Wednesday, September 26, 2018

"Fahrenheit 11/9" – A Conservative Review

Michael Moore serves up one of the year’s most entertaining movies (except when it’s dull), drawing a line between Trump and Hitler while simultaneously arguing for gun control.

© Midwestern Films

Michael Moore’s latest documentary is more funny and engaging than half the movies I’ve seen all year, a rip-roaring typhoon of disruptive montages and risible proclamations. Barring some extended deviations from the red-capped elephant in the room, I was grinning and laughing constantly in the theater, but in a demure and tepid way befitting my station as the lone, out-of-place conservative in a very vocal audience of leftists.

Allow me to draw the scene. It was primetime on a Friday evening, and roughly 15% of the seats were taken, which sounds terrible in writing, but it’s rather standard performance for documentaries. This movie isn’t doing Dinesh D’Souza or Won’t You Be My Neighbor business, but we’re talking about an Orange County cineplex frequented mostly by Boomers, Hispanic families, and church groups going to the latest Pureflick, so I’ll cut it some slack. Anyway, I walked into the theater about 30 minutes late (I caught the first section earlier) and took a seat on the aisle, figuring I wouldn’t cause a disturbance to the two empty rows above me. The auditorium looked like one of those “packed” Hillary rallies you’d see in a news story, the type to be presented in obviously cropped photos. At this point in the film, Moore was reviving a sore loser’s respite that I thought was buried long ago, viz. that the electoral college is an outdated, unfair relic needing to be replaced. “You can’t call it a democracy if the person who gets the most votes doesn’t win,” he stated indignantly, which struck a chord with at least three people behind me, stirring a round of “Amen!” for gutting one of our oldest checks on mob rule. Nor was that the end of participation from the audience, who would guffaw and groan and “mmmm hmmm, that’s right!” wherever appropriate.

If not for my decision to leave the safe space of my home and assimilate with that pumped-up crowd, I doubt I would have reached this revelation: that Michael Moore is a kind of rock star to the left, for reasons not too difficult to grasp. This overweight, unkempt, unruly, and perpetually grimacing man knows how to string together a bunch of original and archived media to hold somebody’s attention for close to two hours, which is all that some critics need to dub somebody a great director. That he loudly and consistently espouses anti-capitalist ideals is just the icing on the cake. Even his ideological rivals can respect the momentum and smooth-talking fervor of his works; Moore bitterly, and perhaps a tad conceitedly, includes a reel of Jared Kushner, fellow filmmaker Steve Bannon, and even Donald Trump praising his cinematic sensibility. “I hope he never does one on me,” jokes the current president in a Roseanne Show flashback that’s almost too good to be true. The provocateur’s response is jaded and laughably somber: “It seems I’ve gotten too close to the enemy.”

On the subject of things too good to be true, Briarcliff Entertainment has sold Moore’s latest picture under egregiously misleading advertising. Billed as a spiritual sequel to Fahrenheit 9/11, which I’ve heard described as a focused invective of George Bush and the War on Terror, Fahrenheit 11/9 would seem to promise a similar takedown of the Trump administration. “How the f___ did we get here, and how the f___ do we get out?” reads the synopsis. For about the first 30 minutes, the film delivers on this agenda, kinetically slashing and rehashing clips that audiences will probably remember from the mainstream media cycle.

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about Fahrenheit 11/9 is how resilient and unshaken Trump emerges from a movie designed primarily to impugn his character. He appears good-humored, authoritative, and more relatable than all the career politicians running against him, despite Moore desperately hurling almost every anti-Trump overture at the wall. Once he exhausts all the more rote objections to his presidency—the presence of racist individuals at certain rallies, Russian intervention, Trump’s act of “committing treason in front of the world” (ostensibly, by shaking hands with Vladimir Putin), his whole campaign being an ego trip, the “They’re rapists” meme, and various other charges—Moore reaches to the bottom of the barrel and pulls out the really amusing tidbits, most insipid among them the theory that Trump had sex with his daughter and knowingly supported a governor whom he accuses of “slow-motion ethnic cleansing”.

It’s not surprising that the Tweeter-in-chief has resisted the urge so long to denounce the movie officially. One gets the impression while watching Fahrenheit 11/9 that its creator doesn’t put much stock in half of the assertions he makes, and that lack of candor combined with his overly cinematic style makes it a struggle to conjure genuine outrage at any message he spins. Moore’s parlor tricks run the gamut of leftist manipulation, but mainly entail lies of omission, guilt by association, ambiguous definition of terms, and negligence to conducting proper research.

  • After pointedly (and admirably) demonstrating how voters felt a disconnect from the Democrat candidate, and how Trump “took one position after another to the left of Hillary”, Moore tries to discredit the president’s victory as an electoral college fluke, pointing to the results of 7 elections since 1988 wherein Democrats beat Republicans in the popular vote. Conveniently scrubbed from this chart is the fact that 3 of those “wins” were plurality victories, i.e. ones where the majority of voters rejected the Democrat politician.
  • Moore laments these electoral outcomes and Trump in general, arguing throughout the picture that they exemplify a perversion of “democracy”. Unless he’s just profoundly uneducated about American history, which is altogether possible, I’m inclined to call this willful dishonesty, maliciously fine-tuned for ignoramuses who will chirrup, “Amen!” to his every word. Surely Moore knows that American’s Founding Fathers sought to constrain the baser impulses of pure democracy and generally avoided the term in anything but a cautious tone? Then again, he does close the movie by admitting his revolutionary intent: “I want to save the America that we’ve never had.”
  • An aforementioned montage gawks at Donald’s affectionate body posture and statements regarding Ivanka Trump, yet turns a blind eye to more abundant and inappropriate behavior by VP Joe Biden, who habitually stroked, kissed, and fondled women and prepubescent girls unrelated to him and was recorded saying, among other things, “Do you wanna know how horny I am to have a 13-year-old girl standing right next to me?” But this is supposed to be a movie about Trump, so I’ll excuse Moore for overlooking the more extensive and repulsive affronts of his own people.
  • In a sequence compiling Trump’s “admitted racism”, Moore refers to comments the president made in 1989 calling for the execution of “five innocent black teenagers”. The film darts through this point too quickly for the audience to get its bearings, but the teenagers in question turn out to be the Central Park Five, who confessed to and were convicted of raping and assaulting a female jogger. The five youths were never acquitted or exonerated, i.e. declared “not guilty”, nor was any of the physical evidence invalidated that the jury used to reach their verdict. Moore doesn’t bother to acknowledge the complicated nature of the case; he’s got 25 scenes to shoot before the night is through, and rightly assumes his viewers won’t look past the “Trump is racist” explanation.
  • Segueing from his distaste for the electoral college, Moore loudly declares, “America is a leftist country,” lighting the key word up in all caps. As evidence for this claim, he cites such illuminating survey results as, “75% of Americans think immigration is a good thing,” “82% support equal pay for women,” and, “70% want a reduction in the military’s budget.” This line of reasoning is like the leftist equivalent of saying America is a “Christian nation” because the majority of poll respondents oppose legalizing abortion past the first trimester, because most people support allowing prayer in school, or because the Declaration of Independence acknowledges a deity four times.

I would be lying, though, if I suggested that all this Trump lampoonery isn’t somewhat invigorating. Since directing Roger & Me, Michael Moore has been surpassed by many internet-based creatives, e.g. Crowbcat, Red Letter Media, and EmpLemon, but he still deserves credit for popularizing this style of “edutainment” filmmaking. When the film stays on the topic established in the prologue, Fahrenheit 11/9 is a rollicking good time. Unfortunately, Moore runs out of dirt on Trump rather fast, and so he has to devise other, significantly less intriguing ways to fill up screen time.

The first of these digressions comes in the form of the Flint, Michigan water “crisis”, which Moore wants viewers to perceive as a criminal, racially-motivated capitalist conspiracy. In contrast to the more observational Trump scenes, this section of the film contains all of the hunched-over walking and confrontational antics that the director has made his signature, from trying to perform a citizen’s arrest on Governor Rick Snyder to pushing a cup of drinking water in a state worker’s face and daring him to taste it. If those pranks weren’t sufficient to turn viewers off, Moore inadvertently numbs anyone to the situation in Flint by his phony and contrived storytelling, indulging in numerous leering, exploitative shots of black children whom he insists could be retarded due to lead poisoning. It doesn’t take more than five minutes of reading to debunk most of the claims in a Michael Moore film, but his sensationalist rhetoric and white savior posturing defeat their own ends here, probably desensitizing even devout leftists to a public health risk that their own party engineered.

The third act of the film takes an even harder left turn, so to speak, effectively plummeting into an ad for Socialist-identifying Democrats and school shooting activists. The swooning optimism of this chapter yields some occasional cringe humor, but it’s mostly boring and unsatisfying for people who aren’t, like, totally enamored of, like, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the celebrity son of an FBI agent. In mid-March, Moore rolls back the curtain on Parkland student David Hogg’s brain lab, which looks like a thrifty war room in an underground bunker. He and his comrades animatedly celebrate a Republican dropping out of a senate race, right before Hogg admits that he and Emma Gonzales failed two Psych tests to work on their protesting, which almost reveals as much about the figureheads as any banned YouTube video. For the sake of this site’s continued existence, I won’t share my personal opinions about the Parkland shooting, although I did find something disconcerting and awry about Moore’s decision to pair anti-gun marches and speeches with upbeat alt rock music. These sequences feel like the product of a reptilian humanoid, who, having no comprehension of English, interpreted raw footage of such demonstrations as a positive display of communion and hope instead of a livid outcry responding to the cold-blooded murder of teenagers.

After a punishingly long detour that has nothing to do with his thesis, Moore gets back on track with the Trump bashing and interviews a handful of Experts, who compare the president’s populist ascension to Hitler’s. Fahrenheit 11/9 is the kind of left-wing movie to restlessly raise alarm bells against an imminent neo-Nazi takeover, then end with an earnest plea to strip citizens of firearms because an 18-year-old girl said we should. In short, it perfectly captures the cognitive dissonance of neo-liberals, sealing the author’s way of thinking in visual form for generations to come, which is really the point of most good documentaries. It also entertained me more than any film since the end of May, except for those stretches when it didn’t.

At one point in the movie, Moore joyously reprises the failed campaign of Jed Bush, ending with the punch line of, “Please clap.” I did not clap for Fahrenheit 11/9, but I would encourage fellow conservatives to check it out from Redbox or, better yet, the library, because why should truth be sold for profit? I’m sure Michael would agree that $10 rentals have no place in a democracy.

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