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Fahrenheit 9/11: Temperatures soar

MICHAEL MOORE has this remarkable ability to push and persevere. Even against seemingly insurmountable odds. The man who made "Bowling for Columbine", which looked at the American gun culture, has now documented George Bush's blunders in "Fahrenheit 9/11". One wonders if there had been anybody else as gutsy as Moore. Perhaps none after the young American reporters who brought Nixon down in the 1970s Watergate scandal.

There is one frame in Moore's latest documentary where we see Bush telling the director in sarcastic anger: "Go, do a real job".

Now, what was the "unreal" job Moore was up to? He had been gathering and putting together images that lampoon a President who furthered his own causes at the expense of not just his own country and people, but humanity on the whole.

Moore says in his film how Bush created not just "reasons" for fighting a fictitious war in Iraq when Saddam Hussein had no clearly established links with Osama bin Laden or Al-Qaeda but also a fear psychosis among Americans. "While mothers with nursing babies were not allowed to carry breast milk in bottles on airplanes, passengers had the freedom to take cigarette lighters and matchboxes," Moore explains how the Government has been both ruthless and confused in order to see its agenda through. Which was often Bush's own: settling scores for daddy or the lust for oil.

Just days after September 11 2001, the Bush administration allowed 24 members of Bin Laden's family to flee the U.S. The motive: they were related to the Saudi royals with whom Bush and his family have had close business deals.

Apart from this, there is substantive evidence not widely seen or heard before. One example is Moore's footage of how Bush spent his first seven minutes after being told what had happened at the World Trade Center. He continued reading "My Pet Goat" to children in an elementary school. Moore says, half in mockery, half in anger, that the President did not want to let go the photo opportunity involved here.

Another proof is located in Bush's National Guard records, evidently censored between Moore's original requisitioning of them in 2000 and the version released to the American public after the scandal broke over Bush's disappearance from duty. "The name blacked out? One James R. Bath, who was Bush's buddy back then and later became his oil associate and the bagman for the investments of the Saudis, including the Bin Ladens, in Texas oil."

The question now is, will "Fahrenheit 9/11" unseat Bush? Moore's strategy is very interesting. He has kept his appearances on the screen to a minimum, and gives a liberal space to especially those people who have been hit by Bush's policies. Moore takes the help of a disenchanted military man, who asks Congressmen to send their own children to Iraq. We hear the director tell us that only one Congressman has a child stationed there. Yet, the Congress votes to send the sons and daughters of American voters to Iraq.

Moore has developed a new way of drawing audiences to his point of view. The new tone for this is aggrieved dismay. Among other families whose children have been killed in Iraq, Moore chooses Lila Lipscomb, a flag-waving mother whose attitude changed after the death of her son, who bemoans in his last letter to her "a misbegotten war", and expresses his hope that Americans will vote this man out of the White House.

Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11", apart from being his most mature work till date, has learnt how to tug the heart strings of viewers. Today, people value experience more than they do evidence, however hard it may be. Appeals to their emotion work better than the most carefully built arguments. Moore scores here, and may well capture the imagination of the electorate. But will this translate into fewer votes for Bush ? Perhaps, Moore himself is not sure of the answer.

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"FAHRENHEIT 9/11" is obviously a movie that Bush would not want many to see. To begin with, pressure was put on producer Miramax through its parent company, Walt Disney, not to distribute Moore's work. However, with a top Competition screening at the recent Cannes International Film Festival, where it clinched the highest award, Golden Palm, "Fahrenheit 9/11" became too hot to be hidden in its cans. It opened across 1,000 screens in the U.S. on June 25 2004, one of the biggest ever releases for a documentary.

But under-17s will not be able to watch. The Motion Picture Association of America gave it an "R" rating, because of its strong language and violent images.

Moore has a point when he counters this certification. "It is sadly very possible that many 15-and 16-year-olds will be asked to serve in Iraq in the next couple of years. If they are old enough to be recruited and capable of being in combat and risking their lives, they certainly deserve the right to see what is going on in Iraq."

(This story/review appeared in The Hindu dated July 4 2004)

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