Seared by 'Fahrenheit 9/11'

Michael Moore's roast of Bush left a North Vancouver audience energized.

By Crawford Kilian 28 Jun 2004 | TheTyee.ca

Crawford Kilian was born in New York City in 1941. He was raised in Los Angeles and Mexico City, and was educated at Columbia University (BA '62) and Simon Fraser University (MA '72). He served in the US Army from 1963 to 1965, and moved to Vancouver in 1967. He became a naturalized Canadian in 1973.

Crawford has published 21 books -- both fiction and non-fiction, and has written hundreds of articles. He taught at Vancouver City College in the late 1960s and was a professor at Capilano College from 1968 to 2008. Much of Crawford's writing for The Tyee deals with education issues in British Columbia, but he is also interested in books, online media, and environmental issues.

Reporting Beat: Education, health, and books

Crawford's Connection to BC: Though he was born in New York City, one of Crawford's favourite places is Sointula, a small town off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island.

Twitter: @crof

Website: H5N1

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On a Friday afternoon, the almost-full house at North Vancouver's Esplanade cineplex roared with laughter at the last shot of George W. Bush in Fahrenheit 9/11 -- and then burst into applause as the film ended.

Bush deserved the laughter, and Michael Moore deserved the applause. His film is the J'Accuse of the 21st century, and the most encouraging political expression to come out of the USA in decades.

"All art is propaganda," Orwell tells us, "but not all propaganda is art." Fahrenheit 9/11 is safely in the first category. It's actually several arts: war epic, soap opera, family saga, standup comedy, pastiche. Moore uses clips from Dragnet and Bonanza, and accosts congressmen in the style of Candid Camera (and Rick Mercer's Talking to Americans schtick). He shows how the American media lied to us, and then exploits our media background to tell the truth in perhaps the only way we can understand it: as TV and movie clips.

And outtakes. Here's Bush being made up for a TV address, and then waiting for his cue while his little beady eyes shift back and forth. He's being cute and boyish, the class clown playing for a laugh from the TV crew. The cue comes and he announces the start of the war against Iraq.

Here's Wolfowitz, waiting for a similar interview, sticking his comb in his mouth and running it through his coarse hair. It's not enough spit, so he drools on his finger and adds it.

Collateral damage documented

As Rumsfeld would put it, the movie gives us the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns. We don't see the towers fall, but we see the faces of those who do, and it is heart-breaking. In some abstract way we knew the onlookers and survivors were there, but here they come alive. We also see the deeply unreported mass protests on inauguration day, 2001, when Bush's limousine was pelted with eggs. How did that escape mention in the media?

We don't expect American media to give us horror shots of the war's impact on Iraq, but Arab cameras were covering that impact. Moore switches between Donald Rumsfeld, oozing charm from every makeup-clogged pore, and screaming children on operating tables, having their faces stitched back together. But Moore doesn't go overboard -- we only glimpse these things, and they carry the shock of the baby carriage careening down the Odessa steps in Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin.

We also glimpse the war's impact on American soldiers, especially a group in rehab back in the U.S. One man who's lost both hands says he can still feel them, and they feel crushed. Another has suffered neurological damage and is now "getting my life back on track" with the aid of a lot of morphine. He plans to work a lot for the Democrats when he's recovered, but it doesn't look as if recovery will be any time soon.


Fahrenheit 9/11 is an anti-war, pro-soldier film. Moore talks to the poor young men in Flint Michigan, for whom the military is the only way out to an education and a career. He follows a couple of Marine recruiters, prowling a low-income mall to hit on the men and women who are the likeliest fodder for Bush's cannons. And he spends a lot of time (a little too much) with a white woman whose black son has been killed in a crashed Blackhawk helicopter near Baghdad. She is willing to expose her grief not only to Moore but to hostile passers-by at the White House. How else could she reach the fools and criminals inside?

Over the last few years I have argued that Bush can't be as dumb as he seems -- that he's a clever man who knows how to play to his audience. I stand disabused of that notion. Watching him in that Florida classroom, reading "My Pet Goat" after being informed that the second tower has been struck, I saw a blank, a man born out of his depth and waiting for someone else to tell him what to do. The creepy part is not that he's a halfwit, but that even a halfwit can dupe millions of his intelligent fellow-citizens and lead them into a charnel house.

The audience left the theatre not depressed but energized. My wife asked a woman beside her: "Are you going to vote for Harper?"

"God, no!" she replied.

Crawford Kilian has a nephew serving in a National Guard unit in Iraq.  [Tyee]

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