Cinema soap box: Moore’s cheap tricks fall flat

Kyle Smith

You know that feeling when someone you admire says something stupid, but you are helpless to correct them — either because their information is so inane it will do no good or their opinion is so fully formed there is nothing you can say to change it — so you just agree with them awkwardly and look at your feet while your precious integrity dies in the name of social politeness?

This sums up my summer at the movies, and it’s all because of Michael Moore.

This summer, for the young and collegiate, to dislike “Fahrenheit 9/11” was downright unpatriotic. People would thrust their acclaim of the film on you, openly assuming you loved it, and constantly violate the age-old adage to never discuss politics or religion in public.

There’s nothing persuasive about this film. But because it masquerades as a “documentary,” audiences flocked to see it, as if to be educated by a wisecracking Michigander whose own obsession with George W. Bush rivals the president’s fixation with Saddam Hussein. The art-house facade of “9/11” only proved the left’s bitter intelligentsia is as shallow, stupid and shortsighted as the God-fearing, Limbaugh-loving Republicans who call John Kerry a socialist.

The only worthwhile part of the movie was the second half, specifically the footage from Iraq. But who filmed these moving, harrowing scenes? Not Moore, whose own attempts at emotional gravitas are based on uncomfortable, painfully long takes (the grieving mother in “9/11,” the mentally ill Charlton Heston in “Bowling for Columbine”) that are a relief only because Moore has finally shut up.

The Iraq footage was shot by a University of Colorado doctoral student named Urban Hamid. So can I even consider this Moore’s work? Actually I probably can, because only Michael Moore would do the following: honorably dedicate “Fahrenheit 9/11” to the military in Iraq, but only after showing a U.S. soldier rolling around in his tank listening to Drowning Pool’s visceral “Bodies” (“Let the bodies hit the floor!”). Moore wants it both ways — to praise the soldier as a disillusioned warrior lured to Iraq by a love for violence and heavy metal, but also to insult and mock him for comedic/shock value.

Not only does Moore patronize his muse in the film, he patronizes his entire audience. Though not as commercially successful, last year’s Robert McNamara-based documentary “The Fog of War” offered more pertinent criticism of the current administration; it was infused with the unmistakable voice of director Errol Morris, and, most importantly, did not imply its audience had the reasoning skills of a squirrel. Moore seems to have a terrifying aversion to objectivity and humility — two characteristics that made McNamara and Morris so compelling in “The Fog of War.”

Some argue this is Moore’s style, he’s not expected to show the other side. But this argument does not excuse Moore’s inadequacy as a director. There is no doubt that Moore is a brilliant propagandist and self-promoter — ironically it was this skill that made “Fahrenheit” the surprise hit of the corporate-dominated film industry.

People can debate the “facts” in the film, and Moore can file as many libel suits as he wants (as he has ridiculously threatened). But no document or news source can explain his asinine depiction of pre-war Iraq: Moore bravely shows images of children flying kites in slow motion, rejoicing in a park, smiling. I see what Moore is attempting — he suggests that Iraq was more peaceful before it welcomed the Coalition of the Willing. But this Iraq-as-Paradise suggestion is beyond a childish rendering of the truth: It is inane, revolting, pathetic. I find it hard to believe that people can praise a man with such an embarrassing method of persuasion.

To watch “Fahrenheit 9/11” as a truthful political document is akin to calling yourself a baseball fan just because you love the Chicago Cubs. Root for the Cubs, memorize their roster, paint your face and go to the game — but if you don’t know anything about the NL Central or the rest of baseball, you’re dangerously uninformed of the larger picture. People rooted for this movie like a sports team, and in doing so, displayed the shallow support of a fair-weather fan.

Communication junior Kyle Smith is the PLAY film columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]