Ever since Roger & Me hit the film festival circuit in 1989, Michael Moore has established himself to be a distinctive documentary filmmaker. With the release and wide popularity of his 2002 documentary, Bowling for Columbine, Moore gained attention from a wider audience whom perhaps weren’t as familiar with his work; however, his omissions and questionable techniques began to be somewhat evident. Then, along came Fahrenheit 9/11, a 2004 documentary following the events of the September 11th attacks and the response from the Bush administration, misleading us into occupation in Iraq. Easily Moore’s most successful and controversial film, Fahrenheit 9/11 is guilty of both covering up omitting information with film methods and crafting its own political agenda with a slanted style, a well-known characteristic of Moore. Indeed, Fahrenheit 9/11, through Michael Moore’s selected film techniques and biased and populist rhetoric, creates and argues its own political agenda, stating that Bush manipulated the events of 9/11/2001 to create unwarranted war in Iraq. Though, ironically, Moore is accountable of the same reductionism proposed.
Throughout the film, it is obvious that Michael Moore was extremely careful with the shots and editing he used in order to mask his omitted facts and sway viewers into believing everything he says is true. One of the film’s first examples is the coverage, or lack thereof, of the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center. Moore decided to exclude video footage and instead solely use carefully selected audio of the explosions and people crying and yelling for help, all against a blank screen. By removing the video, Moore is cueing the viewer’s personal visual memories of the events, adding much more emotion. In addition, if he would’ve shown the attacks, the emotions would be those of anger and retaliation, not those of sorrow and sympathy. Right after this scene, the video fades back in; showing the looks of shock and horror on bystanders’ faces as debris rains down from the sky, all juxtaposed with sounds of violins much like a sad part in a narrative film. These early shots and sounds prompt the emotions of sorrow from the viewer and get them involved from the start.
Secondly, another example of Moore using his film experience to his advantage is in the scene where President Bush is reading a book to elementary school students as the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center. Instead of immediately reacting after being told “America is under attack,” Bush kept his cool for seven minutes before getting up and heading for safety. However, Moore stretches these seven minutes out to feel like a lifetime by showing Bush calmly sitting and pondering his next move along with the time at the bottom of the screen to remind the viewer that minutes are passing by. Usually, in any emergency where the president’s security is threatened, the secret service takes control and decides the president’s next move. Moore does not mention this though and instead makes Bush seem as if he doesn’t care and/or doesn’t have a clue what to do next when the nation was under attack.
Finally, one last example of Moore’s use of manipulative editing occurs during the scene where President Bush is shown announcing his plan to bomb Iraq in “shock and awe” fashion. Moore mentions that his film crew went to Iraq the day before the bombings and documented Iraqi life. What is shown onscreen is children running around, frolicking around a Ferris wheel carelessly, all while Saddam Hussein’s evil regime was still in power. The next images we see are bombs exploding over Baghdad and the destruction and sorrow caused by the “shock and awe” campaign. One can’t help but to think of the similarities between the aftermaths of these bombings and the attacks of September 11th as we again see people crying for help after chaos has erupted. What Moore has done here though is depicted Saddam’s Iraq as a peaceful, happy place where kids play freely and happily, when in reality this was far from the truth. Moore’s film crew obviously went to one of the more peaceful places in Iraq and got incredibly lucky with the footage. When this happy footage is shown right before the explosions of the bombs and their aftermath, it makes the Bush Administration seem heartless and only looking invade countries that they can gain from. Although this example is much more blatant than others, it still proves the point that Michael Moore’s selected film techniques are used in such a way to covertly sway the viewer’s opinion without seeming overly direct.
Not only is Moore an expert at manipulating film techniques, he also has a way with rhetoric, choosing almost always to go along with populist opinion and never offering opposing viewpoints. Throughout Moore’s films, he has always picked one person to buffoon through his use of archive footage and film manipulation. In Roger & Me, his target was Roger Smith, CEO of General motors, while in Bowling for Columbine, his target was the National Rifle Association and its president at the time, Charlton Heston. With Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore was sitting on a goldmine by picking George W. Bush, who is no stranger to bumbled speeches and misquotes. Basically, all Moore had to do was get his hands on archive footage making Bush look foolish and juxtapose them right where his points were being made. In the summer of 2004, a majority of the U.S. was already questioning Bush’s misuse of power. Before the film was even released, there was mass controversy regarding the issues discussed in the film. Even the title itself, which derives from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, caused some controversy with Bradbury asking Moore to change the film’s title (Fahrenheit 9/11 controversy). These controversies had an adverse effect, creating publicity and causing it to open up at the box office with 23.9 million. With most viewers knowing the context of the film before entering the theatre, Moore was basically preaching to a choir.
Another known characteristic of Moore’s films is that he always finds a way to get his hometown, Flint, Michigan, involved. In Fahrenheit 9/11, he does so by encountering a mother who lost her son in the conflict in Iraq. It is at this point in the film where Moore tones down his usual blaring music along with visuals and shifts the focus solely on the woman’s struggles dealing with the loss of a son. If viewers weren’t already emotionally tuned in to Moore’s rhetoric, now they have a first-hand look at the personal side of war. It is interesting to note that in this scene, Moore makes it seem as if the mother, Lila Lipscomb, had made a complete change in her opinions of the war. In the beginning, Lipscomb states that she loves America and supports the president every step of the way; however, her opinion seems to take a 180-degree turn when she goes to the White House. Dr. Kelton Rhoads, an expert in psychology, did a bit of research of his own and uncovered that Lipscomb had voted for Al Gore in the 2000 election and claimed that Bush had stole the election (Rhoads).
Lastly, as much as Moore suggests that Bush duped a nation into agreeing with his unprovoked invasion of Iraq, Moore himself is just as guilty of the same reductionism by duping his viewers with film manipulation and populist opinion. Moore portrays Bush throughout the movie as being a manipulative leader even with the first shots of him preparing himself before addressing the nation. However, Moore is a true master of manipulation and hides it well by using ambiguous film techniques instead of straightforward facts to push his opinions on people seamlessly.
To conclude, Fahrenheit 9/11 was a successful documentary that’s triumph over viewers was mainly due to Michael Moore’s skilled film techniques and populist rhetoric that its audience would hardly question with a first viewing. However, when examined closely, the film is guilty of using these skills to its advantage and duping all of those who watch and believe everything stated is true. In conclusion, through its selected film techniques and populist rhetoric, Fahrenheit 9/11 is a success in terms of creating and arguing its own political agenda. Though, one must argue the overall success of the film when George W. Bush was reelected and still in office.