Michael Moore’s latest documentary shoots fish in a barrel. It’s just a pity the big fry escape through the holes in the bottom…
Some documentaries set out to record historic happenings for posterity, to provide background and understanding so future generations can appreciate the events of the time.
Films at the forefront of the genre – like Leon Gast’s boxing masterpiece ‘When We Were Kings’ or Kevin Macdonald’s ‘One Day in September’ about terrorism in the 1972 Munich Olympics – can illustrate the dramatic qualities unique to the real, rather than the Hollywood-constructed, world.
Other documentaries call viewers to action – like Ken Loach’s celebrated 1968 British masterpiece on homelessness, ‘Cathy come home’.
Michael Moore’s ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ falls firmly into this second category, firmly designed to shape the way America votes in November.
While it will reinforce the prejudices of the converted, ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ is primarily concerned with forcing those on the fence to come crashing down with a resounding thud that will, he hopes, be felt all the way to the White House.
Fahrenheit 9/11 has already become the highest-grossing documentary in US cinema, taking more than £49m in its first two weeks, and had special preview screenings in the UK last Sunday, before going on general release here this weekend.
Yet for all the reasons Moore provides for voting George W Bush out, he has thrown his paint bucket wide of the mark and ended up with a picture that is neither wholly-satisfying, nor entirely representative of all of the events it ambitiously attempts to cover.
Taking a satirical swipe at the 41st President of the United States was the easy part.
Less than a year after the legal farce of the 2000 election, a whole book could be compiled on George W’s unique interpretation of the English language during his election campaign speeches and first month in office.
Comedy aside, key topics covered here are spread over a wide area. They include why the United States, or more specifically, the Pentagon, didn’t have a coherent post-Saddam plan for Iraq; the impact Bush’s return to Reagonomic economic policies have had on the poor; and, why it is those poor who feel the need to join the military as a way out of the ghetto.
Much time is also spent on Saudi business dealings through George W, his father George senior, vice-president Dick Cheney, and the Carlyle Group consortium.
Some of the subtler relationships Bush enjoys closer to home are skipped over, however.
In another infamous scene on 11 September 2001, president Bush’s chief of staff Karl Rove leans into his ear to divulge a second plane had hit the World Trade Centre. But no mention is made about this mysterious man who Bush reportedly calls his ‘boy genius’. The all but anonymous aide is commonly cited as a key ideological force in the White House, and a master-planner of an invasion of Iraq. Now that’s worth knowing about!
Some of the topics touched upon warrant documentaries of their own. Moore could have made them all and released them as a box-set entitled: ‘Pre-election Special’.
Of all the hubris surrounding this film, perhaps the most memorable will be the decision by Disney to stop Miramax, one of its subsidiaries, from releasing the film on the basis of its political content.
Miramax founders Harvey and Bob Weinstein decided to buy back the rights, and strike their own deal with distributors, as a consequence not only has it appeared in cinemas, but those cinemas are also crowded to capacity. The publicity Disney’s decision garnered would make any movie PR guru proud.
Politically neutral cinema-goers who go to see this film are likely to fall off the fence and tell their friends to see it, who will themselves fall off the fence, and tell their friends to see it.
But despite its Palme D’or, and a possible Oscar, ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ is unlikely to enter the annals of cinema as a classic of its genre.
It will, however, be remembered as propaganda – albeit exceptionally successful propaganda – especially if the story ends with John Kerry winning the election.