2018 has been a decent year for documentaries so far. In the first half of the
year we have been treated to the superb, "Will you be My Neighbor?" which was put
on JR’s Top 10
Midterm List on this website. There was also "Parallel Lives", an excellent
examination of Indy music; "RAG", an informative look at the feminist Supreme
Court judge; and Wim Wenders’ pious but moving, "Frances: A Man of His Word."
Another potential nominee for best doc in the Oscar race was recently released.
Michael Moore’s half comedic/half serious "Fahrenheit 11-9" does a decent job of
completely eviscerating the sitting president, but of course how much you like
it may depend on where you stand on the political spectrum. Moore attacks Trump
and administration for their part in the Parkland Shooting; the continuation of
the Flint water crisis; the Muslim Ban; plus many decisions that negatively
affect minority groups.
"Fahrenheit 11-9" is edifying and enlightening but it does not feel quite as fresh
as his previous works. The film includes some of Michael Moore’s trademark
stunts, but not all of them are satisfying. While I enjoyed seeing Moore
spraying contaminated water at the house of Governor Snyder (who was responsible
for poisoning the Flint Water supply and perhaps killing who knows how many
people), when Moore’s dubs in Trump dialogue into footage of Hitler footage it
comes off as obvious and juvenile. The film is not quite as sharp, original or
biting as 2002's “Bowling for Columbine,” and it certainly never quite rises to the
level of “The Great Dictator.”
Bur Michael Moore’s "Fahrenheit 9-11" is a sneakily effective and provocative doc
about how Trump got into power that chronicles many of his clownish antics since
he got in office. You may recall that early in the election Moore was one of the
only media figures who predicted Trump’s win. Even Trump seemed somewhat
surprised by his victory. The New York Times said that Trump had only a 1 in 4
chance of victory,
As you might gather from the title, the film is a semi sequel to his acclaimed
earlier doc, 2004's "Fahrenheit 9-11" which did earn an Oscar nomination even though it
was the highest grossing documentary ever, and one of the most critically
acclaimed docs of the year. It inverts the title of the earlier film which
focused on Bush’s much criticized war on terror.
One thing I liked "Fahrenheit 11-9" is that unlike some die hard liberal Dems,
Trump justifiably allocates some blame to members of his own party. When the
water was contaminated by the policies of Flint Michigan conservatives, instead
of providing financial support to the sick populace, Obama appeared for a photo
op and told people that water was fine (it was found to contain dangerously high
amounts of lead).
Moore also criticizes how the super delegate system and how DNC trickery “stole”
the nomination from Bernie Sanders. Moore even criticizes himself for going easy
on Trump when he appeared with him on the Rosanne talk show. Some on the left
would rather forget these unpleasant truths, but their inclusion in the film
elevates the film and makes it more even handed.
Moore also draws parallels between today’s America and the dystopian Handmaid’s
Tale. He argues that like the characters in the series, he often thinks about
when the exact point of time that we started towards totalitarianism, and he
even makes the bold claim that Trump might be our last elected president.
The film ends with some inspiring stories of unlikely and newer candidates
succeeding that truly represent the left (unlike many neoliberals) that have
recently claimed victories. He seems to be suggesting that the future of the
party rests in these candidates rather than the corporate worshipping machine
that often calls the shots in the current Democratic Party, so the downbeat film
ends with a bit of hope.