Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 demonstrates the dangers involved in constructing a film out of ongoing current events. A year ago this might have seemed a daring project: looking at the ties between the Bush and bin Laden families, attacking President Sequel's disinclination to seriously investigate the "intelligence failure" that let 9/11 happen and investigating the quagmire in Iraq. But the film has been superseded by real events.
In the wake of books like Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies: Inside America's War On Terror and in the context of the climbing body count and the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, Moore doesn't seem like a voice in the wilderness, which he certainly was when he was booed at the Oscars in 2003.
Fahrenheit 911 is a less daring and interesting film than Bowling For Columbine, which pretends to be about one thing (guns) and is really about something else: the way the media are used in America to create a culture of fear. Columbine's got mixed media (the cartoon history of America is a juicy treat) and mixed messages, and the chorus of howls it provoked from right-wing nuts trying to nitpick the film to death shows just how effective it was.
Fahrenheit 911 is very big on documenting and assembling existing news material. Not surprising - the White House certainly wasn't going to give Moore access. It documents and documents again what it needs to ask. Why did a whole bunch of Saudis and members of the bin Laden family get private planes out of the U.S. when most of the domestic air fleet was grounded? How much does Dubya's personal fortune owe to Saudi investment in those dry-hole oil exploration companies he ran before he got part ownership of the Texas Rangers? Plus any number of questions that have been fairly well explored by the 9/11 inquiry and writers like Clarke.
Moore can't entirely resist the antic moment. Driving around Washington in an ice cream truck reading the Patriot Act aloud is the kind of scene we could do with a lot more of.
But in the film's second half, he locks onto the ideal figure, a Gold Star Mother whose son was a helicopter pilot shot down in Iraq.
By staying off camera as much as possible, since his very presence seems to irritate conservatives, he's essentially placed himself unassailably on the side of the good. Of course, Donald Rumsfeld is not above questioning the patriotism of the 9/11 widows who want to know why what happened happened, so who knows? No doubt Limbaugh and the gang will find some way to go after him.