Notes on how things seem to me from out here in Hollywood... As seen from Just Above Sunset
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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Thursday, 24 June 2004

Topic: Science

On Having a Positive Attitude - The argument that happy people are quite dangerous...

Last Sunday, June 20, in the New York Times, Jim Holt's THE WAY WE LIVE NOW column was titled "Against Happiness." (You will find that here.)

Holt did a riff on some findings reported in last month's issue of Psychological Science, the flagship journal of the American Psychological Society. The findings are available only to members of the society, and since I am not a member, and you are probably not a member, we have to take Holt's words for what was found.

And what was found?

Sad people are nice. Angry people are nasty. And, oddly enough, happy people tend to be nasty, too.

As Holt summarizes -
... researchers found that angry people are more likely to make negative evaluations when judging members of other social groups. That, perhaps, will not come as a great surprise. But the same seems to be true of happy people, the researchers noted. The happier your mood, the more liable you are to make bigoted judgments -- like deciding that someone is guilty of a crime simply because he's a member of a minority group. Why? Nobody's sure. One interesting hypothesis, though, is that happy people have an ''everything is fine'' attitude that reduces the motivation for analytical thought. So they fall back on stereotypes -- including malicious ones.
Or as Theodore Roethke, the famous poet from Saginaw, Michigan once said - "When I'm happy I can't think."

What's the problem?

The news that a little evil lurks inside happiness is disquieting. After all, we live in a nation whose founding document holds the pursuit of happiness to be a God-given right. True to that principle, the United States consistently ranks near the top in international surveys of happiness. ... Of course, happiness has always had its skeptics. Thinkers like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn have criticized it as a shallow and selfish goal. But the discovery that happiness is linked to prejudice suggests a different kind of case against it. Does happiness, whether desirable or not in itself, lead to undesirable consequences? In other words, could it be bad for you, and for society?
Perhaps so.

Yes, some have worried that happy people tend to be apathetic and easily manipulated by political leaders -- contented cows, so to speak. Holt cites Huxley's ''Brave New World'' where the working classes are kept in docile submission by a diet of drugs that render them universally happy. But Holt argues that in the real world there is little evidence that happiness creates complacent citizens; in fact, studies show that happy people are more likely than alienated people to get politically involved, not less.


There is much here too on personal happiness, as self-delusion.

But the odd observation is that awful things can happen when people are feeling really good.


See Euphoria led to the Holocaust
Neal Ascherson, The Observer (UK), Sunday May 23, 2004

This is a review of a curious book -

The Origins of the Final Solution
by Christopher Browning
Heinemann ?25, pp. 644

It seems Christopher Browning argues here that the Holocaust began as the Nazis swept across Russia - rather than, as is usually said, as a response to their later defeat at Moscow. Things were going well (at the time) - the world was the oyster so to speak. They were happy. Their self-esteem was really high. They felt empowered and joyous. Why not get rid of the pesky Jews once and for all? What could be wrong with that?

It was a victorious, happy time. There was, then, little motivation for analytical thought.

What about now?

Things aren't going well for us in Iraq. There is much gnashing of teeth and anguish in the land, and bitter dispute.

God help us, God help the world, and God help the Iraqis if things were going really well and we were fat dumb and happy. That way lies madness.

Posted by Alan at 19:01 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Something is up. Or maybe not. Or maybe so.

Federal prosecutors interviewed George Bush today at the Oval office concerning the leak of CIA Agent Valerie Plame's identity, which is the subject of a grand jury investigation. (Associated Press report here...) The questioning lasted seventy minutes and was done by chief prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Bush's personal lawyer, Jim Sharp, whom he retained for the occasion, was present.

The president didn't use Alberto Gonzalez, White House counsel, in the interview. He didn't use Ted Olson, the US Solicitor General, the guy who argues for the government. He hired a private attorney for this.

What could that mean?

Semisolid nitrogenous waste matter seems to be hitting the fan. Reminds one of the old days with Nixon.

Remember this?
The so-called Saturday Night Massacre was the dismissal of special prosecutor Archibald Cox and the forced resignations of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus by U.S. President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal on the night of Saturday, October 20, 1973.

Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor who was appointed by Congress to investigate the events surrounding the Watergate break-in of June 17, 1972, had earlier issued a subpoena to President Nixon, asking for copies of taped conversations which Nixon had made in the Oval Office as evidence. Nixon initially refused to comply with the subpoena, but on October 19, 1973, he offered what was later known as the Stennis Compromise, asking a Senator to review and summarize the tapes for the special prosecutor's office. Cox refused the compromise that evening, and it was believed that there would be a short rest in the legal maneuvering while government offices were closed for the weekend.

However, President Nixon acted to dismiss Cox from his office the next night. He contacted Attorney General Richardson and ordered him to fire the special prosecutor. Richardson refused, and instead resigned in protest. Nixon then ordered Deputy Attorney General Ruckelshaus to fire Cox; he, too, refused and resigned.

Nixon then contacted the Solicitor General, Robert Bork, and ordered him as acting head of the Justice Department to fire Cox. Richardson and Ruckelshaus had both personally assured the congressional committee overseeing the special prosecutor investigation that they would not interfere; Bork had made no such assurance to the committee, and complied with Nixon's order.

Congress was infuriated by the act, which was seen as a gross abuse of Presidential power. In the days that followed, numerous bills of impeachment against the President were introduced in Congress. Nixon defended his actions in a famous press conference on November 17, 1973, in which he said, " all of my years of public life, I have never obstructed justice. And I think, too, that I should say that in my years of public life that [sic] I've welcomed this kind of examination, because people have got to know whether or not their President's a crook. Well, I'm not a crook!"

The Independent Counsel Act, passed in 1978, was a direct result of the Massacre.
Now an independent counsel has to talk with Bush, and in response Bush brings in his own outside attorney - just to be safe.

Ah, I may be reading too much into this.

But then also there was an announcement in Washington today that Ted Olson, the US Solicitor General, the guy who argues the government's official positions, is resigning. He's leaving in July. Olson lost his wife on 9/11 as she was on the 757 that slammed into the Pentagon. He dutifully argued last month before the Supreme Court that the president had the absolute right to name anyone, citizen or not, an "enemy combatant" - and then hold that person without any charges and without access to counsel, without any communication to anyone, in secret, for as long as the president decides is long enough, or forever if the president decides so. Olson argued in the parallel case that anyone we held at Guant?namo has no rights under any of our laws or any international treaties to which we are a party (like the Geneva Conventions) - the matter was outside the United States and no US laws or treaty obligations applied at all. He argued last year in the University of Michigan affirmative action case that no state-funded university had the right to set up special programs to attract minority students - as that's picking on the white folk.

Heck, Olson was the guy who successfully represented Bush in the Supreme Court case in 2000 that halted ballot counting in Florida and confirmed Bush's "election" over Gore. In his confirmation hearings the Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked on Olson's nomination, 9-9, with Democrats saying he hadn't "been candid" about his involvement all those efforts to dig up damaging material on President Bill Clinton. The floor resolved that.

He's Bush guy. He's walking. Why?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Something is up. Even Dick Cheney is losing it. Yesterday when lining up for the annual group photograph of the Senate - the Vice President is also de jure President of the Senate - Cheney lost his temper and said a nasty word. Really.

As CNN reports it -
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Typically a break from partisan warfare, this year's Senate class photo turned smiles into snarls as Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly used profanity toward one senior Democrat, sources said.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who was on the receiving end of Cheney's ire, confirmed that the Vice President used profanity during Tuesday's class photo.

A spokesman for Cheney confirmed there was a "frank exchange of views."

Using profanity on the Senate floor while the Senate is session is against the rules. But the Senate was technically not in session at the time and the normal rules did not apply, a Senate official said.

The story, which was recounted by several sources, goes like this:

Cheney, who as president of the Senate was present for the picture day, turned to Leahy and scolded the senator over his recent criticism of the vice president for Halliburton's alleged war profiteering.

... Responding to Cheney's comment, Leahy reminded him of an earlier statement the vice president had made about him. Cheney then replied with profanity.

Leahy would not comment on the specifics of the story Thursday, but did confirm that Cheney used profanity.

"I think he was just having a bad day," said Leahy, "and I was kind of shocked to hear that kind of language on the floor."

Kevin Kellems, a spokesman for the vice president, said, "That doesn't sound like the kind of language that the vice president would use, but I can confirm that there was a frank exchange of views."
It seems Cheney shouted "F**K YOU!" at Leahy. (No, the missing letters do NOT mean the word here is "firetruck.")

Damn. What next?

Here's a good question someone asked me about this - If this is somehow on tape, and if Howard Stern played it on his radio show - who would the FCC fine? Cheney or Stern?

Inquiring minds want to know.

All in all one senses things disintegrating - entropy and chaos theory at work in the halls of power.

Posted by Alan at 18:23 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Dissent

Is there such a thing as a legitimate abuse of power?
Who else is saying what else about the Michael Moore film?
A quick survey....

David Edelstein has a problem -
Along with many other polite liberals, I cringed last year when Moore launched into his charmless, pugilistic acceptance speech at the Academy Awards. Oh, how vulgar, I thought--couldn't he at least have been funny? A year later, I think I might have been too hard on the fat prick. Six months before her death in 1965, the great novelist Dawn Powell wrestled in her diary with the unseemliness of political speech during an "artistic" event: "Lewis Mumford gave jolt to the occasion and I realized I had gotten as chicken as the rest of America because what he said--we had no more right in Vietnam than Russia had in Cuba--was true but I did not think he should use his position to declaim this. Later I saw the only way to accomplish anything is by 'abusing' your power."

Exactly. Fahrenheit 9/11 is not a documentary for the ages, it is an act of counterpropaganda that has a boorish, bullying force. It is, all in all, a legitimate abuse of power.
That comes at the end of this review -

Proper Propaganda
Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 is unfair and outrageous. You got a problem with that?
David Edelstein - SLATE.COM - Posted Thursday, June 24, 2004, at 4:00 PM PT

David is conflicted -
In 20 years of writing about film, no movie has ever tied me up in knots the way Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 (Lions Gate) has. It delighted me; it disgusted me. I celebrate it; I lament it. I'm sure of only one thing: that I don't trust anyone--pro or con--who doesn't feel a twinge of doubt about his or her responses.
Ah, but you see doubt is useful. As Voltaire said - Doubt is not a very pleasant state, but certainty is a ridiculous one.

Moore in this film has no doubts -
The liberals' The Passion of the Christ, it ascribes only the most venal motives to the other side. There is no sign in the filmmaker of an openness to other interpretations (or worldviews). This is not quite a documentary--which I define, very loosely, as a work in which the director begins by turning on the camera and allowing the reality to speak for itself, aware of its complexities, contradictions, and multitudes. You are with Moore, or you are a war criminal. The film is part prosecutorial brief and part (as A.O. Scott has noted) [see below] rabid editorial cartoon: a blend of insight, outrage, and sniggering innuendo, the whole package threaded (and tied in a bow) with cheap shots, some of them voiced by Moore, some created in the editing room by intercutting stilted images from old movies. Moore is largely off-screen (no pun intended), but as narrator he's always there, sneering and tsk-tsking.
In short, it just isn't fair.

One of Edelstein's examples of that?
All right, you can make anyone into a goofball with a selection of unflattering shots and out-of-context quotations, but it is so very easy to make George W. Bush--with his near-demonic blend of smugness and vacuity--look bad. Or is this in eye of the beholder? Perhaps when Bush speaks of hunting down terrorists, then gets down to the real, golfing business--"Stop these terrorist killers. Thank you. Now watch this drive"--you see an honest, plainspoken leader unfairly ridiculed. But what can even Bush partisans make of those seven minutes in the elementary school classroom after he received the news that a second plane had hit the World Trade Center and the nation was under attack? ... It is downright spooky to watch the nominal commander in chief and "leader of the free world" behave, in a moment of crisis, like a superfluous man.
Well that's one view of Bush. Superfluous.

Fair? Does it matter? Edelstein suggests context might be useful here -
Fahrenheit 9/11 must be viewed in the context of the Iraq occupation and the torrent of misleading claims that got us there. It must be viewed in the context of Rush Limbaugh repeating the charge that Hillary Clinton had Vince Foster murdered in Fort Marcy Park, or laughing off the exposure of Valerie Plame when, had this been a Democratic administration, he'd be calling every day for the traitor's head. It must be viewed in the context of Ann Coulter calling for the execution of people who disagree with her. It must be viewed in the context of another new documentary, the superb The Hunting of the President, that documents--irrefutably--the lengths to which the right went to destroy Bill Clinton.

Moore might be a demagogue, but never--not even during Watergate--has a U.S. administration left itself so open to this kind of savaging.
And Edelstein didn't even mention the many articles in WorldNetDaily claiming the Fox News anchor Brit Hume has every reason to slant the news against the liberal left and anyone who supports anyone in the Democratic Party - as WorldNetDaily is claiming Hillary Clinton not only murdered White House counsel Vincent Foster, she also ordered the murder of Brit Hume's son, or maybe shot him herself - neither was, really, a suicide. Everyone knows that.

Such is the climate. Moore just jumps in from the other side, giving as good at he and his allies get. Food fight!

And it is getting nasty. Over at you see that the Federal Elections Committee seems to be going to rule all advertising for the Michael Moore film will be illegal as of July 30 or so. Ya gotta love it!
The Hill reports that a draft advisory opinion by the FEC's general counsel, generated under a McCain-Feingold prohibition on corporate-funded ads that identify a federal candidate before a primary or general election, could stop the advertising of "Fahrenheit 9/11" and other political documentaries and films, as of July 30th, 30 days before the Republican Convention.

The article says the opinion was in response to a request for guidance from David Hardy, a documentary film producer with an organization called the Bill of Rights Educational Foundation, but it doesn't say if he's also an author.

Other films that could be affected by the ruling are "Uncovered," "The Corporation," "The Hunting of the President" and John Sayles' forthcoming "Silver City," which features Colorado gubernatorial candidate, "Dickie" Pillager.

As Bob Patterson, who writes in these pages under the moniker of "The World's Laziest Journalist," said in an email today:
Why stop with stopping dissention via documentary films?

If you will refer to The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, (page 196 ff) Gleichschaltung (suppressing dissent) is right on schedule. Moore is the anti-Riefenstahl. Pro-Bush documentaries will meet much less resistance.
Surely it's not THAT bad yet.

But it is curious.

Via the Guardian (UK), here's a roundup of review nuggets from all the other papars. As for me, let the guys at the Guardian do the research on American opinion. Many people said many things. I didn't want wade through it all. And there is really no more to say, or so I suspect.
"While Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 will be properly debated on the 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."
- AO Scott, New York Times

"No moviegoer will be bored. The documentary's scathing attack on the war in Iraq and George W Bush's presidency is informative, provocative, frightening, compelling, funny, manipulative and, most of all, entertaining."
- Claudia Puig, USA Today

"Fahrenheit 9/11 is at its best when it provides talking points for the emerging majority of those opposed to the Iraq incursion. In sum, it's an appalling, enthralling primer of what Moore sees as the Bush administration's crimes and misdemeanors."
- Mary Corliss, Time

"Its title notwithstanding, Michael Moore has delivered a film rather less incendiary than might be expected - or wished for by his fans - in Fahrenheit 9/11. The sporadically effective docu trades far more in emotional appeals than in systematically building an evidence-filled case against the president and his circle."
- Todd McCarthy, Variety

"Fahrenheit 9/11 comes to many of the same conclusions as the recent 9/11 panel. The film will play to the choir and may influence voters, especially younger ones, who are straddling the fence ... If you want to be part of the debate, Fahrenheit 9/11 is must-see cinema."
- James Verniere, Boston Herald

"What's remarkable here isn't Moore's political animosity or ticklish wit. It's the well-argued, heartfelt power of his persuasion. Even though there are many things here that we have already learned, Moore puts it all together. It's a look back that feels like a new gaze forward."
- Desson Thomas, Washington Post

"Moore's supporters are quick to impugn the liberal credentials of anyone who criticizes his presentation of the information he digs up (or, in some cases, makes up). For them, Michael Moore is the issues he talks about, so his detractors must be enemies of democratic principles. It's an old trick, akin to the way Pauline Kael was accused of being insensitive about the Holocaust when she didn't like Shoah."
- Stephanie Zacharek,

"Although overlong and hampered by a rambling argument, the movie does make a compelling narrative. It also succeeds as entertainment ... If Moore is formidable, it's not because he is a great film-maker (far from it) but because he infuses his sense of ridicule with the fury of moral indignation."
- J Hoberman, Village Voice

"One last thought: Fahrenheit 9/11 is many things, but for pity's sake let's not call it a documentary."
- Ty Burr, Boston Globe
And so on. And so forth.

This will die down. Eventually.

Or maybe not.

Posted by Alan at 17:23 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Dissent

If Michael Moore had any self-control... The film he didn't make.

Just for a change of pace I sometimes take advantage of my high-speed internet connection and listen to live streaming radio from Paris - TSF is a fine jazz station. CherieFM provides pop crap while NovaPlanet provides world, hip-hop and techno-trance, if that's you thing. News? The 13h00 and 20h00 streaming video newscasts from TF1 are amusing. And France2 is reliable.

What I missed, since I don't indulge myself in this stuff that often, is a film originally made for the French public broadcaster, France 2, a documentary they premiered on television last Friday (June 18). Curiously the film opened theatrically in France on Wednesday (June 23) - which doesn't happen anywhere that often. A made-for-television documentary, already aired, sent to movie theaters where folks have to pay to see it? How odd.

Jean-Francois Lepetit, who runs Flach Film, the folks who produced the movie, says, "We wanted to give the film a wider audience." I guess nobody watches France2. Just like CBS here.

Will people go to theaters to see what was on television the week before? Probably so. It's a George Bush thing.

This seems to be a film that might be called a thinking man's "Fahrenheit 911" - the film Michael Moore might have made if he were, say, dispassionate. Moore isn't. No kidding.

The film is "Le Monde Selon Bush" (The World According to Bush) - and it's ninety minutes of material put together by William Karel. Karel is a Tunisian-born Swiss fellow who insists he "adores" America, but chose to make the film because "it's a true story stranger than fiction."

Yep, we've heard that before.

If you also have a high-speed internet connection you can see trailers for this film here - and the France2 "teaser" used to promote the film. The clips show lots of folks talking about George Bush in English with subtitles in French. (This is the reverse of going to see French art films in Manhattan, of course. Quite odd. Once, while living in the West Indies, I saw the old Errol Flynn "Robin Hood" dubbed into Spanish with English subtitles - and out here in Los Angeles on local television you sometimes catch Hong Kong martial arts movies, or Korean soap operas, dubbed from the Asian language into Spanish with English subtitles. Linguistic surprises everywhere, no?)

Anyway, this is what the Hollywood Reporter (now owned by Reuters) has to say about this other film critically examining Bush and his crew.

French Filmmaker Takes Own Stab at Bush
PARIS (Hollywood Reporter) - When "Fahrenheit 9/11" was selected for the Cannes Film Festival, another documentary about George W. Bush was waiting in the wings in case Michael Moore's film wasn't ready in time.

"The organizers were keen to include our film in the Official Selection but felt it was politically incorrect to have two anti-Bush documentaries at Cannes," says Jean-Francois Lepetit, whose Flach Film produced "Le Monde Selon Bush" (The World According to Bush).

Directed by seasoned documentary maker William Karel, the 90-minute film could scarcely be more different to Moore's Palme d'Or winner. Karel's style is sober, eschewing humor and stunts in favor of heavyweight interviews.

"Le Monde" is a scathing attack on Bush's first 1,000 days in power, and chronicles the first family's alleged links with the oil and arms industries.

... Inspired by journalist-author Eric Laurent's two books on the Bush administration, "Le Monde" is the fifth film by Karel examining American political power.

... Spending more than eight months battling "the veil of secrecy" surrounding those in office, Karel managed 26 detailed interviews, with personalities including Secretary of State Colin Powell, neo-conservative Richard Perle, former CIA directors James Woosley and David Kay, writer Norman Mailer, academics and journalists.

"I was amazed how willing some people were to be interviewed, straight after they had left government and were no longer bound by secrecy laws," Karel says.

The EUR500,000 ($605,000) film covers many topics, including how the "Christian right Israeli lobby" has influenced U.S. policy in the Middle East and how the Sept. 11 attack gave a "clueless" Bush his raison d'etre -- the "crusade" against terrorism, the "false pretext" under which the second war on Iraq was waged, and the "big lie" linking Saddam Hussein to Sept. 11. The film illustrates how George H.W. Bush, first as vice president and then as president from 1988 to 1992, armed and financed Saddam Hussein. The Bush family's alleged ties to the Bin Laden clan and Saudi Arabia are also examined.
Moore covers much of this.

How is this film so different? It seems to be a matter of tone.
Karel insists his film is not a French diatribe against America but rather a gathering of eyewitness accounts from Americans who lived through the times. "To think President Richard Nixon was impeached because of three tapes!" Karel exclaims. He hopes the film will be seen in the United States. "None of my films have made it to the U.S., but I'm hopeful that this one will," he says.
Don't hold your breath, Bill. Getting Moore's film to market over here was difficult enough.

Posted by Alan at 11:03 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Wednesday, 23 June 2004

Topic: Dissent

Less in no longer Moore, and never was.
Time to pull together what seems to be happening regarding this:
'Fahrenheit 9/11'

MPAA rating:
R for some violent and disturbing images and for language. Explicit footage of dead and badly wounded Iraqis, shots of charred bodies of Americans being beaten and suspended from a bridge.

Details and all that sort of thing:
Lions Gate Films and IFC Films and the Fellowship Adventure Group present a Dog Eat Dog production, released by Lions Gate Films.
Director - Michael Moore.
Producers - Michael Moore, Jim Czarnecki, Kathleen Glynn.
Executive producers - Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein, Agnes Mentre.
Screenplay - Michael Moore.
Cinematographer - Mike Desjarlais.
Editors - Kurt Engfehr, Christopher Seward, T. Woody Richman.
Music - Jeff Gibbs.
Running time: 2 hours, 4 minutes.
The film is in general release, or will be at the end of the week.

As this comes to you from Hollywood (a few doors down from Hollywood Boulevard and a block above the Sunset Strip) the key review is, of course, in the general newspaper of record here, the Los Angeles Times.

You can find that here:

'Fahrenheit 9/11' - Michael Moore's partisan yet provocative film commands attention.
Kenneth Turan, June 23 2004

Ken likes it. Ken likes Zola too.
He didn't call it "J'Accuse!" but he might as well have.

Like Emile Zola, whose celebrated 19th century open letter assailed the French government for being a party to intolerable injustice, Michael Moore in "Fahrenheit 9/11" has launched an unapologetic attack, both savage and savvy, on an administration he feels has betrayed the best of America and done extensive damage in the world.
I've not heard Moore invoke Zola, but that works for me.

Snippets from the review?
Unabashedly partisan, wearing its determination to bring about political change on its sleeve, "Fahrenheit" can be nitpicked and second-guessed, but it can't be ignored.

... Both in form and effect, "Fahrenheit" goes a step beyond Moore's Oscar-winning "Bowling for Columbine." He's never made a documentary that so literally embodies the clich? of being ripped from today's headlines, that arrives in theaters precisely as the issues he's concerned with are getting maximum attention within the context of a heated presidential campaign. In fact, neither has anybody else. "Fahrenheit 9/11's" determination to rewrite the rules of what Americans go to see in theaters has more kinship with Mel Gibson's equally convention-shattering "The Passion of the Christ" -- but the audience it seeks to galvanize is at the other end of the political spectrum.
Many are making that comparison - Gibson and Moore. The idea is to have some influence.

Turan says the film is propaganda. Of course it is. But he comments that propaganda is most effective when it has elements of truth, and that too much here is taken from the record not to have a "devastating effect" on viewers.

And propaganda is best when there's a point of view, and some passion in the presentation, and we get that -
Now, seething with a controlled fury, Moore is angrier than ever; like Peter Finch's anchorman in "Network," he's fed up and not about to take it anymore. As outraged about Sept. 11 as any neo-con, he's livid about what's been done in its name. And he gives no one, least of all President Bush, the slightest benefit of the doubt.
So any critique that the film is not "fair and balanced" just misses the whole point. It is, well, opinion, and a seeing things in a way that others do not.
This film isn't about the Bush family relationship to Saudi Arabia, the excesses of the Patriot Act or the pitfalls of the invasion of Iraq, though it touches on those topics. Instead we get a full-blown alternate history of the last three-plus years. Moore makes a persuasive and unrelenting case that there is another way to look at things beyond the version we've been given.
And Turan trots out examples and caps his list with what many have focused on and may be the core argument Moore is making -
Perhaps the most disturbing of all is footage showing the president on the morning of Sept. 11, continuing with a photo op involving a Florida elementary school class reading "My Pet Goat" for nearly seven minutes after having been told that a second plane had hit the World Trade Center.

It's an unflattering picture of irresolution and even paralysis, one that informs Moore's thesis -- of a president in over his head -- and pervades the entire film.
We are told George Bush is wise, resolute, clear on what he knows needs to be done (even if he cannot seem to express that very articulately) - a man of "Moral Clarity."

Turan points out Moore finds Bush and his crew anything but -
Appropriating some conservatives' tendency to go for the jugular, Moore is not above making people look silly. We see extensive use of "the feed," embarrassing moments culled from TV outtakes -- images like Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz grotesquely licking his comb to help his hair stay in place.

The Wolfowitz clip, one you won't be able to forget even if you want to, is a clear example of Moore at his most vulnerable and most effective. It leaves him open to charges that he's being unfair, that he's mocking human frailty. But he's willing to take the risk to make his point.

Moore refuses to pass up an opportunity to show us how ridiculous, how awkward, how vain are the people who've successfully sold themselves as all-knowing Great White Fathers who have the gravitas to be trusted absolutely. It's a daring ploy, and, silly though it may seem, it shows us how willing Moore is to use any tool he can to get his job done. Wake up, America, he's saying, these are the people you've trusted your children's lives to.
And that seems as good a summary of the film as any.

Well, there are other views of the film.

This week Christopher Hitchens, in a point-by-point analysis of events shown in the film and the implied contentions of those images, pretty much tears Moore's film to shreds.

See Unfairenheit 911
The lies of Michael Moore.
Christopher Hitchens, SLATE.COM - Posted Monday, June 21, 2004, at 12:26 PM PT

The general idea?
To describe this film as dishonest and demagogic would almost be to promote those terms to the level of respectability. To describe this film as a piece of crap would be to run the risk of a discourse that would never again rise above the excremental. To describe it as an exercise in facile crowd-pleasing would be too obvious. Fahrenheit 911 is a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness. It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of "dissenting" bravery.
And the Hitchens goes on to explain what he means by this, point by point.

The analysis in long and detailed, and the link will take you there.

Hitchens simply disagrees with Moore's view of many of the facts, and certainly disagrees with the facile conclusions Moore, he says, draws from these facts -
... in spite of the film's loaded bias against the work of the mind, you can grasp even while watching it that Michael Moore has just said, in so many words, the one thing that no reflective or informed person can possibly believe: that Saddam Hussein was no problem. No problem at all. Now look again at the facts I have cited above. If these things had been allowed to happen under any other administration, you can be sure that Moore and others would now glibly be accusing the president of ignoring, or of having ignored, some fairly unmistakable "warnings."
Moore is rabble-rousing, it seems, from a position of willful ignorance. And he contradicts himself. And Moore hasn't thought things through, or thought very deeply at all.

Read the detailed argument and you might agree. You too might begin to wonder if in this film there may be a whole lot more feeling - rage, perhaps patriot rage, and despair - than there is much deep thinking, or careful thinking, or even logical thinking.

Does that matter at all?
Some people soothingly say that one should relax about all this. It's only a movie. No biggie. It's no worse than the tomfoolery of Oliver Stone. It's kick-ass entertainment. It might even help get out "the youth vote." Yeah, well, I have myself written and presented about a dozen low-budget made-for-TV documentaries, on subjects as various as Mother Teresa and Bill Clinton and the Cyprus crisis, and I also helped produce a slightly more polished one on Henry Kissinger that was shown in movie theaters. So, I know, thanks, before you tell me, that a documentary must have a "POV" or point of view, and that it must also impose a narrative line. But if you leave out absolutely everything that might give your "narrative" a problem, and throw in any old rubbish that might support it, and you don't even care that one bit of that rubbish flatly contradicts the next bit, and you give no chance to those who might differ, then you have betrayed your craft. If you flatter and fawn upon your potential audience, I might add, you are patronizing them and insulting them.

... If Michael Moore had had his way, Slobodan Milosevic would still be the big man in a starved and tyrannical Serbia. Bosnia and Kosovo would have been cleansed and annexed. If Michael Moore had been listened to, Afghanistan would still be under Taliban rule and Kuwait would have remained part of Iraq. And Iraq itself would still be the personal property of a psychopathic crime family, bargaining covertly with the slave state of North Korea for WMD. You might hope that a retrospective awareness of this kind would induce a little modesty. To the contrary, it is employed to pump air into one of the great sagging blimps of our sorry, mediocre, celeb-rotten culture.
But otherwise he liked the film?

I just caught Hitchens being interviewed on MSNBC about the film and he mentioned a term one uses in the scientific community in the realm of pure and even applied research. When someone comes up with a theory or an explanation that is so mind-bogglingly stupid and so divorced from any facts or observations anyone has made, well, one says, "It's not even stupid." That how Hitch sees this film.

On the other hand, he was scathing about the efforts to ban the film or intimidate theaters from showing it. [See Asking the right questions? in last weekend's Just Above Sunset for an discussion of that business.] " How dumb or thuggish do you have to be in order to counter one form of stupidity and cowardice with another? By all means go and see this terrible film, and take your friends, and if the fools in the audience strike up one cry, in favor of surrender or defeat, feel free to join in the conversation."

Fair enough.

One also see at SLATE.COM the Michael Moore thinks folks will charge him with libel. My friends who have websites, and I, don't worry about such things. I'm no lawyer, but this below strikes me as a good primer on libel law.

See Libel Suit 9/11
Michael Moore's hysterical, empty threats.
Jack Shafer - Posted Monday, June 21, 2004, at 4:16 PM PT - SLATE.COM

The key conclusion?
The first peculiar thing about Moore's libel-mongering is that most American journalists disdain libel suits as a matter of principle. Even when they have good cause for a suit, most journalists refrain from filing, believing that libel threats keep topics of controversy from being aired. They'd rather contest hostile attacks on their work in the marketplace of ideas, not courtrooms. Why Moore, the former editor of the Michigan Voice and a regular purveyor of controversial journalism, has chosen to break with this tradition is anybody's guess.
What's this about?

It seems Moore told the New York Times on Sunday (June 20, 2004). "The most important thing we have is truth on our side. If they persist in telling lies, knowingly telling a lie with malice, then I'll take them to court."

Moore "has consulted with lawyers who can bring defamation suits against anyone who maligns the film or damages his reputation," and that he's established a "war room" to monitor attacks on the film.

Really? What for? Shafer say this:
... if Moore wants to sue anyone who maligns his film, he certainly has a legal right to do so. But will he get very far?

Not likely.

Defamation (written libel) occurs when somebody publishes as fact something that is false, is "unprivileged," and harms somebody's reputation by making him the object of hatred or ridicule, causes him to be shunned, or injures him financially or professionally. So unless Moore's critics call him a liar, a felon, a murderer, a chiseler, a Nazi, a child molester, tax evader or any other false statement that is objectively provable, they'll likely not receive a court summons from his lawyers. ...

Likewise, no court would be inclined to find in Moore's favor if a critic accused him of lying once or twice or 12 times in Fahrenheit 9/11, or accused him of bending facts to his convenience, or damned him for being disingenuous. This sort of subjective expression of opinion is protected under the law, and there's nothing the blustering Moore can do to stop his critics from making them. Given the thousands of wildly hostile film, book, and restaurant reviews published each year, court dockets would be overflowing with libel suits if bringing one was as easy as Moore pretends to think it is.
Opinion is protected.

This does seem to be hype.

Our friend Ric Erickson in Paris sends an email - he sees more here, and sees Moore here differently.
I think Moore's open threat to engage lawyers to combat libel has been misunderstood. Moore isn't gearing up to defend the film against charges of libel; he's letting everybody know he's willing and ready to defend himself and the film from libel.

Seemingly forgotten are all those pieces over the last couple of years by maddened and insane right-wing commentators - the ones calling for the 'bombing of Canada,' the ones calling for 'killing liberals.' They were dangerously irresponsible even if their words weren't actionable.

Moore has given them a fair warning - his lawyers are ready to defend the film against attacks from loose-mouthed pinheaded crazies.

I don't think Moore's intent was to prohibit somebody like Hitchens from boring everybody to death.
No, the Hitchens review was not libel. And perhaps it was boring.

But the battle has been joined. The films open here in Hollywood on the 25th and perhaps I'll cover events on the corner, at the Sunset 5 theaters, where I think it's booked. I'll take my camera should there be fistfights and police action and such.

But that is not likely here in liberal-left Hollywood.



But libel is not the issue it seems. Moore is being sued for violations of the Federal Campaign laws.

See - Michael Moore Film Violates Campaign Finance Law, Group Alleges
Susan Jones Morning Editor, June 23, 2004
... A conservative advocacy group says Michael Moore's Bush-bashing movie Fahrenheit 911 violates federal election law, and on Wednesday, the group is taking its complaint straight to the doorstep of the Federal Election Commission.

David N. Bossie, president of Citizens United, said he will hold a press conference at 10:30 a.m. today to release details of the complaint and explain which laws were broken.

... Citizens United's general counsel also will attend Wednesday's press conference to discuss details of the allegations -- and Citizens United said "documents will be hand-delivered to several government agencies immediately following the media briefing."

Citizens United describes itself as an organization dedicated to restoring the federal government to citizens' control through a combination of education, advocacy, and grass roots organization.

The group "seeks to reassert the traditional American values of limited government, freedom of enterprise, strong families, and national sovereignty and security," its website says.

In recent weeks, Citizens United has run an "anti-Clinton" advertisement "exposing the real legacy President Bill Clinton left for America." The ad was timed to coincide with the release of Clinton's new book.

Citizens United also has run an ad challenging the support of the firefighters' union for Democrat John F. Kerry: "Many of our local heroes, firefighters and first responders are proud of Pres Bush's leadership in the war on terror and stand behind him in the fight to seek justice for those who murdered over 3,000 innocent Americans on 9/11," the Citizens United website says.

Citizens United also offered an online petition calling on Sens. John Kerry and Ted Kennedy to "stop politicizing the actions of a few rogue military personnel" at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. "Stop slamming and demoralizing our troops, and stop using these awful events as a means to fortify the Kerry campaign warchest," the petition said.
I'm not sure I understand this. Moore's film never mentions John Kerry. It never advocates for him.

Well, maybe that is implicit as the film suggests Bush should be voted out of office.

Is the claim Kerry illegally funded the film? Disney did, and the Weinstein brothers bought the rights from Disney to distribute the film. Is the claim that the Weinstein brothers got the six million dollars to do this from Kerry's election campaign fund?

Perhaps this last item is just silliness.

Posted by Alan at 18:37 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 23 June 2004 20:02 PDT home

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