Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018)

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How the hell did we end up with Trump? Michael Moore's latest documentary, Fahrenheit 11/9, tries to make sense of the conditions that allowed for his rise and neutered those looking to resist.

Michael Moore just had to start Fahrenheit 11/9 with that goddamn song. "Fight Song". The song performed by a cavalcade of celebrities for the 2016 Democratic National Convention in a spectacle that gave me severe pause that the Democrats had my interests in mind. That was when the idea of Donald Trump as President seemed a terrifying but distant possibility. Then the months rolled by, Hillary Clinton lost, and Trump began carrying out (at my time of writing) 2+ years of absurd and abhorrent policy.

If you want Fahrenheit 11/9 to make sense of these last two years, or function as a no-holds-barred assault on Trump, then you need to watch a different film. There's plenty of effective Trump bashing but Moore has something more affectively difficult in mind. Fahrenheit 11/9 is a snapshot of our mental and emotional condition reinforced by facts both about the Trump candidacy then Presidency along with the Democratic failures that led to his ascension. Those who have spent the last few years cogent and improving need not apply, this is a film for those who need to know someone with some power empathizes with pain.

Whether Moore is the appropriate ambassador for this communication is sometimes in question during Fahrenheit 11/9. In front of the camera, he's often the same uneven and impish provocateur as ever. An ineffective moment has him filming himself spraying water from Flint, Michigan (at least that's what's written on the tank) over then-Governor Rick Snyder's lawn. It plays too silly and considering Moore's criticism over wasting resources I couldn't help but think that someone of his means should at least have been able to decontaminate that water to provide for his fellow Flint townspeople. But that same impish quality fuels his fearlessness as he attempts a citizen's arrest of Snyder while filming a stammering aide to the office offer limp explanations to why Flint's crisis is well on its way to ending (as of my writing, again, it hasn't).

How Moore gets from Trump to Flint to Snyder to the dueling effectiveness of those two stunts shows Moore trying to stuff large systemic critiques into smaller focus. Thinking about it afterward, trying to follow Trump's election to the examples set by Snyder to the water spraying doesn't make the strictest logical sense. But the process of Moore's cuts and voiceovers, leaving just enough room to suggest the malfeasance one inspired in the other, shows Moore's command of the unspoken in cinema - the rhythms of editing - is as potent as it has ever been. He needs to make these connections emotionally because in the world of electoral politics it's unlikely we'll get a straight answer about how much Snyder's dictatorial control of Michigan fed into Trump's own approach to the Presidency.

Plus, knowing Trump's ego, it's similarly far-fetched to think he'd ever admit to taking inspiration from anyone.

So when Fahrenheit 11/9 is at its most precise, Moore let's Trump, the Republican Party, and the media apparatus that helped elect him talk themselves into ethical black holes. What's surprising is the extent Moore is contrite about his own role in the rise of Trump. Granted, it's not a point made directly with Moore staring at the camera tearfully breaking down like a Blair Witch homage. But Moore peeling back the filmmaking apparatus just a bit to show the likes of Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon intertwined with the production and release of Moore's Sicko before Moore walks us through how deftly Trump played him during a television appearance together in the '90s.That effect turns into affect when Moore turns his lens from Trump and himself onto the Democratic Party. I like to think that I'm an informed lefty and that Moore didn't have anything left to show me that I haven't been criticizing over the last few years. I was deeply mistaken. There are two sequences, which I'll leave you to experience, that highlight the Democratic Party at its most abusive and arrogant that gave the unapologetic Trump room to criticize their governance from the left while showing no signs of wanting to exercise power in that direction. That's dangerous when the only word Democrats seem to be able to agree on is "compromise".

How that's dangerous is where I wish Moore drew stronger lines between Trump's threat, Democratic grandstanding, and the smaller stories that litter the rest of Fahrenheit 11/9. It's good that Moore hasn't forgotten his roots in Flint and gives plenty of screentime to local activists trying to make life bearable. It's bad when Moore fails to make a direct point and his artistic silence leaves room for detractors to fill in reasons for "Why" and "How".

This is what makes Fahrenheit 11/9 a great overview of our emotional and mental state, frazzled while clinging desperately to solutions that don't fix the problem, instead of the strict stream of information that marks his better films. As an empathetic viewer, it's difficult not to get sucked in along with Moore as he pieces together what he knows intellectually from what he feels is wrong. As a critic, it's a lacking though I'm aware he's boosting the right voices.

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Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018)

Directed by Michael Moore.

Posted by Andrew

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