Welcome to Michael Moore week. It's what "the shamelessly liberal news media" does after Ronald Reagan week, and just before raising the alarm about the threats food borne illnesses, West Nile virus and Osama Bin Laden pose to your Fourth of July festivities.
The objects of the current obsession, of course, the outspoken Oscar-winning director and his new documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, a controversial criticism of the president, his administration, the media and the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The film opens nationwide Friday despite facing numerous obstacles on its way to theatres.
Previous flaps over distribution and an undeserved "R" rating have provided Fahrenheit 9/11 with the kind of publicity that money just can't buy. As a result Steven Spielberg, who gave Fahrenheit 9/11 his blessing, predicts that it could top $100 million. Moore's Bowling for Columbine grossed $21.6 million, the largest sum ever for a documentary film.
But it's last week's efforts by the conservative Move America Forward that is currently fueling Fahrenheit 9/11's buzz. According to the group's website, the film is a political ad that "defames our military, insults our troops and attempts to undermine the public's support for the War on Terror." The website asks visitors to contact film executives and theater owners in a last ditch attempt to limit the film's distribution. Decrying those tactics as censorship, the liberal MoveOn.org fired back, urging its 2.2 million members to make a special effort to attend the film during its opening weekend and to do so while wearing blue.
While it's easy to get lost in the logic of making a fashion statement in a dark theater, the more important questions to be asking are what new information does the film offer and can it support the considerable hype.
Fahrenheit 9/11 is a lesson in an ugly period in American history that continues to grow more unpleasant every day. Moore starts his version with what he considers the theft of the 2000 election and follows the misdeeds of President Bush, like breadcrumbs, to the increasingly disastrous situation in Iraq.
Although Moore's take, that Bush and his advisors are motivated by greed and personal gain, isn't original, he finds fertile ground in the pre-9/11 relationship between the Bush and Bin Laden families as well as the Saudi Royal family's influence on the Bush Administration. Along the way, Moore uses the president's pre-9/11 performance, his post-attack response and the true motives for invading Iraq to make a convincing argument that Bush failed to act in the interest of the American people.
While Moore certainly succeeds in making Bush and those around him look incompetent, corrupt and villainous, they aren't the only ones to feel the fury of his lens. Moore indicts members of Congress without regard for party affiliation and, in one scene, blasts the entire U.S. Senate for not having the courage to aid African-American members of Congress in their attempt to protect disenfranchised black voters.
Fahrenheit 9/11 also explores the Bush administration's use of fear to control the public, a theme that will resonate with Bowling for Columbine fans, and the USA Patriot Act, John Ashcroft and the illusion of homeland security are all easy targets.
Moore shifts his focus to the war in Iraq during the second-and less compelling-half of the film. He offers up graphic scenes of the war rarely seen in the U.S. while examining what it really means to "support the troops."
"This film will be like Toto pulling the curtain back," Moore said at a Cannes Film Festival press conference. "Will it influence the election? I hope it influences people to leave the theater and be good citizens. It's up to them."
While Moore has made no secret of his desire to push Bush from office, one has to wonder if Fahrenheit 9/11 will deliver. Surely the president's supporters won't be swayed by such "anti-American propaganda." Does the film's core audience really need any more convincing? And can the indecisive few still wavering between Bush and Kerry be expected to actually choose one of the local multiplex's many offerings or endure the pressure of selecting a seat?
Yet in all seriousness, an official "no comment" from the White House on all things Fahrenheit 9/11-related is reason enough for everyone to buy a ticket, if only to see what's behind the curtain.
Moore's movie ultimately raises more questions than he answers, and while that alone is not disconcerting, it's hard to believe, given his portrayal of the mainstream media as accomplices in the president's deception, that they can be trusted to pick up where he leaves off.
At one point in the film the vacationing president shakes a golf club at the camera saying, "I call on all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you. Now watch this drive."Fahrenheit 9/11 is Moore's turn to tee off, and although his swing seems sweet, the true measure of his success will ultimately depend on his follow through.