Tuesday, October 2, 2018

MOVIE REVIEW/Fahrenheit 11/9
The Enemy Is Complacency And That Enemy Is In Us

Putting out the fire of autocracy: Michael Moore, the director of "Fahrenheit 11/9". Briarcliff/State Run Films 


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The reaction shots of Michael Moore in his intense, gut-punching new documentary "Fahrenheit 11/9" are telling: a far more serious and urgent man, sometimes pained, exhortative or outraged.  "Fahrenheit 11/9" is not, despite its obvious rhythms and overtures and narrative similarities to "Fahrenheit 9/11", your typical Michael Moore film.  Lest anyone be fooled: "Fahrenheit 11/9" is not about Donald Trump.  "Fahrenheit 11/9" is about us. 

How much longer can we look at rapid events around us without realizing we consciously participate in our own demise?, this powerful five-alarm film declares.  The brilliant, unsettling opening credits for "Fahrenheit 11/9" are dead on: a faceless, shapeless mass of putty.  Human hands belonging to no one in particular shape a blob, while others pour liquid on to what will be revealed as a clay or wax rendition of Donald.  The intimacy, closeness and general anonymity of the sequence with baleful music suggests we are all complicit in the making of Donald. 

This same sequence reveals that Donald has no belief system and is constructed out of whole clay.  A puppet.  An opportunist.  A clown.  If every clown needs an audience, Mr. Moore posits, then as an audience we are the clown's suckers.  "Fahrenheit 11/9" is a classic "Face In The Crowd" cautionary tale without the charisma.  Pantomime villains however, are plenty.  This is Mr. Moore's most serious, least "entertaining" film, and in its rightful context its sobering, disturbing revelations are welcome and completely understood, if not enjoyed or easily digested.  And it is also excellent filmmaking with a pulse and an unmistakable purpose.

Mr. Moore implicates himself both as a character and public figure by partaking in media appearances with Donald, having ties with Steve Bannon and being chummy with both Kellyanne Conway and Jared Kushner.  Surely Mr. Moore isn't so jaded as to sleep with the enemy?  He acknowledges his own too-familiarity with "the enemy" early on.  No documentary filmmaker has developed such an effective and engaging persona as Mr. Moore has, but here he is occasionally disengaged from the usually ebullient self we've come to know.  These are serious times.  Even his customary stunts don't have that zip.  Still, Mr. Moore genuinely believes these may be the end times for America if we don't wake up.  He even shows us clips from some of his previous films ("Bowling For Columbine", "Capitalism: A Love Story", "Roger & Me", etc) as if to leave a swan song.  If Mr. Moore has to keep making these films then America will be in more dire trouble than it is now.

Starting on the eve of the 2016 presidential election with a boogie-boogie Hillary Clinton cutting the rug in Pennsylvania (a state she would inexplicably lose), "Fahrenheit 11/9" is an alarm bell that never stops ringing.  I liken the film to a relentless fire drill.  Mr. Moore doesn't indict his targets with ire and scorn; they indict themselves.  From Donald to Bill Clinton (Mr. Moore decides that Secretary Clinton's electoral college Russian-aided loss was enough punishment for her) to the Democratic Party establishment to the U.S. corporate news media and The New York Times denting Progressive Democrats to President Obama to the paying audience of moviegoers to Mr. Moore himself -- no sacred cows are spared. 

"How the fuck did this happen?," Mr. Moore asks of Donald's ascendancy to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, as if caught in bewilderment.  The director sounds more surprised than some of his participants do.  The question is thoroughly answered though, and more than a few answers include apt comparisons to Hitler and Nazi Germany, the rejection of the voting process by more than 100 million Americans, and establishment party corruption.

The date in the film's title refers to the early morning of November 9, 2016, which fatefully brought the U.S. to a distressing nadir.  Mr. Moore reminds us of the rising autocracy and authoritarianism ravaging the American conscience and its ugly, hateful results.  The world however, has more of the same.  Mr. Moore expertly pushes back on the deep despair and brutal descent into tyranny, using ordinary everyday people of America to author "Fahrenheit 11/9" as heroes, whether a whistleblower in Flint, the last living Nuremburg prosector, or the community activist whose deliberation under intensive ravaging of her community earns her an award of sort for restraint.  One of the most effective and persuasive moments comes from Professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat of New York University as she clearly explains the "strongman" phenomena that accounts for Donald's 30 percent base to stay firmly rooted to him.

All is not plain sailing in choppy waters.  "Fahrenheit 11/9" is often scattershot, pinging sharply like a pinball from one hot-button predicament to the next, then back, a film sometimes as unsettled as the subject matter it covers, yet no less riveting nor excellent.  This searing film had me seething at the literal mass murder Michigan's Republican governor Rick Snyder (appropriately demonized in all his galling arrogance and evil) is allowed to get away with in Flint.  By far the most resonant, infuriating and heartbreaking scenes in "Fahrenheit 11/9" center on Flint, its man-made/government-created water crisis and its devastating effect on the predominantly Black population and the shocking, full-scale military attack on the poorest city in America.  Situations like these detail how autocracies are born, and how the shock doctrine and disaster capitalism Naomi Klein writes of come to be.

Mr. Moore's film largely eschews satire and is way past the point of offering pretense about its intentions.  This film is a clarion call.  A call to arms.  "Fahrenheit 11/9" is the closest thing to shouting "fire!" in a crowded theater.  The clearest argument Mr. Moore makes is that Donald is the symptom not the system, and that the only way to crush Donald is to take an almighty sledgehammer to the system.

It would be a grave mistake to call "Fahrenheit 11/9" a depressing film -- it depicts the depressing state the United States is presently in.  Mr. Moore rallies Americans to become active in making sure there is an America to hold on to.  "I don't want to save the America we have.  The America I want to save is the America that is yet to be," Mr. Moore intones, in one of a series of hopeful notes "Fahrenheit 11/9" strikes amid the Pastor Niemoller-like appeals to speak up and speak out.  Mr. Moore believes in the collective power of the people (like the West Virginia teachers' strike, the young generation's March For Our Lives movement and the wave of fresh political neophytes running for office.)

When Mr. Moore, in the film's only moment of genuine levity, sprays a hoseful of what is purportedly Flint (lead?) water on Governor Snyder's "mansion" in Michigan, we watch and laugh, but I'm sure Mr. Moore would like nothing better than to turn the fire hose on us.  Will this film push people to vote?  As sure as the sun rises in the East.

"Fahrenheit 11/9" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for language and some disurbing material/images.  The film's running time is two hours and eight minutes.

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