Fahrenheit 9/11 ★★★½

I remember vividly going to see Fahrenheit 9/11 during its theatrical run in 2004. I was in my junior year at the University of Louisville. That was before Crohn's derailed my plans of going into teaching history. I've always been drawn to politics and such matters, and the energy surrounding this film was irresistible. I don't know that enough young people realize just how important this film was in exposing how derelict mainstream journalism had been in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Funny as it may seem, I can only think of one other movie I've ever gone to see where the audience was so quiet throughout the feature as was the audience with whom I saw Fahrenheit 9/11: the first half hour of WALL-E. (That excludes a few movies where there were only a few people in attendance.) There were some gasps and muted reactions of people clearly choking up at some of the film's clips, and a few chuckles but as a collective we were much too reverent to make much noise at all.

What I admire most about Michael Moore's style as documentarian is how he makes every point he raises about people. He doesn't attack general ideology; he attacks specific ideologists. He puts a human face on every point he makes.

The problem I have with Michael Moore is that he doesn't always connect every point he makes. Much is made of the relationship between the Bush family and the Saudis, for instance. There are some questionable things, such as exactly why the Bin Laden family members were whisked out of the U.S. in the wake of the attacks on the authority of the federal government. But what does it mean? I kept wanting to ask Moore at various points in the film.

It's weird to watch this film nearly a full decade later and to know that the counter-arguments levied then are just as valid today: "Too little, too late" and "So what?" There's a sense that Moore got to the courthouse after Boss Hogg completed his dirty deal to seize the Duke farm and the best he could do was to tell us how dirty the deal was. It may be shady and objectionable, but Boss has the farm and the Dukes don't so what's the point?

In 2004, the point was to go to the polls and do something by electing John Kerry. There's no question that was the intended objective for the film, opening just ahead of the election. I've long wondered, though, whether whatever difference it may have been able to make in the election was muted by being released so close to the election. Surely, they anticipated that most of the core audience would be us liberals who were already going to vote for Kerry (or, at least, vote against Bush). Had Fahrenheit 9/11 opened earlier, it may have helped give some traction for progressives to seize the narrative of the election.

Of course, even that wouldn't have made much difference since Kerry himself was so passive as a candidate. This isn't something that's even covered in the film, of course, but it was hinted at in the last section where an injured veteran declares that he's switching his political allegiance and will dedicate himself to the Democratic Party however he can.

I recently discussed Moore's Bowling for Columbine on a forum. There, I remarked that I would love to see a documentary made where Moore goes off to be himself as a blunt instrument to provoke and confront, but the film itself is directed and edited by someone else. Moore does a great job identifying points to make, but he doesn't strongly connect them in support of whatever thesis drives his film. Which leads me to the question: Just what was the thesis of Fahrenheit 9/11? That the Bush family and administration were corrupt? That the invasion of Iraq was for profit? That war is terrible? I'm not really clear.

Fahrenheit 9/11 Re-Ranked on My Flickchart (#509/1515)

Fahrenheit 9/11 > Ghosts of Girlfriends Past --> #509
Though I feel Michael Moore doesn't connect all the dots very well in Fahrenheit 9/11, it's still engaging and thought provoking enough to edge out the win here.

Fahrenheit 9/11 < The Good Girl --> #509
The subject matter of Fahrenheit 9/11 is more compelling, certainly, but it doesn't coalesce as strongly as it should. Meanwhile, Jennifer Aniston was terrific in The Good Girl. It's an overlooked gem and it wins here.

Fahrenheit 9/11 < Superman and the Mole Men --> #569
Too much of Fahrenheit 9/11 focuses on insinuations rather than concrete evidence of corruption but it does raise some important questions. Still, I favor Superman and the Mole Men. Its commentary on xenophobia is as relevant today as it was progressive in the 50s.

Fahrenheit 9/11 > Waltz with Bashir --> #569
Waltz with Bashir is the stronger film and probably the more affecting as well, but here's where I display a purely American bias: Fahrenheit 9/11 meant more to me. It's as simple as that.

Fahrenheit 9/11 > A Beautiful Mind --> #569
I found A Beautiful Mind engaging and intriguing, but Fahrenheit 9/11 was directly responsible for snapping journalists out of their post-9/11 passivity. That impact tips the scales here in its favor for me.

Fahrenheit 9/11 > Sweet Home Alabama --> #569
I did get a kick out of Sweet Home Alabama, but the impact that Fahrenheit 9/11 had on post-9/11 journalism - and the theater audience I saw it with - was tremendous.

Fahrenheit 9/11 > Destino --> #569
The Disney/Dali collaboration Destino is everything I imagined and hoped it would be. Fahrenheit 9/11 falls short of my hopes for it, but it hits enough high points to get the nod here.

Fahrenheit 9/11 > Ryan's Daughter --> #569
Unlike Pauline Kael, I didn't hate Ryan's Daughter. It's overlong and lethargic, but there are some things to appreciate about it. Still, this is an easy win for Fahrenheit 9/11.

Fahrenheit 9/11 > Hunger --> #2008
This for me comes down to: Michael Moore confronting members of Congress about enlisting their kids vs. that incredible 16-minute single take in Hunger. The movie fan in me admires Hunger but respects Moore's use of the medium.

Fahrenheit 9/11 > Cashback --> #569
I like the idea of Cashback more than I like the film itself, which I found a bit self-indulgent. The same can be said of Fahrenheit 9/11, of course, but I admire its intentions and the impact it made on journalists.

Fahrenheit 9/11 was re-ranked on my Flickchart to #569/1515