In the heat of the 2004 presidential election campaign, no single work of speechmaking, writing, or media production fueled the fiery debate over George W. Bush's leadership as much as Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. Certainly, no American documentary film ever provoked as much political controversy. A noted film scholar now offers a much-needed appraisal of both the film and the furor surrounding it. Robert Brent Toplin first examines the development of Moore's ideas and the evolution of his filmmaking, then dissects Fahrenheit 9/11 and explores the many claims and disagreements about the movie's truthfulness. Toplin considers the ways in which Moore based his arguments on a diverse array of "primary sources," many of which had received scant attention in the mainstream media-including the notorious seven-minute "Pet Goat" video depicting President Bush-either deliberately calm or paralyzed-in a Florida classroom on being told of the 9/11 attacks. Finally, Toplin considers the movie's impact, noting that some enthusiasts of the film thought it would help Democrats in the 2004 elections while others argued that Moore's strident approach to issues would turn off swing voters and contribute to a Republican victory. Critics lambasted Fahrenheit 9/11, claiming Moore violated standards of documentary filmmaking through his excessive partisanship. They also berated him for taking events out of context and getting the facts wrong. Toplin contends that partisanship is a well-established tradition in documentary filmmaking, and he shows that the major disagreements between admirers and detractors of Fahrenheit 9/11 revolved around interpretation rather than the factual record. Michael Moore took some controversial risks, Toplin demonstrates, but on many large and small matters-from his treatment of the Bush administration's reactions to 9/11 and war-making in Iraq to disputes about the Saudi flights from the United States after 9/11-Moore raised many legitimate questions. Toplin's engaging study shows that Michael Moore's film did more than shake up a nation; it also made an indelible contribution to the esteemed tradition of agenda-driven cinema. This book is part of the CultureAmerica series.
Moore's provocative polemic, released early in the election year of 2004, criticized the Bush administration in a number of ways. It broke all records for documentary attendance and revenues, but also drew a blast of hostile attacks, not only, predictably, from right-wing partisans but also from more mainstream critics, who found it distorted or downright untruthful. Acknowledging Moore's deliberate attempt to influence the election against the Republican incumbency, Toplin argues that the negative fallout (not the film itself) led to a voter backlash with the opposite effect. Toplin (who has also written about Oliver Stone, another gadfly) reviews Moore's history, beginning with his attack on General Motors, Roger and Me, and analyzes the personal and humorous approach Moore has employed from the beginning. While clearly on Moore's side and convinced of the fundamental truth of the film's argument-Toplin believes it "made history"-he concedes that some of its points could have been made less controversially. Nevertheless, the "most important message of Fahrenheit 9/11 is that the war with Iraq was unnecessary." Toplin is mostly addressing his political community, but film students may also pick up some valuable information. Photos. (Apr. 20) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.