Too Much Art

When was the last time a documentary was the top-grossing movie in America on its opening weekend? Has any documentary ever made $80 million in its first three weeks? You'd think any documentary that could perform that well would have to be something pretty special, wouldn't you? In this case, you'd be wrong. Michael Moore's hit movie Fahrenheit 9/11 is a shoddy piece of filmmaking. I realize that critics have hailed it as brilliant, and I even have heard from some Christians who saw it and were deeply affected -- turned against President Bush. Well, I'll admit it's a slick job -- expert editing and clever techniques for audience manipulation. But this is what you expect in a fictional film, not in a so-called "documentary," which, in this case, is nothing but propaganda. Take, for example, Moore's methods of ridicule. Over the opening credits of the film, we see President Bush and members of his administration grooming themselves before facing press cameras. This is neither highly revealing nor screamingly funny, considering that virtually everyone who ever faces the press does the same thing. But Moore not only uses the clips to get a cheap laugh; he also positions them shortly before shots of the September 11 attacks. And all of this was sandwiched between shots of Bush on vacation. The message is clear: Bush is shallow and doesn't spend enough time on the job. (Never mind that at least one of the alleged "vacation" shots is actually a clip of Bush meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.) However, such childish techniques are only the least of the film's flaws. A far more serious flaw is Moore's blatant dishonesty. This starts right at the beginning of the film, with the presidential election of 2000. In Moore's fantasy world, Fox News Channel -- naturally the enemy -- arbitrarily called the election for Bush, and then all the other networks fell into line. As anyone who actually pays attention to the news would realize, each network has its own team of reporters; they don't follow each other like lemmings. (And in fact, Fox wasn't the first network to switch its call from Al Gore to Bush.) But who cares about the truth when Moore strings together an entertaining series of news clips, complete with humorous narration? The same goes for other fabrications in the movie, of which there are plenty -- we're supposed to be so amused that they slip right by us. And then there are the things that Moore leaves out about himself. As always, he presents himself as the advocate of the downtrodden. For example, he devotes considerable screen time to Lila Lipscomb, who lost her son in the war in Iraq. Moore tells her story movingly and respectfully. This is the same man who, according to numerous eyewitness accounts, claimed that if there had been more blacks among the September 11 passengers, they would have been braver and overcome the terrorists. Where was Moore's respect for, say, Lisa Beamer and the other widows of United Airlines Flight 93? I've said it before: Art cannot be higher than morality. A documentarian who twists the facts has failed his art and his audience. That's why, despite Moore's talent, his work doesn't deserve to be taken seriously. American theater goers have wasted over $100 million. For further reading and information: Mark Steyn, "The importance of being Michael Moore," Telegraph (London), 29 June 2004. Matt Labash, "Un-Moored from Reality," Weekly Standard, 5 July 2004. James Lileks, "Daily Bleat" Web column for 8 July 2004. (Lileks discredits Moore point by point.) Frank Schaeffer, "My Problem with Fahrenheit 9/11," Christianity Today, 2 August 2004. Sandra Jontz, "Marine's 'Fahrenheit 9/11' comments investigated," Stars and Stripes, 31 July 2004. "Fahrenheit 9/11 and Its Impact on Military Morale," Amy Ridenour's National Center Blog, 26 July 2004. (Warning: profanity.) "'Fahrenheit 9/11' tops $100 million," MSNBC, 26 July 2004. Andrew Sullivan, "Be Like Mike," New Republic Online, 29 June 2004. (Available only to subscribers; 30 Day Free Trial available.) Gregg Easterbrook, "Out of Order," New Republic, 12 July 2004. (Available only to subscribers; 30 Day Free Trial available.) David Brooks, "Mind-boggling metaphysics of Moore," Houston Chronicle, 28 June 2004. (Archived article; Day Pass costs $4.95.) Christopher Hitchens, "Unfairenheit 9/11," Slate, 24 June 2004. Kay Hymowitz, "Michael Moore, Humbug," City Journal, Summer 2003. Filmmaker Michael Wilson is taking a page out of Moore's book and working on a new documentary of his own, Michael Moore Hates America. Read more about it. "Saudi royal family claims 'Fahrenheit 9/11' grossly unfair," San Francisco Chronicle, 1 August 2004.
  1. David O. Taylor, "The Honest-to-God Truth about Movies (Part 2)," Christianity Today, 20 July 2004. (This is part 2 of 4 in a series of articles on film.)
Charles Krauthammer, "Blixful Amnesia," Washington Post, 9 July 2004, A19. BreakPoint Commentary No. 040223, "The Devil's Director: Why Art Cannot Be above Morality." BreakPoint Commentary No. 040719, "A Cure for What Ails Us: America's Heart and Soul." Catherine Barsotti and Robert K. Johnston, Finding God in the Movies (Baker, 2004).


Chuck Colson


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