Skip to comments.Roger Ebert: (Fahrenheit) '9/11': Just the facts? (in defense of Michael Moore documentaries)
Posted on 06/21/2004 12:55:24 AM PDT by weegee
A reader writes:
"In your articles discussing Michael Moore's film 'Fahrenheit 9/11,' you call it a documentary. I always thought of documentaries as presenting facts objectively without editorializing. While I have enjoyed many of Mr. Moore's films, I don't think they fit the definition of a documentary."
That's where you're wrong. Most documentaries, especially the best ones, have an opinion and argue for it. Even those that pretend to be objective reflect the filmmaker's point of view. Moviegoers should observe the bias, take it into account and decide if the film supports it or not.
Michael Moore is a liberal activist. He is the first to say so. He is alarmed by the prospect of a second term for George W. Bush, and made "Fahrenheit 9/11" for the purpose of persuading people to vote against him.
That is all perfectly clear, and yet in the days before the film opens June 25, there'll be bountiful reports by commentators who are shocked! shocked! that Moore's film is partisan. "He doesn't tell both sides," we'll hear, especially on Fox News, which is so famous for telling both sides.
The wise French director Godard once said, "The way to criticize a film is to make another film." That there is not a pro-Bush documentary available right now I am powerless to explain. Surely, however, the Republican National Convention will open with such a documentary, which will position Bush comfortably between Ronald Reagan and God. The Democratic convention will have a wondrous film about John Kerry. Anyone who thinks one of these documentaries is "presenting facts objectively without editorializing" should look at the other one.
The pitfall for Moore is not subjectivity, but accuracy. We expect him to hold an opinion and argue it, but we also require his facts to be correct. I was an admirer of his previous doc, the Oscar-winning "Bowling for Columbine," until I discovered that some of his "facts" were wrong, false or fudged.
In some cases, he was guilty of making a good story better, but in other cases (such as his ambush of Charlton Heston) he was unfair, and in still others (such as the wording on the plaque under the bomber at the Air Force Academy) he was just plain wrong, as anyone can see by going to look at the plaque.
Because I agree with Moore's politics, his inaccuracies pained me, and I wrote about them in my Answer Man column. Moore wrote me that he didn't expect such attacks "from you, of all people." But I cannot ignore flaws simply because I agree with the filmmaker. In hurting his cause, he wounds mine.
Now comes "Fahrenheit 9/11," floating on an enormous wave of advance publicity. It inspired a battle of the titans between Disney's Michael Eisner and Miramax's Harvey Weinstein. It won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. It has been rated R by the MPAA, and former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo has signed up as Moore's lawyer, to challenge the rating. The conservative group Move America Forward, which successfully bounced the mildly critical biopic "The Reagans" off CBS and onto cable, has launched a campaign to discourage theaters from showing "Fahrenheit 9/11."
The campaign will amount to nothing and disgraces Move America Forward by showing it trying to suppress disagreement instead of engaging it. The R rating may stand; there is a real beheading in the film, and only fictional beheadings get the PG-13. Disney and Miramax will survive.
Moore's real test will come on the issue of accuracy. He can say whatever he likes about Bush, as long as his facts are straight. Having seen the film twice, I saw nothing that raised a flag for me, and I haven't heard of any major inaccuracies. When Moore was questioned about his claim that Bush unwisely lingered for six or seven minutes in that Florida classroom after learning of the World Trade Center attacks, Moore was able to reply with a video of Bush doing exactly that.
I agree with Moore that the presidency of George W. Bush has been a disaster for America. In writing that, I expect to get the usual complaints that movie critics should keep their political opinions to themselves. But opinions are my stock in trade, and is it not more honest to declare my politics than to conceal them? I agree with Moore, and because I do, I hope "Fahrenheit 9/11" proves to be as accurate as it seems.
Copyright © Chicago Sun-Times Inc.
The wise French director Godard once said, "The way to criticize a film is to make another film." That there is not a pro-Bush documentary available right now I am powerless to explain.
(A) How can a "pro-Bush" documentary answer the charges in Mr. Moore's film when no filmmaker has seen it with enough time to make a rebuttal film?
(B) What conservative theater chains are there that would book a "pro-Bush" documentary? Count out Angelika, Landmark, and all of the university run theaters.
(C) Campaign Finance Reform has seen to it that a financially well-off Republican can't even BUY the airtime to air his rebuttal if he filmed it. (with Michael Moore's film being released so close to the election).
Yeah, Rog, this is some level playing field.
This film needs to be mentioned in the same breath as "Triumph Of The Will" and "The Eternal Jew". It serves the same end and is purely propaganda.
Ray Bradbury does not like the fact that Michael Moore has hijacked the name of his book and movies "Fahrenheit 451". He called Mr. Moore a "screwed a**hole" and a "horrible person". Michael Moore does not oppose totalitarian regimes, he unwittingly(?) gives them aid and comfort.
Well, I will give Ebert one bit of praise. Everyone in the media should be as open about what their biases are.
If Dan Rather started every broadcast by saying, "I'm a left winger and you should expect to see my biases reflected in the upcoming news broadcast", most of my compliants about the Democrats' media would go away.
That being said, a pressure campaign such as the one Ebert is so critical of is hardly that unusual in America. Remember the NAACP boycott? Remember the Left's continuing efforts to silence talk radio? The Clintons going after the VRWC?
Finally, how would Ebert know if there are mistakes in Moore's film? Does he regularly read non-leftwing news sources? I would strongly guess no...
Ebert is correct, but in a way he might not realise. A Hollyweird Documentary is nothing but crap.
Et tu, Roger
Hitler made some propaganda films, as well.....
When ideologues like Moore produce make-believe and put it up as a documentary, it's a head shaker.
These are by general consent two of the best documentaries ever made. But because they reflect the ideology of a monstrous movement, they pose a classic question of the contest between art and morality: Is there such a thing as pure art, or does all art make a political statement?" -Roger Ebert THE WONDERFUL HORRIBLE LIFE OF LENI RIEFENSTAHL
Forget the film. Time to boycott Ebert!!! I had no idea he was such a leftie. I guess I should have known, you get that close to Hollyweird and it rubs off. I always had the mistaken idea that he was some sort of moderate independent. No more reading his reviews!!!!
You say that but I'm STILL looking for the damn disaster. 9/11 was a disaster for sure but Bush didn't do that and the French being pissed at us is just plain luck, so Mr. Egbert when you make a statement like the above back it up or you end up being even less than MM. MM at least threw some lies together to try to convince people of his view, you didn't even do that.
Think they have ever bother to recognize a porn star this way? The woman was a propagandist for the Nazis. Some say that she "had no choice". Fritz Lang was the first choice for the job. He refused and came to America (he even left his pro-Hitler wife behind).
Obviously he did eventually get around to reading some conservative website someplace because he does acknowledge that it caused him to revise his opinion of Bowling For Columbine (did it change his mind enough to go from thumbs up to down though?).
Mr. Moore "takes on" President Bush for the departure of some members of the (large) bin Laden family and they have long ago denounced him. Ted Kazenski's brother turned him in; just because you are related does not mean that you share politics or extremism.
Richard Clarke was the National Security adviser at the time of 9-11. He did not raise a red flag over the decision to let them go (he cleared it with the FBI). How is this is "Bush's" scandal? Mr. Moore, I'm sure, will tell us in his movie.
Pop quiz, no web searching:
How many people left the US when the planes were "grounded"?
Did you include border crossings (by car, foot, boat)?
How many people FLEW out of the US?
How many of those people were of Middle Eastern descent?
How many people of other nationalities left? Where were they from?
How many flights did it take to coordinate the departure of the "bin Laden" relatives? How many other flights were there? What other sort of official activity was going on when people were told "flights were grounded"?
My point is that people hear this one detail but they aren't given ANY corresponding information to tell if it was out of line. Start with a faulty understanding of the situation and it can easily be blown out of proportion.
Mr. Moore is alleging that they were given "preferential" treatment because of a Bush-Bin Laden connection.
Mr. Moore has done more to show to me his sympathies with terrorists than the bin Laden family has done.
(April 14, 2004): The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not "insurgents" or "terrorists" or "The Enemy." They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow -- and they will win. Get it, Mr. Bush?....I oppose the U.N. or anyone else risking the lives of their citizens to extract us from our debacle...the majority of Americans supported this war once it began and, sadly, that majority must now sacrifice their children until enough blood has been let that maybe -- just maybe -- God and the Iraqi people will forgive us in the end.
People who kidnap Americans and decapitate them on video are terrorists. They seek to strike terror in the hearts of people. They kill innocent civilians. They have bombed the United Nations building, they have bombed the oil pipeline. They have killed many US soldiers with land mines (which the well intentioned left has told us should be globally banned).
I have not heard Michael Moore distance himself from any of the actions of his "minutemen".
Ebert's really "powerless to explain" that? Give me a break.
Its Los Angeles, 1977, and adult film director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) meets Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), a well-endowed dishwasher in a nightclub. Jack recruits Eddie to be his newest star and Eddie, hungry for fame, quickly agrees, changing his name to Dirk Diggler. Soon Dirk is the hottest star in the porn industry, alongside Rollergirl (Heather Graham), a high school dropout who never removes her roller skates, and Amber Waves (Julianne Moore), the veteran star who pines for the son she's not allowed to visit. On the fringes, Little Bill (William H. Macy) fumes while his wife cheats on him in public, and Buck Swope (Don Cheadle) tries to escape the stigma of being a porn actor. The good times roll, but before long Dirk falls victim to the pressures of stardom and a drug habit that ruins his career while Jack struggles with porns conversion from film to cheaper videotapes. Director Paul Thomas Andersons breakthrough film is an exhilarating ride along the underbelly of the 1970s inspired by the films of Altman and Scorsese, featuring colorful camera work, a dynamic soundtrack, and excellent performances from the entire cast, most notably Reynolds in an Oscar-nominated comeback role.
"I have not heard Michael Moore distance himself from any of the actions of his "minutemen".
We've just read that Ebert is aligned with this thinking.
They broke ground in film. They helped to end the practice of local censor boards in major cities.
The treatment they gave Leni Riefenstahl shows that you did not have to work in the Hollywood "studio system" to get recognized for this honor.
I hear that there was a reasonably pro-Bush documentary awhile back (Travels with George) that didn't turn out to be the "get Bush" slam that so many liberals were hoping for. I have not seen the film and the director's mom is a liberal reporter I think so I am just going on the words of other people that it is "pro-Bush". How about saying that one was "moderate Bush" and Moore's film is rabidly "anti Bush"? A "pro Bush" film should make no mistakes in its presentation of what the perspective is, we would clearly know that it is "pro Bush".
Maybe moreso than Ebert asking "where is the pro Bush film" he should be asking "where is the anti Kerry film"? I'm sure that the veterans groups have a lot of dirt to spill. Heck, where are the revival screenings at colleges and museums of Winter Soldier showing Kerry's post-service Vietnam War activities? How soon after Kerry is elected will these become "fair game" for the liberal institutions to show us? Check online, you will find copies of this film at a lot of college libraries.
For someone who makes so much of his few months in Vietnam, we certainly aren't hearing much about "what he did during the war".
Yes, it's like watching Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph des Willens or D. W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation.
Some consider them to be documentaries.
9/11 was never repeated because of President George Bush.
(So much for Ebert's judgment.)
Agreed. I definitely disagree with his opinions & political views, but I respect anyone who is upfront and honest about them.
Moore's most accurate work is Canadian Bacon. Ebert is still waiting for the Oscar for Beyond the valley of the Dolls.
1.) Consisting of, concerning, or based on documents.
2.Presenting facts objectively without editorializing or inserting fictional matter, as in a book or film.
Puh-leeze. If Moore had asserted that George W. Bush is an android sent by evil aliens to lay the groundwork for their invasion, that would not have raised a flag in Ebert's mind.
These guys never talk about the one missing ingredient and that is the truth.
I actually have no problem with Moore's bias -- especially since he is so open about it. What I have a problem with -- and why his films should not be considered "documentaries" -- is that he manufactures "facts" via selective editing to make it look like something happened that actually never did. A documentary should not invent, it should only focus.
I've been boycotting Ebert for at least a decade. Not because he's a jerk leftist movie critic, like 98% of movie "critics", but because he's an awful, leftist movie "critic". Over the years he's praised many truly awful films that have lured me to the silver screen. No more and no MOORE!!!
May Ebert choke on a chicken bone.
The German made film, "The Eternal Jew", may include some passages from that forged document.
I don't think that Roger expects wide acclaim for the movies he wrote for Russ Meyer (his later films were co-written under a pseudonym). Roger did end up marrying one of the actresses from Beneath The Valley Of The Ultravixens (the woman who played "Junkyard Sal") decades later.
What I find (mildly) amusing is how the movie "THE HUNTING OF THE PRESIDENT" is being released the same week as Farenheit 9/11! Do you realize a movie about how forces of the opposition unfairly went ater a sitting President is being released the same week as a movie unfairly going after a sitting President by forces of the opposition.
Maybe Michael would like to remake it.
Hitler was upfront and honest about his opinions and political views. He wrote it all in Mein Kampf at the beginning of his career. Pol Pot was upfront and honest about his too. So was Osama bin Laden.
Even more goofy... I was reading in the paper today that Clinton's new book makes us wish for the "innocent" days of the '90s before George W. Bush. *eye roll*
Bias is one thing - outright lies and misrepresentation of facts are another.
Does anyone have a list of the factual errors in Bowling for Columbine?
True, but Hitler and Pol Pot didnt come on TV reviewing movies.
I respect Elberts right to have his (misguided) views and opinions. I respect him for stating his has a liberal bias and opinion. At least he is upfront about it. What I dont respect are the majority of clowns in the liberal media who say they are unbiased and objective and obviously are not. That was my point.
There were quite a few "shot on video" films that were released to theaters (such as Landmark's art house chain). The first one that comes to mind is "The War Room" about the campaign (George Stephenolous and James Carville in particular).
I think some of these election era pro-Clinton films were shot on video (A) because they didn't know if he would win and (B) because they didn't know if they would get a distribution deal so they wouldn't be spending as much money if they couldn't get it released.
I know that there were others. List them if you can. Also indicate if they got theatrical distribution.
On the "anti-Clinton" side there was "Waco:The Rules Of Engagement" (1997). It was even nominated for an Oscar but lost out to another film about the Holocaust I believe. WTROI did not play any theaters in Houston outside of an arranged screening at Rice University's Media Center (I heard about it on a radio show that was locally broadcast on a station that sold air time). The theater was absolutely sold out. I bought the video but could do nothing to persuade my liberal friends to even consider watching it.
Years later a followup film was made by the same producer, Michael McNulty, titled Waco: A New Revelation (1999). Some feel that it was not as well made. It expanded on a few elements from the first film but was also meant to work as a stand alone film. Among the most "shocking" footage was of a reporter being pummeled by the ATF (6 or so agents) beating a reporter to get his tape of the initial (poorly executed) assault. Reportedly the journalist was unhappy with that scene being included but they had signed a release on the footage before they reviewed what it exactly contained. I only ever saw this film screened in Houston at the Worldfest Film Festival. Afterwards I ate a steak dinner with one of the directors, Jason Van Vleet.
Neither Waco documentary ever put Bill Clinton's reelection at risk (both were made in his second term even though the event dates back to the early days of his first administration).
If there were other anti Clinton documentaries that were theatrically released, I would like to know what they were.
Feel free to mention any anti Reagan or anti Bush41 movies you can think of. Oliver Stone tried to make a film version of a book (Brought To Light, if I recall) designed to do to Bush41 what Moore hopes to do to Bush43. When Mr. Stone could not get financing/a distribution deal to get the movie out in time for the 1988 election, he dropped the project.
Probably because we're still here and "The Passion of The Christ" made so much money.
Roger Ebert admits to being a liberal. He does not admit to be biased, however.
Roger (Bush hater) Ebert interview (from The Progressive magazine)
Here is an excerpt with my response (using quotes from a Roger Ebert review):
Q: If you were putting on a progressive film festival, what movies would you show?
Ebert: It's a good question, because a movie isn't good or bad based on its politics. It's usually good or bad for other reasons, though you might agree or disagree with its politics.
Rog forgot that movie about the man who was on death row trying to get his conviction overturned. At some point it is revealed to the audience that he really did commit the crime. Roger thought that this was a horrible thing because it "validated" the death penalty advocates' position. He gave it ZERO stars (the lowest he can go) because he absoluted hated the politics of this film. He liked the acting. He liked the direction. He hated the message.
"The Life of David Gale" tells the story of a famous opponent of capital punishment who, in what he must find an absurdly ironic development, finds himself on Death Row in Texas, charged with the murder of a woman who was also opposed to capital punishment. This is a plot, if ever there was one, to illustrate King Lear's complaint, "As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods; They kill us for their sport." I am aware this is the second time in two weeks I have been compelled to quote Lear, but there are times when Eminem simply will not do.
David Gale is an understandably bitter man, played by Kevin Spacey, who protests his innocence to a reporter named Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet), whom he has summoned to Texas for that purpose. He claims to have been framed by right-wing supporters of capital punishment because his death would provide such poetic irony in support of the noose, the gas or the chair. Far from killing Constance Harraway (Laura Linney), he says, he had every reason not to, and he explains that to Bitsey in flashbacks that make up about half of the story.
Bitsey becomes convinced of David's innocence. She is joined in her investigation by the eager and sexy intern Zack (Gabriel Mann), and they become aware that they are being followed everywhere in a pickup truck by a gaunt-faced fellow in a cowboy hat, who is either a right-wing death-penalty supporter who really killed the dead woman, or somebody else. If he is somebody else, then he is obviously following them around with the MacGuffin, in this case a videotape suggesting disturbing aspects of the death of Constance.
The man in the cowboy hat illustrates my recently renamed Principle of the Unassigned Character, formerly known less elegantly as the Law of Economy of Character Development. This principle teaches us that the prominent character who seems to be extraneous to the action will probably hold the key to it. The cowboy lives in one of those tumble-down shacks filled with flies and peanut butter, with old calendars on the walls. The yard has more bedsprings than the house has beds.
The acting in "The Life of David Gale" is splendidly done but serves a meretricious cause. The direction is by the British director Alan Parker, who at one point had never made a movie I wholly disapproved of. Now has he ever. The secrets of the plot must remain unrevealed by me, so that you can be offended by them yourself, but let it be said this movie is about as corrupt, intellectually bankrupt and morally dishonest as it could possibly be without David Gale actually hiring himself out as a joker at the court of Saddam Hussein.
I am sure the filmmakers believe their film is against the death penalty. I believe it supports it and hopes to discredit the opponents of the penalty as unprincipled fraudsters. What I do not understand is the final revelation on the videotape. Surely David Gale knows that Bitsey Bloom cannot keep it private without violating the ethics of journalism and sacrificing the biggest story of her career. So it serves no functional purpose except to give a cheap thrill to the audience slackjaws. It is shameful.
One of the things that annoys me is that the story is set in Texas and not just in any old state--a state like Arkansas, for example, where the 1996 documentary "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills" convincingly explains why three innocent kids are in prison because they wore black and listened to heavy metal, while the likely killer keeps pushing himself onscreen and wildly signaling his guilt. Nor is it set in our own state of Illinois, where Death Row was run so shabbily that former Gov. George Ryan finally threw up his hands and declared the whole system rotten.
No, the movie is set in Texas, which in a good year all by itself carries out half the executions in America. Death Row in Texas is like the Roach Motel: Roach checks in, doesn't check out. When George W. Bush was Texas governor, he claimed to carefully consider each and every execution, although a study of his office calendar shows he budgeted 15 minutes per condemned man (we cannot guess how many of these minutes were devoted to pouring himself a cup of coffee before settling down to the job). Still, when you're killing someone every other week and there's an average of 400 more waiting their turn, you have to move right along.
Spacey and Parker are honorable men. Why did they go to Texas and make this silly movie? The last shot made me want to throw something at the screen--maybe Spacey and Parker.
You can make movies that support capital punishment ("The Executioner's Song") or oppose it ("Dead Man Walking") or are conflicted ("In Cold Blood"). But while Texas continues to warehouse condemned men with a system involving lawyers who are drunk, asleep or absent; confessions that are beaten out of the helpless, and juries that overwhelmingly prefer to execute black defendants instead of white ones, you can't make this movie. Not in Texas.
What a pompous ass.
People at DU are happy about this and plan to take in BOTH movies. They are genuinely excited.
Roger Ebert admits to being a liberal. He does not admit to be biased, however.
I my mind liberal & bias are mutually INCLUSIVE.
Telling that Rodger feels the need to apologize for Moore's non-objectivivity the week the films comes out..
The liberals have been hitting this (and the operators of IMDB has shown their own biases).
I have given them Ray Bradbury's quotes of his opposition to the film's bastardization of his similar title and the ideas it is known for. They wouldn't include them in the comments field of "movie connections" but they did add the title Fahrenheit 451.
They also refused to add the comments to "trivia" which includes all sorts of Michael Moore press releases (about the Disney "censorship" et al).
The posters at the IMDB discussion forum ARE aware of the Ray Bradbury interview, it is discussed here:
The liberals fighting the culture war dumb everything down.
It was Alexandra Pelosi's Journeys with George, about the 2000 campaign (her mother is Nancy Pelosi.) I haven't seen it, but fellow freepers have said a few good things about the movie. I could not find a review of the movie by Ebert.
Anyhow, for Ebert to ask where the pro-Bush films are is quite laughable. Think about it -- while Ebert is carrying Moore's water here about getting this film out, one of the biggest stars in Hollywood had to finance his own movie that turned out to gross $400 million. Ebert did give that movie a good review, but he doesn't seem to connect the dots that if Mel Gibson couldn't get a film about Jesus made without paying for it himself, it's highly unlikely that anybody could make a pro-Bush (or anti-Kerry) film and get Hollywood's help.