Can a movie decide an election?
Michael Moore would certainly like it to. Time Magazine writes that "Fahrenheit 9/11 may be the watershed event that demonstrates whether the empire of poli-tainment can have decisive influence on a presidential campaign" and compares it to the Nixon-Kennedy debate.
The film has had a large impact already, whatever direction it might take. As the Sunday Herald notes, "Fahrenheit 9/11 has become one of the most controversial productions in Hollywood history. Last month Australian distributors Hopscotch Films claimed to have received e-mails warning that if the company went ahead with its planned release of the movie, it would do so 'at our own peril'." And everyone's already heard about the movie winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes and the initial attempts by Disney to block the film's release. When it hit the theaters, it was a box-office smash: BusinessWeek reported, "The movie itself defied expectations and grossed $24 million on its debut weekend of June 25, establishing it as the biggest nonmusical documentary ever. Moore's distributor is preparing to more than double its screens to 2,000. Lefty Moore can thank conservatives for some of that boffo reception. The right-wing group Citizens United petitioned the Federal Election Commission on June 24 to restrict advertisements for the movie, charging that they are political ads. Others pressured theater owners to shun the movie, only generating more attention."
However, some on the left (such as Salon.com and Christopher Hitchens, a former writer for The Nation) have disparaged or outright attacked the movie for its excess of emotional insinuation and paucity of hard-fact intellectual rigor. I certainly agree with these criticisms, though I tend to think the people who know the facts are already against Bush--the movie is playing to a specific target audience in a way that liberals have not yet effectively done. Remember that the mass-motivators of the conservative media are people like Rush Limbaugh, hardly known for carefully-checked facts or logical clarity.
Incidentally, thousands of people have been downloading pirated copies of the movie. The Sunday Herald wrote that "Ironically, the burgeoning underground market for Moores much-debated documentary has been championed by both sides of the political divide. While left-wing sites promote the films message, opponents of the high-profile polemicist are urging people to steal their copy, thus denying its director his cut of the profits. Last month the website of producers Lions Gate Films was subjected to a barrage of attacks by hackers, with one creating a link to a download destination on the sites front page." Moore has no problem with the piracy. He's quoted as saying, "I do well enough already and I made this film because I want the world to change. The more people who see it the better, so Im happy this is happening." What's more, the distributor--Lions Gate--doesn't plan to do anything about it either.
Also, F 9/11's success seems to be catalyzing the ascention of the documentary as a successful mass entertainment in the movie industry, per this article in yesterday's New York Times.
I kinda feel like F911 and The Daily Show are the new face of news: because Serious News just can't take the left wing bias position and not get nuked out of the water, it's defaulting to neutral at best or (more typically) a range of right wing positions ranging from mildly republican through to unthinkingly pro-Fascist.
So tellings of the truth through the left-wing filter wind up as comedy.
Moore's going to walk away from this deal with literally tens of millions of dollars. I think we're really, really going to be glad of that in the next decade or so as he goes from demogogue to serious political force.
Jer, I'd disagree with your (implicit) characterization of F9/11 as being skimpy on "hard-fact intellectual rigor." Critics of the movie haven't been able to come up with any actual errors of fact (Isikoff's claim in Newsweek that F9/11 asserts that the Saudis were allowed to leave prior to the flight ban being lifted, for example, is itself in error: the movie doesn't claim that, and shows the flights all leaving on 9/13, the day the ban was lifted). In that sense, I agree with Jo Ma that the use of Limbaugh as a comparison is unwarranted.
The interpretations of the facts are, of course, matters of opinion, but one of the strengths of F9/11 -- and the biggest reason why the Right has its collective panties in a bunch over it -- is the way that it often lets the administration dig its own grave, using all-too-real footage left that too few of us actually have gotten to see before.
Oh, don't get me wrong, Jamais, I don't mean he was wrong about any facts--simply that the movie did not operate on a thoroughly-reasoned-out policy-wonk-argument level, it operated on an emotional, these-images-are-presented-next-to-each-other-so-they-must-be-related level. Sure, it's a movie, not a white paper, but I can see many conservatives dismissing it for the high percentage of cheap shots that Moore takes.
The comparison with Limbaugh is unfair in that the latter often says things that are semi-true or outright wrong (so I've heard), but it's fair and instructive in that Limbaugh's power comes from his ability to emotionally motivate people, as does Moore's. This is why Moore is valuable to the movement, because there are precious few leftists who are good at that.
For those who are considering seeing F9/11, I want to say two things:
1) F9/11 is an op-ed documentary. Moore does nor claim to present a "fair and balanced" portrait of the G.W.B. administration. And why should he? Sometimes people have to speak from their hearts in order to be understood; after that, everyone, as ever, is free to make up her or his own mind. That being said, I think that Moore's style and technique are improving. He's hardly in the movie itself, and he lets footage of Bush and company speak for itself, without even considering the juxtaposition of the clips used.
2) Anyone who sees F9/11 owes it to him or herself to also see The Fog of War. The two movies complement each other amazingly well. Comparisons of G.W.B. and L.B.J. are almost too easy to make, and the hard-earned lessons of Robert Strange McNamara ought to be required study for anyone concerned about what is happening here and now in the U.S. of A.
"I certainly agree with these criticisms, though I tend to think the people who know the facts are already against Bush"
Many of us who know the facts are voting for Bush, because we know the Iraq war was necessary and a bold move toward changing the political dynamics of the region, which will do more to end terrorism than piecemeal fly-swatting. We also know Moore is full of shit - more debunkings of F911:
Moore's propaganda is really good at producing emotional reactions and short-circuiting logic and reason. He's the Ann Coulter of the Left. Yup, I am really looking forward to the voting decisions of thousands of Americans all fired up by Michael Moore.
This is one of the best comments I've read about Moore and mainstream media:
You sure have those talking points down cold.
Well, gosh, that proved the point better than I ever could. This is why I prefer treatments like Robert Greenwald's, which have more explanatory depth and less movie-making spin.
Don't miss "Fahrenheit 7/17"...