Beating A Dead Horse

I finally dragged myself to go see Farenheit 9/11 tonight, three weeks after it came out and two and a half after everyone and their assorted relatives weighed in on it.

It is a bit of beating a dead horse to talk about the movie at this point, but like most people who’ve seen it, I kind of feel like I have to. If you don’t want to read another word about it, you can skip to the next post….now.

The one problem I have with all of Michael Moore’s movies is that he inserts himself into them far, far too much. His sardonic voice-over takes away the power of what his subjects actually have to say.

I’ll admit that in documentaries in general I’m strongly partial to Maysles brothers/Fred Wiseman-style cinema verité, where the documentarian stays almost entirely out of the picture.

But Farenheit takes Moore’s overuse of voice-over to stunning new depths. Just when the film is managing to get a good head of steam going, he breaks in with a “witty” remark, and throws up a new brick wall.

In this movie, it’s not just the voice-over, but the jokey editing (wondering aloud what would have happened if Bill Clinton had done what Bush did, then cutting to torch-carrying villagers) that dooms it for me.

It’s true that there’s nothing too sacred to joke about, but there’s two things about the way it’s done in this film that pissed me off:

1. It’s funnier and more pointed when you give someone enough rope to hang themselves with without going “Look! Look at all the rope!”

2. You can’t constantly be going for the easy laugh and expect people to take your conclusion seriously.

The most specific example of this is the footage of Bush sitting stock still for seven excruciating minutes, continuing a photo-op reading a children’s book rather than excusing himself and leaving.

The footage itself is pretty incredible, especially given the events that it was playing against, which Moore actually makes judicious and tasteful use of, simply showing the fear and sadness of people’s reactions instead of the actual attacks.

But Moore insists on voice-overing what he thinks the president was thinking (including such gems as “Maybe I should have showed up for work more often”). And it’s so fucking obnoxious it takes all the air out of what he’s just shown.

It’s a ploy that’s repeated a number of times in the film, to the great frustration of anyone who desperately wants Bush out of office. By overreaching to make a joke, Moore turns his film into one.

And he makes this film a lot easier to dismiss as the rantings of a madman, and a lot easier to dismiss it in its entirety instead of addressing the legitimate questions that Moore does raise.

There is a stunning documentary to be made out of this material, and Moore at times comes close to making it (particularly in the segments with the woman from Flint whose son died in Iraq).

But he’s not quite there. And that’s a damn shame.

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