[Marxism] Sophisticated critique of Fahrenheit 9/11

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jul 22 08:17:53 MDT 2004

NY Review of Books, Volume 51, Number 13 · August 12, 2004

Is It All Just a Dream?
By Geoffrey O'Brien

Fahrenheit 9/11
a film by Michael Moore

Michael Moore doesn't so much make documentaries as make movies with 
documents: if, that is, the term "documentary" has any more descriptive 
precision than, say, "nonfiction." In his first film, Roger & Me (1989), 
Moore invented for himself—and more or less perfected—the genre in which 
he has continued to work: call it first-person polemic, or expressionist 
bulletin board, or theatricalized Op-Ed piece. Roger & Me tells the 
story of how General Motors cut its losses in Flint, Michigan, without 
any regard for the fate of the workers left behind, and turns it into a 
whimsical quest by Moore for an interview with GM's chairman, Roger 
Smith. Along the way, an assortment of found footage —home movies, 
promotional films, TV newscasts, performance clips featuring celebrities 
on the order of Anita Bryant and Pat Boone, scenes from old Hollywood 
pictures—are interwoven with the staged encounters that have become 
Moore's trademark, in which various spokespersons and security officers 
are enlisted as bit players in a comically timed confrontation with 

Points are made through shamelessly broad devices—the Beach Boys sing 
"Wouldn't It Be Nice" over relentless tracking shots of wrecked and 
abandoned housing in Flint, Roger Smith delivers an unctuous Christmas 
oration, complete with a reading from Charles Dickens, while a sheriff's 
deputy in Flint evicts a family put out of work by the GM plant 
closings— and somehow, through all of this comical and at times 
blatantly theatrical business, a story does get told about the very real 
effects of an economic catastrophe, and about the apparent indifference 
to its human consequences on the part of those who made the managerial 
decisions. It has been told not so much through Moore's tendentious 
voice-overs as through the dozens of people, from unemployed auto 
workers to the receptionist at Roger Smith's health club, whose gazes 
and vocal inflections and gestures Moore so artfully and deliberately 
juxtaposes. After fifteen years, Roger & Me still looks great.

Substituting the administration of George W. Bush for General Motors, 
Moore's new film, Fahrenheit 9/11, could almost be a remake of Roger & 
Me. While operating on a larger scale, it draws on the same formal 
devices and leads to the same broad and simple conclusion, a conclusion 
with which Charles Dickens might well have had some empathy: that the 
big shots do things for their own self-serving reasons and don't give a 
damn about you or me or all the others who maneuver for temporary 
advantage in a situation not of their choosing. Indeed, in Fahrenheit, 
as in his previous film, Bowling for Columbine (2002), Moore eventually 
brings the movie back to Flint, as if to reaffirm a core of personal 
experience as his center even when contemplating the most far-flung 
events. This stubborn subjectivity, grounded in local knowledge, and 
reinforced by habitual gestures and comic tics, is strained in his new 
movie almost to the breaking point as he incorporates as much as he can 
of the history of the past four years, but it is something he can't 
afford to lose. If he isn't the hometown guy from Flint, with the 
skeptical eye and the deceptively laid-back manner, then who is he?

full: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/17315


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