so i saw fahrenheit 9/11 last night. i had to buy my tickets a few days ago. at least at the theaters in philly, the opening day i believe was completely sold out.
and it was a good film too. i used to be a much bigger michael moore fan than i am now. i remember loving roger and me when it came out in the 80s (though i don't think i've seen it again since then), and i was a big fan of tv nation when it was on the air. but when tv nation was resurrected as the awful truth, for some reason i never got around to seeing more than a handful of episodes. that's not to say that i soured on him by that point, i was just less of a t.v. watching person by that time and it was hard to get back into the habit of remembering to watch a show. i was probably one of the few people to see the big one in the theater. i was not even that lucky with canadian bacon. it came and went so soon that i had to rent it later. "canadian" was a real test of loyalty too, it really sucked. on one occasion i defended the film in an argument, purely out of moore fanboyhood. later, i came to terms with the film's suckiness by concluding that moore couldn't do non-documentaries.
so when bowling for columbine came out, i was quite excited and went to a sneak preview weeks before it was officially released. i had assumed, like moore's previous films, it would make a splash among the film-going subculture that followed such things and then disappear with only minor ripples in the wider political world. instead, "bowling" turned into this weird political-cultural phenomenon, becoming the top-grossing documentary of all time (which admittedly is not all that much money) and making moore a political figure who because instantly recognizable to the general public. this caused a kind of conservative backlash that his other films (even "roger and me") never experienced--largely because many conservatives did not previously think he was all that important, if they were aware of his existence at all.
after bowling, which i liked when i saw it, i followed some of the back and forth criticism about some of the facts in the film. it was actually pretty interesting to watch, many of the criticisms were pretty flimsy. a lot of what i read seemed to be based on the underlying assumption of the critic that the film criticized legalized ownership of firearms in the county, when moore pretty clearly is not saying that. so the "guns don't kill people, people kill people" argument were pretty misguided and i wondered if all of the people making that argument had actually seen the film.
but other criticisms, those that focused on the factual inaccuracies of the film, had merit. moore responded to many of those criticisms on his site, but there were a few that he never responded to and, from what i can tell, that's because moore did get his facts wrong. the infuriating thing about it, is how unnecessary these discrepancies are. moore could have made the same film without, for example, altering the wording of the air force academy plaque he showed in the film. the change was completely superfluous--it would have been just as good of a film without the change. and none of the unrebutted inaccuracies (at least the ones that i have found) with "bowling" are any more necessary to the ultimate point of the film. but they only give unnecessary ammunition to his critics. and in the end, moore's point (a valid one in my opinion) gets lost in a long list of questionable (if tangential) facts.
so when F/911 was first announced, i had a much more mixed view of moore than i used to have in my pre-columbine fanboy days. i guess my view of moore these days are best summed up by this article by roger ebert. but i still wanted to see the film, and i was heartened by the fact that moore may have learned from his "columbine" mistakes. he claims to have carefully fact checked fahrenheit and will respond to any charges of factual inaccuracies on his site. it will be interesting to see how the facts hold up under scrutiny. (the reviews i have seen so far, don't seem to get him on anything other than having an opinion the reviewer doesn't agree with. some critics don't seem to be able to distinguish between fact and opinion, which is more an indictment of the reviewer than anything else. see e.g. these three posts)
as for my opinion of the film, i liked it, but the second half was a lot more powerful than the first. there were bits of the first part that seemed a little muddled. i think atrios was right, moore originally set out to write a film documenting the ties between bush, the bin laden family, and the saudi royal family. and that's what roughly the first half of the film is about. the problem is, those ties are complex and would probably take an entire documentary to sort out (or better yet, a book). while moore was working on F/911, however, the u.s. invaded iraq and that became a much more compelling subject for moore's camera. he simply couldn't resist it. and so the bush-saudi-bin laden bit is compressed into half a film and the compression creates the muddle. rather than drawing clear lines between the different actors, the saudi royals and the bin laden family become a conflated series of images of sinister looking middle eastern men in arab head dresses. in the end, one is left with a general sense of close cooperation without filling in many of the details of how the relations worked. and the details are really where all the important points lay.
so part of me wonders what the film would be like if moore stuck with his original concept and fully fleshed out the tangled bush-saudi-bin laden web. but i'm glad he got distracted by iraq because the second half is really the most compelling part of the film. moore himself mostly disappears in this part of the film, the images alone and the testimony of people who have lost loved ones to the iraqi invasion are compelling enough without moore's hand-holding. the second half alone makes the film.
the bush administration has tried hard and largely succeeded in keeping the dead and wounded in the iraq war, both american and iraqi, from the american public's eye. it's easy to convince people that the cost and benefits justify a war when the most serious cost is hidden from the debate. the images are not always easy to watch (and not because they're gruesome--i'm referring just as much to images of grieving relatives of the dead) but it's pretty shameful low few of these images we have seen so far. if nothing else, moore's film does us a service just for bringing them to our attention and reminding us of the other side of this equation.