u-men-ta-ries) factual movie or TV program: a movie or TV program presenting facts and information, especially about a political, historical, or social issue
Depending on who you speak with, Michael Moore is either a blabbering idiot or a prophetic genius. If you look at the definition of the word documentary, you become just as confused as the masses flocking to the movie theater this week.
As a student of film and one who enjoys documentaries, I have been a fan of Michael Moore ever since he exploded onto the scene with Roger and Me back in 1989. I have appreciated Michael Moore. He is one that has been, to say the least, controversial and has given the appearance of being afraid of going up against no one who might be taking advantage of the poor, especially the poor and needy people of Flint, Michigan, his hometown. Now - a number of documentaries, a book deal, and a television series later - he is back with a vengeance, and a more obvious grudge than at any time in the past, with his new movie Fahrenheit 9/11 (in which he may have the third top-grossing documentary of all time). Unfortunately, Moore may have crossed the line from Documentary Film Maker to Propaganda Film Maker.
Some will be critical of Moore, saying that he has always been involved in propaganda, but I don't know if that is quite so true. I would say that Moore has always been involved in stating his mind. One of the things that has impressed me is that, while I have not always agreed with every position Moore has taken, he is one that has stated his position with passion and honesty. Never has he been rude and or ruthless in his approach, not even (in my opinion) during the controversial questioning of Charlton Heston in Bowling for Columbine. Those concerned about that line of questioning need to remember that he could have been a lot more critical of the "race card" played by Houston in his blaming of race for the violence in America. I could say all of those things with personal conviction and passion about Moore, that is -- until now.
If truth be told, I wanted to get up and walk out of the movie during the first 25 minutes. It was excruciating, watching the President mercilessly accused and attacked without the balance of an opportunity or occasion provided for anyone to speak on his behalf. Moore became a bully, and what was even more problematic for me was seeing that the audience was overwhelmingly supportive of the message.
In Bowling for Columbine, it became obvious, especially in watching the special features, that Michael Moore had a vendetta against President George Bush (the son). It became even more obvious in the special features because they were made sometime after 9/11/2001 and the tragic attack by terrorists on the World Trade Center. He referred to President Bush in those commentaries, just as he did at the Academy Awards where Bowling for Columbine won the Academy Award for Best Documentary, as a "Fictitious President promoting a Fictitious War." It became obvious, very fast, that Michael Moore was going to make a film blasting our President, and that's what he did.
F-9/11 incorporates long slow-motion shots of President Bush, which present him as distorted and with unnatural images. There is also commentary about Bush lying on satin sheets and being someone who cares only for the wealthy, conveniently ignoring the fact that Michael Moore is not a poor man himself. In fact, Moore even made numerous comments about the fact that he has never made a movie that lost money. He is, again remember the comment earlier, the writer, director and producer of the three highest grossing documentaries of all time. One should not forget that while walking around in blue jeans, T-shirt and baseball cap may give the appearance of associating with the common person, Michael Moore for a long time has not been associated with that crowd himself. The reality is that even while Moore criticizes our president for sleeping on satin sheets, he himself has slept on them a number of times himself in his lifetime.
There are numerous other scenes that reveal Moore’s hatred of our President, as well. For instance, he seems to go out of his way to take comments or to present situations out of context, such as, it is a fact that a number of Presidents have worked out of Camp David or wherever their favorite vacation spot is (aside: frankly, I have always found it difficult to understand how any real work gets done within the beltway of Washington, DC, myself. Anyone who has ever lived there can testify to that difficulty). Yet, Moore takes every possible opportunity to blast Bush for taking too many vacations.
However, before many get too upset about the position of Michael Moore on the political scene, understand this, he is just as vicious in F-9/11 against Democrats as he is Republicans, and no one gets a free candy bar. Moore attacks with ferocity all within the political system; it just so happens that President Bush is the unfortunate victim and target of the largest portion of that attack. The other unfortunate truth is that Michael Moore goes beyond reason and appropriate questioning and instead enters into deliberate and inappropriate slanting of the commentary and facts regarding the President.
At first glance, one might assume I think that F-9/11 was a total waste. However, despite my serious concerns about inappropriate attacks and editorial comments on the President, I didn't. I believe that there were also a number of entirely appropriate questions raised about the President -- questions regarding his ties to the Saudis, issues related to Bush's connection to James Bath, and other issues raised by this film are all legitimate questions that a number of Americans would like to see answered. What about the Bin Ladens getting air transportation out of the United States 2 days after 9/11? All these matters should be addressed more extensively than they were.
There are other issues brought up in the movie though, and other explorations that Moore makes that makes this movie valuable and in some ways worthwhile.
About half way through the "Bush Bash" we see some legitimate investigation into the war in Iraq itself. While there could have been mention of the atrocities that took place in Iraq under Hussein, there weren't any to my recollection. There were, however, appropriate discussion and commentary about the options of the poor and how most of them are recruited to the military as a last resort and a last option.
Within this particular exploration, there are war-torn scenes and interviews that ought to break every heart watching the movie, from blown-up children to soldiers frustrated over the situation. While I believe Moore had to search for military personnel who would demonstrate the attitudes he wanted to present, nonetheless, he did find them and use them in F-9/11. The movie takes us from soldier to wounded, from victim (I refuse to use the term collateral damage: often, innocent people are killed in war) to family member of a Killed-in-Action serviceman. We see before our eyes the heartache and tragedy of war. We see a hurt and wounded mother, who has lost her son, approached by an ignorant protester for the war as she breaks down and wails in tears. Folks, those scenes -- those scenes where we see Moore approach the common person -- are what make Michael Moore who he is. He captures the heartache and reality of war as well as, or better than, anyone has in a very long time. And he does it with compassion toward the people he is reaching and in a way that allows them to open up to him like few others. For any viewers to not find themselves moved by someone reading the last letter of their now dead son, or grieving to the wails of a mother who has lost her innocent family to the consequences of war, is to have lost the very life that at one time made America different.
But once again, Moore has not given us the balance. We don't see the overwhelming amount of support that the military men and women have placed in this war. We don't see the multitudes of people in Iraq who have expressed gratitude for our men and women being there. Living in a military town, and knowing that the story presented by Moore is far from complete, I again was pulled from one direction to another. This did not, however, take away from the appropriateness of the scenes I watched.
Moore also uses humor to point out other issues. There are two situations that hit home for me. In one segment of the picture, Moore follows around recruiters for the Marines. To say the least, these two individuals and the tactics they use could cause them to be classified as "weasels." They openly lied and manipulated the truth to reach young, poor men in the Flint, Michigan, area. In all honesty, if these two men are still working as recruiters, it is a shame. Moore's expose of their "cornering" tactics, the lying and misinformation the recruiters used, cannot be argued against. This is especially true of most of the long scenes he used. There are numerous scenes that have very little editing and use mostly what is called long shots, where these individuals clearly demonstrate the questionable psychological manipulation used in recruiting. Moore does a great job of also showing here that the poor have paid their price for the freedom of America. Unfortunately, their rewards afterwards leave a lot to be desired: he shows one family whose son's final paycheck was docked for the fact that, because he had been killed, he didn't work the full month.
In another scene, exploring the involvement of the poor versus the involvement of the wealthy in war, Moore goes to Capitol Hill. He questions every legislator that he can as to why it is that only one son of all of the legislators serves in the military. The reactions of these individuals, while disgusting, is also comical. Again, the viewers understand the point Moore is trying to make and can relate in ways they wish they couldn't.
In many ways, this movie is an exploration of the failures of people, and in many ways, the failures of America. It hurts, because many of those failures exist, but for many of us it also hurts because the movie doesn't portray the true hope that many of us have. Moore himself has stated that he hopes this movie brings America back together; unfortunately, he may have done more harm to that cause than help.
If I consider this "documentary" as just a movie, it is well worth seeing. But the fact that it is laced with misinterpretations of the truth -- lies in many cases, if you will -- is difficult to deal with. There are parts of the movie that in and of themselves are honest and therefore important to watch. Those parts are honest because in those scenes we don't hear or see much of the Michael Moore commentary. What we see is people telling stories. Unfortunately, Moore himself blasts and blusters in this movie more than in any other he has ever done. It is obvious to those that watch that he may have never met a politician that he liked, whether Democrat or Republican.
Because of its schizophrenic nature, I am confused as to what to give as a score on my review of this movie. I would like to give it a 7 or 8, I wish I could give it a lukewarm 5, I want to give it a 3 or a 2 -- I just don't know. If the purpose of this movie is to make me think, then not since Mystic River has a movie accomplished that purpose as well. I would like to say, "see the movie," but I am afraid that some will not have done enough research to discern what is truth and what is propaganda. I want to say, "don't see the movie," but then there are things that the American People need to know before sending their sons off to war. Moore loves the troops, but he hates their Commander and Chief, calling him a False President. I just don't know, so since I don't know, I'll leave it at that.