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The Bushes And The Bin Ladens Passionate Anti-War Film A Tale Of Two Families
Peter Bradshaw
The Guardian
appearing on rense.com
May 18, 2004

It was strident, passionate, sometimes outrageously manipulative and often bafflingly selective in its material, but Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 was a barnstorming anti-war/anti-Bush polemic tossed like an incendiary device into the crowded Cannes festival.

It included a full-scale denunciation of the links between the Bush and Bin Laden families, the petro-commercial association which allowed dozens of the Bin Laden family to leave the country for Saudi Arabia after 9/11 and which necessitated the Iraq war as a massive diversion.

Moore also has queasy new war zone footage of US soldiers humiliating their prisoners while others snap away with their digital cameras, although he is noticeably keen to demonise the politicians, not the military.

A documentary is highly unlikely to win the Golden Palm, but this was an exhilarating and even refreshing film, especially coming at a time when political commentators on either side of the Atlantic - progressives and ex-progressives alike - are apparently too worldly and sophisticated to be angry about the war.

At Cannes this time last year, Franco-American relations were so bad and feelings so high that this movie could hardly have been shown without a riot. Now it was received in a mood of simmering, twitchy consensus. One American PR cracked: "It made me wanna burn my passport!"

There are fewer of the jokes and wacky stunts that entranced and enraged in his anti-gun documentary Bowling For Columbine; it is mostly a straight stitching together of clips and graphics with Moore's droll, faux-naif voiceover.

It does not have a big "showdown" moment, like Moore's encounter with Charlton Heston, although the director shouts out questions to the president he derisively calls Governor Bush and is rewarded by him with a snarling suggestion that he should get a real job, which takes some effrontery coming from the slacker fratboy head of state who makes Ronald Reagan's workload look Stakhanovite.

Fahrenheit 9/11 cheekily begins with "feed" footage of the major players - Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz - smirking, and preening themselves as they prepare to go on TV. Wolfowitz even has a habit of licking his comb before running it through his hair, which got a deafening "eeeuuuuuwwwww" from the audience.

Here they are, is the implication, the whole corrupt gang who fixed the 2000 election, which began when Bush's cousin John Ellis, a Fox News executive, was instrumental in "calling it" for Bush/Cheney on election night and cowed the other networks into joining in.

From there, Moore sketches out the Texan-Saudi link through the Bin Ladens. This very much involves George Bush Sr, who far from being a retired old gentleman, is a vigorous player in the business and political scene, fully availing himself of the ex-presidential prerogative of receiving intelligence briefings.

Moore has a terrifying and funny sequence when he shows the rabbit-in-car-headlights expression on the president's face when he is told about the second plane hitting the towers while at a children's literacy event. A stopwatch appears in the corner of the screen, as the minutes tick by and the president keeps reading My Pet Goat, not knowing what to do without his advisers to tell him.

The Afghanistan war comes and goes without the capture of Osama bin Laden, although Moore stops short of saying the Bush administration doesn't want the embarrassment of catching him. Terrorism licences the big war on the diplomatically safe target of Iraq, in whose reconstruction the big companies have a vested interest, and Moore's overall narrative arc takes us to the homeland security issue, its concomitant politically profitable culture of fear, and the US military's recruiting grounds of blue collar America, getting poor blacks and whites to fight Mr Bush's war as the body count ratchets upwards.

Moore centres a big emotional moment on a bereaved military mom, mourning her son outside the White House. This explains Moore's reluctance to emphasise the issue of torture.

Moore's big omission is Tony Blair and the UK. He has a clever pastiche of the opening title-sequence of the old TV western Bonanza, with Bush and Blair mocked up to look like cowboys. But in a section about the ramshackle "coalition of the willing" which was supposed to lend international legitimacy to the invasion, there is no mention of the part played by this country. This can only be because of Moore's insistence on America's international isolation and arrogance. It's a strange, skewed perspective.

Meanwhile wrangling about corporate pressure on Moore goes on. The director himself claims that Mel Gibson, head of Icon films, was told "don't expect any more invitations from the White House if you fund this film". Gibson made a lot of money with The Passion of the Christ, tapping into an international network of Christian cinemagoers. There are millions of anti-Bush people all over the world. The Passion of Michael Moore could yet be a hot ticket.

- Peter Bradshaw is the Guardian's film critic

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004 http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,12271,1219237,00.htm

Posted: May 19, 2004


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