Well, I saw Michael Moore's new film on Saturday. A few observations:
1) This is not a tightly woven movie. It alternates between old-style Moore (a la Roger & Me) stunts, like reading the Patriot Act on a Mr. Softee truck outside Congress, extended lunatic montages where Moore spews both far left and far right conspiracy theories, Riefenstahl-style cinematographic propaganda, and, to be fair, some powerful photo- and video- documentary moments. The panel at Cannes said this movie won the top prize purely on its cinematic merits. I say bullshit.
2) Michael Moore's voice becomes even more grating on one's ears when he's barely suppressing a sneer or a chuckle in the background.
3) It would have been a much, much better movie without narration. Maybe even a good movie. After a (cinematically) promising start, there's a 20-30 minute lull where Moore narrates a complicated web of hypotheses linking the Bush family and the U.S. government with the royal house of al-Saud and the bin Ladens. If you didn't recognize the voice and only saw that part of the movie, you would think it was the work of some demented kook who also thinks the CIA/aliens have installed mind control devices in the crowns of his teeth---who had somehow learned slick video editing techniques. In professionally produced films, the only time you see this sort of thing is when the writer or director are intentionally trying to be ironic
. The classic of the genre is the scene in Dr. Strangelove
where General Ripper tells Captain Mandrake that fluoridation of water is an insidious plot by the International Communist Conspiracy to corrupt our "precious bodily fluids."
4) Moore has a strange fascination with the facial tics of his enemies. There are frequent close-ups of Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Ashcroft, and especially Bush jerking their heads off-camera or otherwise manipulating their features. In one scene, Moore catches Bush naughtily rolling his pupils to the corners of his eyes for a few seconds, and the effect is to make Bush look like a comic book villain. This sort of propaganda stinks to high heaven. It is an absolutely substance-less attack on Bush, an attempt to portray his apppearance as vaguely but perceptibly sinister. No one could rationally alter their opinion of Bush one way or another after seeing that. But the point is to make impressionable people get an intuitive whiff of sulfur and brimstone when they see Bush's visage. Very cheap stuff; refer to my comments about the Cannes judges above.
4a) The most gruesome of these moments is when he catches Paul Wolfowitz slobbering on a comb and then using it to part his hair. Okay, that is really unhygenic and nauseating. But what on earth does it have to do with criticism of Mr. Wolfowitz's job? Wolfowitz then stands there facing a camera, Moore slows down the speed of the film and closes in on Wolfowitz's face bearing a rather cruel looking grin, and as he flashes yellowed teeth all I could think about was how closely Moore was flirting with anti-Semitic iconography---he needed drawn-on horns. Moore closes the film with an excerpt from 1984 (more on that below); but the joke's on Moore---he has recreated graphically the two-minute hates of Emmanuel Goldstein.
5) Moore ends one of the conspiracy theory sequences by declaring that Saddam Hussein's Iraq had never threatened the USA, never killed an American, and never even attempted to kill an American citizen. Rr-ee-aa-ll-yy? We do know for a fact that Hussein tried to have George H.W. Bush assassinated. We also know that he was involved in the 1993 WTC bombing. We know that he had funded suicide terrorism in Israel and Palestine, which claimed American as well as Israeli (and Palestinian! lives). During the first Gulf War, he took American civilians hostage---not exactly a non-threatening gesture; and during that same war he launched scud missiles at Israel, endangering Israelis, Americans, and, it bears repeating, Palestinians. What sort of person wouldn't be keen to this sort of bullshit?
5a) And in another disgraceful sequence, he portrays Iraqi life before the war as a kind of Arabian Carnivale. Children are laughing and playing, grown-ups flash broad smiles, people are happy, there is general prosperity and leisure. . . and then the bombs start dropping and all of a sudden the entire Iraqi population is immolated. It's as if everyone had an uncle killed and an aunt maimed. If Moore were to document the atrocities of the Saddam Hussein regime, e.g. the gassing of Kurds at Halabja (a Hitler moment), the deliberate immiseration/starvation of the Marsh Arabs (a Stalin moment), the gulag prison system (a Hitler/Stalin institution), this would be a very different film indeed. One thing Michael Moore is definitely unconcerned with is truth.
6) But the film does have some better moments. Early on, he displays the famous photograph of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein. Not faked. Lots of people knew about it (or should have), and I was one of them, but this was the first time I'd actually seen the photo and it still had both a ghastly and a shocking effect. There is one superb gotcha moment where Moore is filming outside the Saudi Arabian embassy, and is approached and questioned by a Secret Service unit. To whom he asks, "Why is the Secret Service guarding a foreign embassy?" I'd like to know the answer to that one myself. Similarly, underneath the voice-over of the Saudi conspiracy segment, Moore shows Bush I and Bush II both being awfully chummy with that fat evil lizard, Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia, whom they have apparently nicknamed "Bandar Bush." Simply inexcusable. But once again, if Moore could have shut his mouth, it would have been more powerful.
7) He also does a good job portraying the casualties of war on both sides; those are images I think all publicly-minded citizens should see. But the effect of it is a lot more ambiguous than Moore intends. One could find similar images of German and Japanese civilians from WWII; does that mean we were wrong to go to war? The movie also follows around a mother who convinced several of her children to join the army, and watches her gradually break down following her son's death in a helicopter crash. Definitely worthy material for a documentary. But more ambiguous than Moore intends, and totally incongruous with the baby-killer montage earlier in the film.
8) There's a bit I'm leaving out, but this should get the point across. It's worth seeing for your own edification. If you sat through The Passion of the Christ either A) You liked it and I hate you. or B) Well-stomached, now watch this.