Barely Enough Fahrenheit to Boil An Egg

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I thought I was alone in noticing that the world-changing, life-altering, box-office-clobbering success of Fahrenheit 9/11 ($83.4 million after three weeks) looks pretty modest by the standards of contemporary Hollywood. So for the first (and I suspect last) time, I'm noting with approval a column by Frank Rich. Though the bulk of the article is taken up with explaining what the massive success of Spiderman Says About Us (I've written plenty of articles like that and I can tell ya: They're all bullshit), his definition of the hype articulates something I knew but hadn't quite put my finger on:

What's most ridiculous is the central question driving the whole show: might a hit documentary swing the November election?

Both political camps seem to be convincing themselves that the answer is yes. Either that, or they are overstating the movie's power to overcompensate for their worst fears. The right is sufficiently panicked about George W. Bush's slippage that it's trashing "Fahrenheit 9/11" to the absurd extreme of likening it to a training film for al Qaeda (according to MoveAmericaForward.org) and a defense brief for Saddam Hussein (Ann Coulter, who else?). The left is so worried about John Kerry's lackluster candidacy that it is overselling the success of "Fahrenheit 9/11" to fill that vacuum, as if Mr. Moore could serve as a surrogate for the vague and charisma-challenged nominee. (That job will now fall, and not a moment too soon, to John Edwards.)

Also today, four soldiers from the Home of the Infantry go to see Moore's movie (reg. req.) and give it eight thumbs down.

NEXT: My Name Is Yon Yonson

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  1. Michael Moore is so June-ish. It’s July already, let’s move on.

  2. What does Spidy’s success say about us?

    That Spidy is still cool after all these years and the fight scenes in this movie were like cinematic manna. God bless Sam Raimi.

  3. F911 is actually very successful by the standards of documentaries, which are generally supposed to be slow, boring and the like. But its not going to have an impact on the election.

  4. I need to see the new spidey. Sam Raimi is the bomb, ever since Evil Dead 2.

  5. “documentaries, which are generally supposed to be slow, boring and the like”

    Yow!! As someone who lives with an aspiring documentary maker, I take umbrage to that!! 🙂 Actually, I’ve seen plenty of documentaries that interested me much more than F-9/11, which I found shallow. But you’re right that it bounced along and never dragged down. Perhaps we should call Moore the Spielberg of documentaries!! (Or should I say pseudo-documentaries since documentaries are supposed to be objective whereas F9/11 is obviously more of an opinion piece.)

    BTW, I would much more highly recommend The Fog of War. Although it was primarily an interview with former Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamara, which might strike some as “slow and boring,” it told me much that I didn’t know, raised serious and difficult questions, and kept me interested and gripped throughout. When I saw it, there was me & my gal and one other person in the theater. I saw F9/11 in the same theater packed to the gills. Alas, there is no justice.

  6. Perhaps we should call Moore the Spielberg of documentaries!

    A lefthanded compliment these days. You seen the receipts for The Terminal?

  7. BTW, I would much more highly recommend The Fog of War. Although it was primarily an interview with former Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamara…

    Yes, highly recommended. More than an interview, it gave some insight into the times that forged McNamara and others. And into the gravity of recent times that are now treated too off-handedly.

    The Weather Underground is also good.

  8. BTW – Both are at Blockbuster.

  9. I found “The Fog of War” fascinating, and very revealing about McNamara, who is a scary person. One of his points is to the effect that “To do good you must sometimes do evil,” which is sometimes true, but all too often a justification for massacre.

    I liked “Bowling for Columbine,” but “Fahrenheit 9/11” is problematic, especially in the first half. The second half, which is about the war in Iraq, is much stronger. However the video of Bush at the school in Florida on 9/11, which is in the first half, is devastating.

  10. Hey, wait a minute, I’m not done fuming and fussing about that Mel Gibson movie. Can’t we all just take a moment to let one ultimately unimportant pop-culture moment simmer and die before addressing another? Geez, this information age is killing me!

  11. Where did this fantasy that documentaries have to be “objective” or “neutral” come from?

  12. “But is it really smart for Spider Man to go after Ock if he wasn’t 100% sure that his nuclear experiments were really a threat? And doesn’t going after Ock just provoke him to further mayhem on NY driven by Spidey-hatred?”

    In the movie the experiment’s already failed before Spidey interferes, but I’m sure we don’t need to address that point if it makes him look bad.

  13. Does anyone know when the F9/11 DVD will be released? Will they time it to the election? I liken this to the Jesus beat-down flick.. I don’t plan on wasting money even on a rental, but would check it out if a spare copy floated around.

    Come to think of it.. I predict all this election hype, terrorist threats, etc will be overshadowed in November by the release of Halo 2. Hopefully all the nerds will drop their gamepads long enough to vote.. otherwise the LP won’t get it’s 1% 😉

  14. Yes, F911 is wildly successful by documentary standards, but has anyone seen a single example of anyone’s mind being changed by it? Seems everything I’ve read indicates that it just reinforced Bush hatred in Bush Haters, and Michael Moore Hatred in Michael Moore Haters.

    Also, shameless plug:

    If anyone’s interested in socio-political analyses of Spider-Man 2, I’ve collected a few different interpretations at my blog: Rex Stetson, Armchair Vigilante!

    One could argue that it’s a more theoretically rich and poltically nuanced film.

  15. Czar: We can address that point most definitely. Like I said earlier, you can read it any number of ways politically.

    The experiment appeared to be going sour- a grave and gathering danger, you might say. Doc Ock insisted that the reaction would stabilize, and he was, after all, an expert, whereas spiderman was something of a polarizing figure- some people thought he was a heroic defender, others thought he was an shady outlaw type.

    This may seem like a neocon reading, but there are plenty of other ways one could read the film that are, say, critical of neocons: For example, Spiderman doesn’t accept collateral damage even if it means letting the bad guy get away, Spiderman exercises considerable restraint of his powers and uses proportional responses rather than overwhelming force, spider-man doesn’t use preemptive force, only reactive force, and spiderman doesn’t wage his personal war for profit (the pictures of himself that he sells to the Bugle are barely enough to maintain poverty).

    Someone could certainly come away with yet a different reading, still. It’s a bit of a rorschach blot like most mythology- you see it as a reflection of your own values to an extent.

  16. “If anyone’s interested in socio-political analyses of Spider-Man 2…”

    Clearly the movie was a thinly veiled attempt by a megacorporation to justify the war in Iraq.

    “With great power comes great responsibility.” Indeed. The ultimate justification for interfering in the sovereign business of innocent doctors. Note the convenience of making the good doctor look less like a human being and more like a monster that needs to be stopped by ‘the good guys’.

    By all means, let’s stop the doctor from engaging in nuclear experiments. Bah! Spidey had no proof that he was going to do anything bad, and the double standard rears its head again. There is nothing wrong with ‘the good guys’ having nuclear power, just as long as we keep it from the hands of monsters.

  17. Rex – I keep hearing about people whose minds have been changed by watching F911, but always strictly secondhand, from people who didn’t like Bush to begin with…never from the converts themselves. But I’m not really surprised, as every single review I’ve read makes it pretty clear that F911 is basically a Rorschach test: you see in it what you want to see in it. Christopher Hitchens’ review is a good one to read in this light.

  18. F911 is actually very successful by the standards of documentaries,

    It’s not a documentary. It’s a propaganda piece…”Reefer Madness” for the left. Not to mention wicked boring after the first 40 minutes.

  19. As a polemic, F911 is fine, but it is hardly a documentary. I liked Fog Of War, and most of Errol Morris’ stuff. Here another doc I highly recommend, that nobody ever mentions: on the City of God DVD, there’s a documentary about the gang situation that the City of God movie dramatizes. Well worth your time and the cost of rental!

  20. Also, just about any episode of Frontline is better than anything MM has ever done.

  21. Jason:
    “By all means, let’s stop the doctor from engaging in nuclear experiments. Bah! Spidey had no proof that he was going to do anything bad, and the double standard rears its head again.”

    – I hadn’t thought about the nuclear experiments/ nonproliferation angle. It’s obviously as bad of propaganda piece as F911:Touting our unilateralist hero Spidey wearing, coincidentally “red white and blue”- who doesn’t try to bring in his allies, or take a poll to decide what to do, ignores his media critics and just does what he wants. I’m not saying Ock was a great guy, he did kill people. But is it really smart for Spider Man to go after Ock if he wasn’t 100% sure that his nuclear experiments were really a threat? And doesn’t going after Ock just provoke him to further mayhem on NY driven by Spidey-hatred?

    If spider-man hadn’t interfered, perhaps everything would have worked out just fine! Although the Daily Bugle probably would have said Spidey was asleep at the switch, or incompetent. Michael Moore would release a Spidey “documentary” detrailing the secret Spidey-> Parker-> Osborne-> Ock connections… and throw in some connections to the Green Goblin for good measure.

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