Fahrenheit 911

Went to the premiere last night, along with many fabulous celebrities. Martha Stewart! Leo DiCaprio! Spike Lee! Lots of people you vaguely recognize but aren’t sure why! Lots of people you don’t recognize at all who are nonetheless apparently very famous! And Bill O’Reilly — and Al Franken! It’s true, they were in the same room at the same time — lucky it was a large theatre. I’ve met Al Franken three or four times, and in situations you’d think he might remember, but each time, I get a completely blank look, so last night I decided not to bother the man as he walked past me. As for O’Reilly, I’m not entirely sure he made it to the end of the film — I saw where he was sitting, but didn’t see him after. Pity — I was hoping to ask him if he was ready to renounce the dark side now, because honestly, I don’t know how anyone on his side of the fence could sit through that movie and not have at least a little self doubt at the end.

Seats were assigned — I was kind of off in the cheap seats, up in the balcony area. But then again, I was sitting directly behind Kurt Vonnegut, so there you go.

As for the movie itself — I think a lot of people will be surprised by this one. Michael himself is actually not in the film very much at all. There are only two set pieces featuring his usual gonzo wackiness (driving around the Capitol in an ice cream truck reading the Patriot Act over the loudspeaker, for one). There’s narration throughout, particularly toward the beginning, but mostly he lets the material speak for itself — and it’s strong enough material to shoulder the weight. It’s a big film, which tries to cover a lot of ground, but then again, there’s a lot of ground to be covered, from the 2000 election to the Bush family’s close ties to the Saudis, from footage of U.S. soldiers glibly discussing civilian casualties to extended sequences with a Michigan mother whose son was killed in Iraq (in one scene, some braindead dittohead type in front of the White House tells her she should “blame al Qaeda” for the loss of her son). And there’s some gruesome footage of the real cost of war — the image I’m having trouble shaking is that of an Iraqi man holding the corpse of a child accusingly toward the camera. No matter your ideological leanings, any parent — or anyone whose friends have kids, or frankly, any human being with an ounce of decency — has to shudder and feel a little sick about that.

So it’s obviously not a film with as many laughs as, say, Roger and Me. You come out of it feeling pretty somber. But it’s the right film for this moment, a film inextricably intertwined with the political season. It covers a lot of ground that the media have been too cowardly to cover for the past three years. In his closing remarks after the showing, Michael said he didn’t know if it was going to change anyone’s mind — but frankly, even if all it does is rally the base, that’s a fine thing too. (A personal note on this: some of you may recall that I was collaborating with Michael on an animated film script, a couple of years back. Our financing for that one fell through, and F911 is the movie he made instead. And you know what? It’s going to have a greater impact than our sly little animated satire ever would have. Who knows, maybe another year we’ll get back to some version of that one — but I think it’s better all around that things turned out this way.)

So. You’re going to hear a lot of nonsense about Michael Moore over the next few weeks. You’re going to read a lot of commentary about this film from people who haven’t seen it, and you’re going to read nitpicky bullshit from the usual self-appointed fact checkers. Not to mention a lot of truly ignorant bloviation about how much Michael “hates America.” My advice is, ignore it all. Go see the movie, decide for yourself. And on the way out, be sure to tell the usher, or the manager if he or she is around, that you appreciate the theatre giving you the opportunity to do so. I suspect this movie’s going to be kind of a rallying point — like a protest march, a way of saying look, we are here, which is partly why the right wing thugs don’t want it to be shown.

Update: Franken is apparently saying that O’Reilly only lasted a quarter of the way through the film.

…check out this review — on the Fox News website, of all places.

As much as some might try to marginalize this film as a screed against President George Bush, “F9/11” — as we saw last night — is a tribute to patriotism, to the American sense of duty, and at the same time a indictment of stupidity and avarice.