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<nettime> review of F9/11
dcox on Tue, 24 Aug 2004 20:47:12 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> review of F9/11


Fahrenheit 9/11

Review by David Cox

Like most people who have seen Michael Moore's latest film I am impressed with 
the amazing skill with which he is able to construct a kind of vernacular 
argument out of fragments of film. Moore's unique film style is better known in 
the USA than outside that country and is known there as the 'collage-essay'.

More esoteric but no less powerful film makers like Craig Baldwin in San 
Francisco have long used the technique, pioneered by the great beat era film 
maker Bruce Conner, where film and video material is collected from a range of 
sources: archives, donated films, from stuff thrown out from schools and 
colleges, and mail order sources, to collections and libraries from around the 
country. The footage is painstakingly watched and material taken based on it's 
a) strength visually b) context narratively and c) potential as a part in a 
mosaic.

Moore builds his mosaic up from the fragments to tell a story which goes 
something like this: 

George W Bush forced himself into office by rigging the 2000 election with the 
help of his brother, Florida governor Jeb Bush. The willingness of the 
Democrats in the US senate with Al Gore at the helm to prevent the (largely 
people of colour) left out of the crucial Florida vote to have their voices 
heard only made matters worse. With long standing decades-old big dollar ties 
to the Oil dynasties of Saudi Arabia, Bush and his cronies were looking for 
ways to invade oil rich regions of the world to further control oil prices and 
dominate the world with draconian neo-liberal foreign policy. When Bin Laden's 
radical Islamist Al Qaeda group staged the surprise attacks on New York and 
Washington on 9/11 in 2001 they hit major symbolic buildings in the USA with 
planes-as-missiles. America had not been hit on its own soil since the British 
set Washington to the torch in early 19th Century to punish the independence 
movement. 

9/11 gave Bush the excuse he needed to implement draconian country-wide 
crackdowns on freedom of speech, and freedom of expression. Extreme right wing 
attacks on people of colour, of whom Arab Americans were the main targets 
started to proliferate. 9/11 gave Bush permission to 'manufacture consent' to 
attack Afghanistan, then Iraq, and suddenly America's own poorest found 
themselves dying in a war led by oil profit interests, and only now is America 
waking up to how they've been conned. The biggest opponents to the war are the 
warriors themselves, now wise to how they were sold a lemon, namely large scale 
business ventures dressed up to look like national defence.

We weave in and out of the ideas on the screen in a mesmeric cascade of events, 
scenes and commentary. Watching F9/11 is very entertaining and at times 
disturbing. The cries of the wounded GI screaming 'save me! Save me' are 
horrifying, as are the images of maimed babies and horribly scarred Iraqi 
children. Here's the truth of war. It is shit -- now eat it!

The process of making 'found footage' films is that of collection, fused with 
the archivists intimate  knowledge of actual media fragments and materials. 
There is formed a kind of 'conversation' with the media at hand. When footage 
arrives it is sifted through. Moore and his team have carefully  examined films 
from the point of view of their relevance to support the argument and have 
probably also scoured them for ideas for projects which have not been thought 
of yet. Within any given 16mm or video sequence can there might be a set of 
shots that in the right place in the right film can work to reinforce that 
film's primary argument. Moore's use of materials is masterly, but there are 
some issues with his argument which trouble me.

Why do not more US military personel, surely knowing something of the horrors 
which await them in Iraq, not simply up and leave for Canada? This was the 
driving force behind the anti-Vietnam war movement -- potential draftees upping 
and leaving and voting with their feet. Why does not American now build a 
massive social movement, like the one which stopped the Vietnam war? Why is 
there not a huge carnival of popular protest to topple Bush and his corrupt oil 
bandits? This is what makes America the great country it is - the willingness 
of its people to say what they think and kick bad presidents out of office, 
stop illegal wars, and generally pursue democracy, despite constant attempts to 
prevent this. The world has much to learn from the American people in this 
regard.


Why does Moore insist that support for the war is not the same thing as 
opposing the troops themselves? Most people I know opposed the fact that Iraq 
was being invaded and had a major issue with Australia's involvement as well. 
If a war is wrong it should be opposed, whether you wear a uniform or not. The 
war machinery should be opposed. The tanks, the planes, the troops. This should 
be especially true in a Republic like the USA which is supposed to be made up 
of the 'will of the people'. The population in republics are supposed to be 
inseparable from their governing bodies. We the people and all that. The troops 
themselves should be leading the revolt. In some stories on democracy now, 
there is the suggestion that this is happening. And Moore himself champions a 
lone black ex-soldier who refuses to go back to Iraq and 'fight other poor 
people'. Why cannot now the entire military population follow his lead? Am I 
being too naively optimistic here?

So the liberal view that 'the troops are people like us, who like us were 
misled' is the least convincing argument in the film, and it forms a major 
structural weakness. It is the entire hierarchical nature of the corrupt oil 
machine which is at fault and which by wearing the trappings of nation as its 
cloak, has led Australia, Britain and USA into the abyss along with a handful 
of other small countries which Moore points out in the film (though strangely 
not including Australia). 

 National pride and a sense of national service need to come into question as 
well during war, arguably more than at any other time as Rosa Luxemburg pointed 
out back during WWII, but Moore wants us to identify with those who 'love their 
country but not their government'. Fine, but is not the nationalistic impulse 
itself at least in part, also partly to blame here? Flags, anthems, marching 
bands and Fox TV -- its all of a piece today with McDonnel Douglas, Boeing, 
Haliburton and the Carlton Group. Surely opposing one is to oppose them all? 
Maybe not and I've yet to fully understand the true nature of national pride. 
But when it leads men and women to their deaths with such ruthless efficiency, 
something has to be wrong with it. Nation is big business;  get it?

Found footage filmmaking is scholarly in that each film puts forward a certain 
argument or point of view, and reinforces that view by means of allusion, or 
direct illustration. Many of Michael Moore's films are actually illustrated 
carefully scripted vocal narrations. You could very easily just listen to 
F9/11. It works as radio. The dense soundtrack is made up of different 
elements, notably music and narration, and the narration has been recorded 
based on written monologue which itself has been informed by the availability 
of film and video materials. What is not available is filmed, like interviews 
etc. 

The narration guides the viewer's interpretation of the visual 'evidence'. It's 
a great approach, and I love his work, even if I don't agree with what I 
consider mainly to be his liberal, humanist middlebrow point of view. Noam 
Chomsky and Michael Albert say it much better and more honestly, if with fewer 
resources and a much smaller budget. But they are anarchists, not left leaning 
Democrats.

David Cox, Film Maker, Writer and general raconteur type person.


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