Monday, July 05, 2004


I was impressed, 11:30 am matinee on a Monday, a week after the film has been out, and the theater was still half full. Uncommon, in my experience.

The one point that I think the film drove home with strength: As president, George W. Bush is quite simply a man out of his depth. The most devastating moments in the film were those where Moore just let the tape run, such as the footage of Bush sitting in that Florida classroom after he’s been informed that America is under attack. Bush sits frozen, shifty eyed, scared shitless as he realizes that this job will require some work after all, and he won’t be able to coast through like he’s coasted through his entire life. As an anti-Bush tract, the film was excellent, and badly needed.

And the bit with Ashcroft singing “Let the Eagle Soar” was pure gold.

Apart from the Bush-as-schlep stuff, the film raises some important questions about the 9/11 attacks, the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, and the U.S.-Saudi relationship, but rather than attempt to answer them in any serious way, Moore basically says “kind of makes you go hmm…” and leaves it at that. I was put off by some of Moore’s chickenshit rhetorical constructions, such as “Is it unreasonable to wonder if when the Bushes wake up in the morning, they’re thinking of what’s good for the Saudis, not for America?” which reminded me immediately of the conspiratorial writings of Pat Robertson and David Horowitz, which are full of such devices (If you have to ask why I’ve actually read Robertson and Horowitz, my answer is that it’s for the same reason I always read Peggy Noonan: I feel that the best comedy is unintentional).

I had a hard time with Moore's use of footage of pre-war Iraq, of shiny happy people sitting in cafes, shiny happy children flying kites, the implication (again) being that Iraqi life was just grand before the Americans came in to spoil everything, which is so goofy it doesn’t deserve a response. For some reason, Moore chose not to include footage of shiny happy wives being raped and murdered in front of their shiny happy husbands, or of shiny happy political dissidents being dropped into shiny happy plastic-shredders, but maybe there just wasn’t time for that. It’s true that war is a horrible thing, as Moore’s collected combat footage shows in aching detail, but it’s not the worst thing.

Moore’s obvious implication throughout the film, and implication and innuendo, rather than assertion and substantiation, are his weapons of choice, is that Bush and his gang just don’t love America as you and I do, and are more interested in making money for their friends than they are in providing a better life for Americans. That may be true, but Moore doesn’t come close to demonstrating it. He does demonstrate, however, that there are uncomfortably close ties between the Bush Administration, the Saudis, Halliburton, and the Carlyle Group, ties which should be much better reported on and examined by the U.S. media.

Much as I probably agree with most of Moore’s liberal principles, I don’t enjoy that he trades in the same sort of pseudo-conspiratorial populism as Limbaugh and other conservative effluviators. The Right’s bogeymen are left-wing cultural elites and non-straight non-whites, whereas Moore’s are right-wing economic elites and multinational corporations, and though Moore certainly isn’t guilty of the same divisive, hateful speech as his conservative counterparts, he is, like them, guilty of encouraging his viewers to indulge their worst assumptions about the other side. That Moore might actually believe what he’s saying (or implying) where Limbaugh et al recognize that they are merely entertainers, strikes me as a weak defense, even if true.

That said, we need Moore. I’m surprised and glad that his film has been embraced by the liberal mainstream, and thrilled and entertained by the right-wing rage that the film’s success has induced. Is it good art? I don't think so, but it's great agitprop. It savages the government as much as any political theater I've seen, and does so with impunity. More important than the strengths or weaknesses of the film itself, though, are the questions which the film's success have made okay to ask, which I think was Moore's intention. In any case, I think he's performed a service to America with this film.

1 comment:

Robert Farley said...

I was less irritated than most by the pictures of shiny, happy pre-war Iraq. During the height of the Abu Ghraib disclosures, Instapundit railed every day that the media had failed to report stories on torture and murder in Iraq under Hussein. Fair enough, to a point. But one of the objectives of journalism (and documentary filmmaking) is to tell people something they don't already know.

Everyone knows that Saddam was a bad guy, and did awful things to the Iraqi people. A lot of people don't understand that life goes on, even under a brutal autocracy. People have lives, loves, jobs, and children even under despotic regimes. War disrupts all of those things, which is one of the reason it should be used only with reluctance.