Friday, June 25, 2004

Ready For This Weekend?

It's looking to be a big one, too.
Director Michael Moore's controversial documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" turned on the box office heat in its first day in theaters breaking single-day records at the two New York City theaters where it played. The movie, which aims a critical eye at President Bush and his prosecution of the war in Iraq, sold $49,000 worth of tickets at the Loew's Village 7 theater, beating the venue's single-day record of $43,435
. . .Online ticket service on Wednesday reported that "Fahrenheit 9/11" was making up 48 percent of advance ticket sales for the weekend ahead, compared to 11 percent for "Dodgeball" and 9 percent for next week's "Spider-Man 2."
A couple of reviews from the premier:
A.O Scott (NYT)
. . .Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" will be properly debated on he basis of its factual claims and cinematic techniques, it should first of all be appreciated as a high-spirited and unruly exercise in democratic self-expression. Mixing sober outrage with mischievous humor and blithely trampling the boundary between documentary and demagoguery, Mr. Moore takes wholesale aim at the Bush administration, whose tenure has been distinguished, in his view, by unparalleled and unmitigated arrogance, mendacity and incompetence.
. . .Mr. Moore is often impolite, rarely subtle and occasionally unwise. He can be obnoxious, tendentious and maddeningly self-contradictory. He can drive even his most ardent admirers crazy. He is a credit to the republic.
While his new film, awarded the top prize at the Cannes International Film Festival this year, has been likened to an op-ed column, it might more accurately be said to resemble an editorial cartoon. Mr. Moore uses archival video images, rapid-fire editing and playful musical cues to create an exaggerated, satirical likeness of his targets. The president and his team have obliged him by looking sinister and ridiculous on camera.
Paul D. Wolfowitz shares his icky hair-care secrets (a black plastic comb and a great deal of saliva); John Ashcroft raptly croons a patriotic ballad of his own composition; Mr. Bush, when he is not blundering through the thickets of his native tongue, projects an air of shallow self-confidence.
Through it all, Mr. Moore provides sardonic commentary, to which the soundtrack adds nudges and winks. As the camera pans across copies of Mr. Bush's records from the Texas Air National Guard, and Mr. Moore reads that the future president was suspended for missing a medical examination, we hear a familiar electric guitar riff; it takes you a moment to remember that it comes from a song called "Cocaine."
. . .it may be that the confusions trailing Mr. Moore's narrative are what make "Fahrenheit 9/11" an authentic and indispensable document of its time. The film can be seen as an effort to wrest clarity from shock, anger and dismay, and if parts of it seem rash, overstated or muddled, well, so has the national mood.
If "Fahrenheit 9/11" consisted solely of talking heads and unflattering glimpses of public figures, it would be, depending on your politics, either a rousing call to arms or an irresponsible provocation, but it might not persuade you to re-examine your assumptions.
. . .The most moving sections of "Fahrenheit 9/11" concern Lila Lipscomb, a cheerful state employee and former welfare recipient who wears a crucifix pendant and an American flag lapel pin. When we first meet her, she is proud of her family's military service — a daughter served in the Persian Gulf war and a son, Michael Pedersen, was a marine in Iraq — and grateful for the opportunities it has offered. Then Michael is killed in Karbala, and in sharing her grief with Mr. Moore, she also gives his film an eloquence that its most determined critics will find hard to dismiss. Mr. Bush is under no obligation to answer Mr. Moore's charges, but he will have to answer to Mrs. Lipscomb.
James Rocchi (Netflix)
Fahrenheit 9/11 examines the current war in Iraq and the events of September 11, 2001, by taking small pieces of information you'd normally find located deep in your newspaper and making them front-page news . . . it's a filmed Op-Ed piece; it isn't a thesis, it's a synthesis -- and it's also Moore's strongest film to date.
. . .Fahrenheit 9/11 is stunning when Moore steps back to show facts and their background, or people and their circumstances.
. . .Moore provides sizzle with the steak; the film is superbly cut, superbly shot, well-crafted . . . Moore is maturing as a filmmaker, and the gravity of this film's subject is mostly matched by the skill of the presentation. As with Bowling for Columbine, Moore's argument here is occasionally so broad as to border on the excessive. But unlike Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit never loses sight of that argument. Yes, the argument is indisputably personally motivated and slanted -- Moore has said flat-out that he wants Fahrenheit 9/11 to help shape the debate in 2004's presidential election -- but it's also undeniably well-crafted, with a mix of detached ironic amusement, fact-based exposition and explanations and painfully sincere sorrow and outrage.
Moore and his film have been both praised by the Cannes Film Festival jury and attacked by cultural commentators. It's easy to admire and despise the audacity of a film that can go from using a clip of The Go-Gos' "Vacation" to mock President Bush's trips to Crawford to quoting Orwell's 1984 on the state of perpetual war as a mode of social control. Moore moves beyond his own jokey smugness and triumphs in introducing us to Linda Lipscomb of Flint, Mich. Lipscomb recommended the military to her children as a route to opportunities she simply couldn't pay for, such as travel and education. Her son, Sgt. Michael Pedersen, was killed in Iraq, and now she'll never see him again. Lipscomb goes to Washington to try to get some kind of closure, and her wracking sobs are regretful and wrenching, railing against perceived ignorance and apathy in the electorate: "People think they know, but they don't know."
Fahrenheit 9/11 is full of things worth knowing about and full of things worth thinking about. Whether you agree or disagree with Moore, love him or hate him, it's a nearly unprecedented cultural event well worth seeing -- at the very least so you can form your own opinion.

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