25 January 2005

Fahrenheit 434

Some basic societal operating principles I take for granted that People Know. For example, that career choices inform you as to what a person does. Teachers and professors teach; chefs and cooks work in kitchens; bankers, accountants and tax attorneys are interested in finances; painters, illustrators and photgraphers use visuals to form expression; film-makers, authors, and playwrights tell stories. It was idiocy on my part, I suppose, to presume that other intelligent people took the obvious to be just that.

In talking with a friend the Sunday night, I admit I fired the first shot in the argument that led to this post. I know he is an ardent Bush-voting Republican. I try not to hold that against him. I even succeed fairly often. But I could not resist, since the conversation was boring me, turning it toward politics. Between my friend and I, politics is always a good way to shake things up, and I had just listened to Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 again. Fully expecting the vehement "No!" I asked him if he'd seen the film.

What I got was a 62 minute (yes, I counted) rant against Michael Moore. From a man who admits he has never seen a Michael Moore film. Most of it asserting that Moore's arguments were suspect, irresponsible, unsupported by the evidence, and even fictitious. I hope I don't have to point out the irony. My friend spent an egregious amount of his time trying to make the point that Moore, as a documentarian, had a responsibility to tell the Truth. I hope I don't have to point out the irony in that either.

I would like to repeat here what I said to my friend: The first rule of making any kind of movie is that it has to tell a story. That's what movies do. He tried to argue with me. I pointed out that as I was the former theater major I was considerably more of an authority than he was on the subject.

A documentary is a subcategory of the published media, e.g., a film or television program, which presents political, social, or historical subject matter in a factual and informative manner, often consisting of actual news films or interviews accompanied by narration. There is absolutely nothing in that statement that implies that a documentary must be True, or even seeking Truth. The words "factual" and "informative" modify the word "manner," not the words "subject matter."

Michael Moore told the story of the Bush Administration that he wanted to tell. He's rolling the camera, so the entirety is filmed from his lens. Moore has made no secret of disliking Republicans in general and Bush in the particular. Therefore, why would any intelligent person expect his film to be unbiased or even fair? Why the vitriol?

To do Moore justice, he never once stated "The Bush family is in bed with the bin Ladens" or even "The Bush Administration deliberately went to Iraq with full knowledge there was no just cause." He just laid his trail out and asked very pointed questions. The fact that the paper trail is not evidentially precise means nothing. Moore implies much and his sarcastic narrative may lead you to draw some conclusions, but in this film he shies away from overstating his evidence. (A remarkable restraint, given his usual style.) He does an admirable job of stringing sordid possibilities together and highlighting discrepencies without actual defamation. Is it Truth? I don't think so. Is it a documentary? Unarguably. Is it a great story? Indubitably.

And finally: Do I think it's a great film? Absolutely. I like a well-told story. I do not take on faith even 1/2 of Moore's slant as viewed in Fahrenheit 9/11. But I do believe that Bush and his administration has spun their media web as skillfully as Moore has, and to greater effect. With all the Dems' ineffectiveness of the past election, it was lovely to see a real liberal land a solid punch.

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