Fahrenheit 11/9 (Michael Moore, 2018)

by Douglas Buck Volume 24, Issue 2 / February 2020 12 minutes (2922 words) HD Streaming

“We were a real threat to the liberal establishment, because if you think that the New York Times or the Washington Post is really gonna be talking about the issues that are important to working people in this country, are gonna be talking about the need to take on the billionaire class, you’d be very mistaken.”

-Bernie Sanders, discussing his 2016 Presidential campaign

“When he came here he was my President, but when he left here he was not my President.”

-Flint Community Activist Nayyirah Shariff echoing the disillusionment felt by a community who greeted Barack Obama as a savior… only to have him turn his back on them

Gargantuan (both figuratively, as he’s by far the most successful and influential doc filmmaker of all time, and literally, as the guy’s clearly ballooned dangerously past the healthy point) doc filmmaker Michael Moore was once a hero, a beacon of light bravely exposing the corrupt corporate and political elites and their manipulating oft-imperialistic ways lying at the heart of what was then, and still is, destroying America (and the world).

While I’m assuming many genius minds before had eschewed the expected staid formulaic approach of the documentary, none had done it before with anything approaching the fevered mainstream success of Moore’s wildly engaging efforts. Dropping himself – splat – mischievously within the narrative, with his oft hilariously snarky approach, wrapped in a disheveled physique (and a narratively carefree revising of the timelines of events to maximize their emotional potency – which, while certainly opportunistic, is not the same as a far more egregious playing fast and loose with the facts, as many have accused him of and I don’t believe has ever really been borne out as true), he gave the sense that change was possible from the efforts of the common man (I mean, if this unsightly shlep armed with knowledge and a sense of social outrage could humiliate NRA figurehead Charlton Heston with a single visit in his greatest received work Fahrenheit 9/11, couldn’t any of us?).

Likely due to my obsessive prioritizing of rep screenings journeying me through cinema history, I admit I (foolishly) never got around to seeing a slew of his later (apparently still very important) works, such as his attack on the privatized, non-universal US healthcare system Sicko, his indictment of the current economic orders favouring huge corporate interests Capitalism: A Love Story, or a (painfully amusing) look at the drastically inept approaches at dealing with the increasing social and economic ills in the US Where to Invade Next, but from everything I’ve heard about them from trusted like-minded accomplices makes me think that, while there might be a lack of exact focus (something also true of Fahrenheit 11/9), his intentions and targets remained as relevant and pure as ever.

But then… with the lead-up and final election of the narcissistic, inept Orange Boogeyman… well… something happened to Moore… my favourite leopard’s stripes suddenly became less attractive.

As with just about every (with a few exceptions, thankfully) trusted self-proclaimed liberal progressive that I thought I knew so well (the ones who marched unequivocally against Bush Jr’s illegal, oil-interest invasion of Iraq, for instance), Moore began exhibiting almost immediate signs of Trump Derangement Syndrome, with the overriding symptom being a complete Rachel Maddow-induced hysteria, in which all rational thoughts are stripped away, leading to an immediate joining on the other side of whatever personal conflict that Trump is in (and, man, does he get into a lot of them)… and it doesn’t seem to matter that it continuously puts them again and again on the side of championing institutions that any good progressive should be openly suspect of how despicable they are to anything approaching true Democratic values – namely, the FBI (who have had previous high level employees admit their goal has been to make sure progressives don’t get elected, with an agenda of diligently working to erode each American’s personal freedom), the CIA (in the game of assassinating Democratic leaders in order to install brutal American-approved puppet dictators around the world) — or angrily pushing for imperialist acts such as the further illegal invading, bombing the heck out of and occupying of countries like Syria (when just a decade and a half before they were marching on the streets to NEVER do such a thing, no matter how many people the particular leader gassed – which, of course, looking at the tragic, death-fueled state of the Middle East and the endless blood on the hands of America, has proven them to have been right for protesting).

Perhaps Moore’s worst particular symptom however, along with the full embracing of the mainstream media ratings bonanza Russia-gate distraction, was his complete embrace of Hillary Clinton for President. Yes, the very Clinton who worked tirelessly, with the DNC itself, to dismantle the campaign of – and smear the man himself — the closest the United States has had to a progressive President in my lifetime; namely, Bernie Sanders.

I mean, we’re talking the Clinton who was an architect, along with her (okay, alleged, but.. does anyone doubt it??) serial sex offender of a husband (with Hillary herself actively working to silence his victims afterwards), of the neo-liberal corporate takeover of the Democratic Party, ushering in a prisons for profit system that has decimated and enslaved African American communities (helped along by Clinton’s profoundly racist ‘superpredators’ remark), the corporate takeover of the mainstream media, the deregulation of Wall Street that led to the banking disaster (of which the US has never really escaped) and the enabling of continued massive world-wide economic inequality through international trade agreements, who has been a constant war-hawk (let’s remember, she wasn’t one of those Dems who claim they ‘went along’ with giving then Pres GW the right to invade Iraq without any oversight or approval… no, she vociferously fought for it before Congress)… and ultimately leading to, two decades of growing voter disillusionment later… the boogeyman himself, Donald Trump.

Knowing that that dishevelled figure, once deeply admired by me, of holding truth to corporate power was now standing on stage stridently pleading for Americans to vote for that greatest of symbols of political big business corruption Hillary Rodham Clinton in his one-man stage act “Trumpland”, released just prior to the 2016 election… well, it was more than I could take. I distanced him from my viewing list. So when I first noticed that he had come out with a new doc, playing on the title of his previous effort Fahrenheit 9/11 (it must have been a lightbulb moment when Moore realized a simple reversing the numbers reflected the 2016 date that Trump officially won the Presidency – why, it works so perfect I’m kinda surprised no conspiracy theories have arisen) I assumed it was gonna be more strident hysteria over things like a Russian takeover of America if an establishment Democrat isn’t elected in 2020… and I wasn’t interested. But then, surprisingly, a number of comrades started to tell me I should really see it.

So I turned on the television, dropped in the tape and pressed play (or something like that)… and, man, am I glad I did.

Fahrenheit 11/9 has it’s problems; there’s too much Red scare hysteria (it’s not a lot, but any is already too much — just having Moore point to it as simple fact, when in reality there has never been any evidence that Russian operatives had any impact on the elections – in fact, there’s been a ton of the reverse – it comes across as entirely reactionary and Hillary- and military state Cold War-serving), a continued protection of Hillary Clinton by blaming everyone but her (Russia and serial sex offender television anchors – which there are a mountain of! — being the main culprits in Mikey’s eyes) for her Presidential loss in 2016 (she’s gotta be a close personal friend, or he hates being wrong or something, because with the way he so brutally exposes Obama as a corporate tool in the starkest of terms with his deplorable water drinking ‘stunts’ at Flint, and hubbie Bill as the lead architect of the neo-liberal disaster tipping us into the Armageddon that is coming, it’s hard not to imagine some personal agenda in letting her off the hook as he does). The Trump/Hitler comparisons that he spends a large part of the final act of the doc detailing to terrify his audience with (bringing on talking heads to create all sorts of correlations) ignore the obvious; Hitler built his fevered following on an ideology – Trump, on the other hand, has none, zero – he’s a small-minded, self-interested fool who continues to attend rabid rallies of supporters cheering him on way past any political necessity not because he’s trying to build towards a real cause, or create an army, but because it feeds his deep narcissism. Is he a dangerous, petty, mean-spirited fool with conman like abilities to speak in lowest common denominator terms with little to no consideration of morality or matters of conscience? Yes. But he ain’t no Hitler.

On the other hand, though, past those things (which are more than just quibbles), Moore gets so many things right. He sets up profoundly important targets like the corporate-controlled narratives that are created to divide and conquer the populace in the interest of obfuscating the agendas of the controlling elites as well as the deep-seated corruption within the Democratic Party that he posits led directly to the election of Trump (little surprise that Moore wasn’t treated as a documentary hero for 11/9, though he wasn’t attacked as harshly as he is currently being for his new Planet of the Humans doc, in which he’s going after the apparently deeply compromised corruption of the Left’s beloved Green New Deal, with the mainstream attacks so vociferous it’s making me think it’s likely making some trenchant observations). This is ballsy stuff, admittances that the establishment and the Democratic Party are working hard to deny… and that Network News channels fire their anchors for daring to ever mention during their face time on the idiot box.

It’s amazing – and deeply satisfying as I wasn’t really expecting it – to see Moore go directly after the New York Times for what it has become (and brilliant progressive thinkers like Noam Chomsky and journalists like Glenn Greenwald have been shouting with little mainstream traction for years) – namely, a neo-liberal institution pushing agendas of furthering corporate power and of imperialistic war. They may be the smartest, most well-researched newspaper on the block, but – as Moore trenchantly points out – read it with caution (or a ‘some hefty grains of salt’ as Chomsky describes it). To politely paraphrase Bernie from the quote above, their concerns just ain’t the same as ours.

The pre-credit sequence, masterfully constructed by Moore, re-caps the final hours of the 2016 election day, in which we watch the initial 100% certainty and optimism of the Clinton campaign whittle away to despair (and almost utter confusion), as the Trump camp slowly begin to realize they’re actually going to win, is a personal joy to re-experience. As grotesque as the rise of a Trump from the morass was, it’s almost sublime to experience again her empty campaign go down in what-seemed unfathomable flames at the time.

Yes, the outcome led to the rise of this entirely inept man-child (who only gets applauded by the supposed ‘left’ media when he illegally bombs another country), but it also was a day of reckoning (albeit a single day, a single moment) for the arrogance of Clinton and the neo-liberal corporate establishment, certain in their belief that they controlled the narrative so completely that they could get away with anything, exploit anyone, and they would be safe as long as they weren’t that orange guy and that party of supervillain loons he stands with. The 2016 Election isn’t just monumental because it led to this madman President, but because of its potential resonance moving forward (and I say this even understanding we may have to go through it again in 2020, with the Dems having managed to push out all the progressive candidates for another big-business establishment figure right there on the level of Hillary as their nominee of choice, namely Biden…another hopelessly corrupt candidate for the ‘Left’ that anyone who hopes for the rise of a genuinely progressive party in the US should root for to lose).

The devastating scene of the crony electoral college heads, who Moore reveals as the corrupt hacks they are, one after the next, handing their state victories over to establishment choice Hillary Clinton, rather than their people’s choice of Bernie Sanders, is a stark and deeply powerful condemnation by Moore of how ironically anti-democratic the Democratic Party is, showcasing this blatant and open betrayal of the will of their constituency (i.e., the people). What drove me mad is the capper at the end of the scene, watching Bernie acquiesce by officially moving aside and accepting Hillary’s nomination. While I’m sure he felt he went as far as he could go and decided the best course of action was to remain a loyalist, he did it with a party that had deliberately destroyed his campaign, and betrayed those who voted for him (as well as guaranteed, as it turned out, a loss to Trump). And they keep betraying him, of course, excluding him from their entire agenda, treating him like a problem rather than what he has been since that 2016 election – unquestionably the most popular politician in the United Stated in poll after poll (alas, as a defeated Sanders went on to maddeningly endorse Biden in 2020, in the face of all sorts of blatant evidence of DNC cheating against his campaign yet again, the assertion of progressive journalist Chris Hedges seems to unfortunately growing more reasonable — that the only reason Sanders is allowed to exist within the Democratic Party is to ultimately herd as many of his progressive followers into the fold as possible).

President Obama’s open betrayal of the people of Flint is jaw-dropping to see; it’s one thing to read about it, but to actually see the pretend ‘drinking the water’ stunt he does – not just once, but twice – to cover for the lying Republican Governor and the big business interests is far more than just condemning – it’s unforgiveable. It’s the moment you see the majority of African Americans who voted him in – with great hope and fervor – faced with the true face of the conman he turned out to be (as the quote by activist Shariff at the beginning so simply and powerfully defines), ending up as nothing more than a rich white elite corporatist pretending folksy in some borrowed black man’s skin.

Moore positing that the disillusionment created directly from Obama’s continuing neo-liberal polices (revealing his ‘Hope and Change’ slogan to be so much emptiness) led directly to the election of Trump (something Chomsky saw coming and spoke about years into Obama’s Presidency) is startling – not just because it’s true, but because it’s Moore – this once rabid supporter of lead acolyte Clinton – who is saying it. Watching Moore limping about and pulling irreverent stunts such as heisting a water supply truck, filling it up with the Flint water and spraying the mansion lawn of the lead criminal behind the Flint disaster, Michigan Governor Rick Synder, as well as arriving at the governor’s office in an attempt to commit a citizen’s arrest (while trying to get one of Snyder’s lackies to drink a cup of the water he’s brought) is a joy.

Yes, Moore’s hampered a bit here and there by establishment-contrived hysterias, but its undeniable he’s speaking truth to power, shining a spotlight where it needs to go more than ever (with the world teetering on the brink of climate disaster and seemingly eventual nuclear war). With the mainstream media determined to make it all about the bad apples out there (Trump, Russia), he’s bravely, with his irreverent style on full display, pointing it directly at them. No surprise, it doesn’t look like it’s changing the Democratic Party’s allegiance to big business and war interests; they have to obey their masters after all. But one can only hope it continues to stir the genuine progressive fires that will need to burn bright (and perhaps even out of control) for a chance at saving the world.

With substantial time spent also covering the massively affective 2018 teachers strikes as well as the pimply teens who suddenly found themselves as major activists after surviving the Parkland shooting (with their meetings with politicians to demand answers on gun control strikingly illuminating on how detached from their constituency most of these people are), the underlying conceit is what the best of Moore often comes down… don’t trust the (wo)man in power. It’s a call for activism, for grassroots action, as the only means to change the world — to tear it down and build it back up — no matter how much the establishment is set up to convince you otherwise.

Michael Moore’s back in action. And, if the mainstream attacks against Planet of the Humans are any indication, he might be sticking around. Who knows? Perhaps one day he’ll even come clean and admit how awful Hillary really is.

Fahrenheit 11/9 (Michael Moore, 2018)

Douglas Buck. Filmmaker. Full-time cinephile. Part-time electrical engineer. You can also follow Buck on “Buck a Review,” his film column of smart, snappy, at times irreverent reviews.

Volume 24, Issue 2 / February 2020 Film Reviews   documentary   michael moore   political cinema