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Meet Interesting People From Iraq ... and Kill Them: Marine recruiters attempt to enlist teenagers outside a shopping mall in Flint, Mich., in Michael Moore's new documentary 'Fahrenheit 9/11.'

Burn, Bush, Burn

Michael Moore's new 'Fahrenheit 9/11' scorches

By Geoffrey Dunn

Much to the dismay of Michael Eisner and the Disney Corporation--and one can only assume to the even greater dismay of President George W. Bush and the genocidal hoodlums comprising his administration--Michael Moore's widely heralded and profoundly troubling documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, will be distributed throughout the country next week by Canadian-based Lions Gate Films. It will open here in Santa Cruz at the Del Mar on June 25.

There were rumors coming out of Cannes that Fahrenheit 9/11 won the Palm d'Or solely on the basis of French political animus for Bush and the war in Iraq. That's merde. Fahrenheit 9/11 is Moore's most mature and nuanced film to date, and certainly his most ambitious: the Flint-born filmmaker is taking on "the leader of the free world" and trying to bring down his international reign of terror. No small target, indeed.

I was invited to a special screening of Fahrenheit in San Francisco last week, and I entered with cautionary anticipation. I have often been troubled by the "cinematic license" employed by Moore in his films and by his self-congratulatory and egocentric posturing. It's all made, admittedly, for some hearty laughs, but most of them were cheap. And they came, I believe, at the expense of his political message.

There's nothing cheap in Fahrenheit 9/11. This film goes for the jugular.

It opens with a rehash of the "stealing" of the 2000 presidential election and the vote-counting debacle in Florida. It's familiar terrain that's been covered before. But when Moore juxtaposes archival network coverage of the contested election with an airplane interview with Bush in which the then-candidate emphatically declares, "We are gonna win Florida; write it down!," one can't escape being sickened by the realization that the fix was in from the get-go.

What's interesting about Fahrenheit 9/11 is that little, if any, of the "revelations" in the film are new. Indeed, most of them are covered in Moore's bestselling book, Dude, Where's My Country?, particularly its opening chapter, "Seven Questions for George of Arabia," replete with 97 footnotes.

But it's one thing to read about the Bush family's cozy financial links to the Saudi government and the bin Laden family, and it's another to see so many news clips and photos of the Bushes and their Saudi cronies cavorting together.

Then there's the footage of President W. on the fateful morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Bush was in Florida on his way to an elementary school photo-op when he was informed of the first plane crash into the World Trade Center; he continued on to the school. He was in the middle of reading My Pet Goat to the students when an aide walked in and informed him of the second attack.

Contrary to the official line that Bush left immediately following the news, the clip reveals that Bush stayed for an additional seven minutes--the vapid look on his face is absolutely disquieting, given the seriousness of the events--before he got up to leave, not on his own initiative, but at the suggestion of a staff member.

This is the power of documentary film--the unmediated experience that an audience encounters when viewing footage that actually took place--and Moore is in great command of it throughout Fahrenheit.

Perhaps the most haunting images from the film (cut very similarly to the opening sequence of Errol Morris' Fog of War) are those of the überbrokers of the Bush Administration--Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft , Paul Wolfowitz, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice--having their hair primped and makeup applied in slow motion as they await to make proclamations that will mean life and death in the far corners of the world. The sequence made my skin crawl.

I came out of the San Francisco screening both profoundly disturbed and outraged by Moore's film. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a polemical triumph.

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From the June 16-23, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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