As the docu war between left and right escalates to the nuclear stage, the biggest missile yet lobbed by the right is unquestionably “Fahrenhype 9/11.” Bypassing theaters for homevid, pic reps the most detailed and strongly argued retort to Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Although pic’s underlying agenda is to promote George W. Bush’s re-election, non-GOP critics of Moore’s filmmaking also will find material to buttress their beliefs. Still, this counterpoint will have a hard time overcoming Moore’s marketplace dominance, with the big guy’s pic steadily holding a high spot on national video sales charts.
A collaborative effort involving former Clinton adviser Dick Morris, actor (and narrator) Ron Silver and several veterans of the burgeoning Mormon film movement, “Fahrenhype” is the latest example of the digital era’s capacity for rapid response. Docu was shot in August and post-production was finished in time to allow for homevid release the same day as “Fahrenheit.”
Although filmmakers claim in press materials that pic is bi-partisan, many of the previously active Democrats — as Morris, Silver, former New York mayor Ed Koch and Georgia Sen. Zell Miller –had speaking slots at the August GOP convention. A chance for ideological unity is flubbed by leaving out Moore’s many left critics, some of whom weighed in as early as “Fahrenheit’s” Cannes preem, when it became a distinctly controversial Palme d’Or winner.
“Fahrenhype’s” real substance derives from vet right-wing thinkers ranging from former Reagan assistant secretary of defense Frank Gaffney to authors Jason Clark and David T. Hardy, and particularly National Review editor David Kopel, whose essay “59 Deceits in ‘Fahrenheit 9/11′” strives to explain how Moore’s arguments are often based on filmmaking trickery.
Analysis is bookended by emotional appeals: first from Morris and Koch deploring Moore’s claims (lensed apparently at a live speaking engagement) that “there is no terrorist threat” and concluding with a montage of the film’s talking heads and American citizens proclaiming love for country and support of current U.S. foreign policy.
These appeals end up feeling rather weak, however. The first because although it is based on comments by Moore, those comments are not included in his movie. And the second because the speakers are basically expressing their patriotism, not pointing to problems with Moore’s film.
To demonstrate Moore’s legerdemain with graphics, Clarke and Hardy bore in on a brief moment in “Fahrenheit,” in which an anti-war letter to the editor of the Bloomington, Ill., newspaper, the Pantagraph, was altered by Moore to appear like a news story. More potently, Gwen Tose-Rigell, the principal of Emma E. Booker Elementary School who participated with Bush in the now-famous reading of “My Pet Goat” during the alert of the World Trade Center attack, debunks Moore’s account of Bush’s deer-in-headlights indecision during the crisis.
Docu’s anger is palpable at Moore’s claims — among the most dubious in “Fahrenheit” — that the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was largely done to secure future oil supplies. Former Bush speechwriter David Frum notes that plans for a Unocal pipeline through the region were scuttled in the ’90s.
Additional topics, from GOP dominance of the Carlyle Group (new docu says that plenty of Demos have been long involved in the firm) to lack of cops along the Oregon coast (new docu says job is not the task of highway sheriffs, but of the U.S. Coast Guard), create a pattern in which Moore appears to have stretched the facts to suit his argument.
New docu’s most powerful argument from a cinematic perspective is that Moore engaged in pure propaganda when he manipulated viewer emotions, for example with his edited juxtaposition of Iraqi children at play with U.S. bombs dropping on Baath Party headquarters in Baghdad.
To be sure, “Fahrenhype” is a broadside as well, and though it may lack Moore’s instinct for simultaneously hitting auds in the gut and making them laugh, it’s vastly superior in content and style to most of the recent anti-Moore docus.
Silver serves as an effective, conversational narrator and a witty on-screen participant, appearing to improvise many of his comments while driving his convertible through Manhattan. Morris is in classic attack-dog mode, recalling his days as one of Clinton’s most aggressive advocates — and later, enemies.
Lensing by David G. Sapp is extremely sharp.