July 21, 2019

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Director's Trump card

New president, old documentary tricks for Fahrenheit 11/9's Michael Moore

Deliberately released ahead of November’s mid-term elections in the U.S., director Michael Moore’s typically freewheeling documentary Fahrenheit 11/9 is, first and foremost, a call to action designed to help shift the balance of American political power from Donald Trump’s new brand of Republicanism to an upstart brand of liberal socialism in the vein of Bernie Sanders.

By the title (referring to the day in 2016 Trump won the election, covered in a prelude that is as difficult to watch as the most scabrous torture porn), you can infer it is also a kind of sequel to Fahrenheit 9/11. That 2004 doc that offered up a formidable polemic attack on then-president George W. Bush, becoming along the way the highest grossing documentary of all time. That film largely functioned as an exposé of Bush’s fear-mongering as a tool for manipulating the electorate.

Trump, of course, takes the fear-mongering to a whole new level, but Moore is not interested in repeating himself. Indeed, he primarily examines Trumpism through the lens of his own hometown, Flint, Mich., as it continues to suffer a poisoned-water crisis initiated by its unconscionably corrupt governor, Rick Snyder.

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Deliberately released ahead of November’s mid-term elections in the U.S., director Michael Moore’s typically freewheeling documentary Fahrenheit 11/9 is, first and foremost, a call to action designed to help shift the balance of American political power from Donald Trump’s new brand of Republicanism to an upstart brand of liberal socialism in the vein of Bernie Sanders.

By the title (referring to the day in 2016 Trump won the election, covered in a prelude that is as difficult to watch as the most scabrous torture porn), you can infer it is also a kind of sequel to Fahrenheit 9/11. That 2004 doc that offered up a formidable polemic attack on then-president George W. Bush, becoming along the way the highest grossing documentary of all time. That film largely functioned as an exposé of Bush’s fear-mongering as a tool for manipulating the electorate.

Trump, of course, takes the fear-mongering to a whole new level, but Moore is not interested in repeating himself. Indeed, he primarily examines Trumpism through the lens of his own hometown, Flint, Mich., as it continues to suffer a poisoned-water crisis initiated by its unconscionably corrupt governor, Rick Snyder.

The closest Moore gets to Snyder, by the way, is when he spritzes the governor’s mansion lawn with lead-filled water from Flint’s toxic water supply. This, and an attempt to place Snyder under citizen’s arrest in the state capitol, carry only a faint echo of Moore’s more outrageous past stunts.

Michael Moore (right) interviews David Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting. (Briarcliff Entertainment-GathrFilms)

Michael Moore (right) interviews David Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting. (Briarcliff Entertainment-GathrFilms)

Yet his polemic instincts are still sharp. In a controversial centrepiece, Moore does provide a fairly chilling parallel between the successes of Trump and Adolf Hitler, two calculating populists who are all too willing to act upon their most racist instincts.

Most importantly, Moore is disinclined to paint a sympathetic portrait of the more institutional Democrats. Bill Clinton is portrayed as a Republican in Democrat’s clothes. Barack Obama is spotlighted for his disappointing appearance in Flint, when he symbolically sipped from a glass to try to cynically calm that community’s troubled, poisonous waters.

Moore makes a splash, spraying water from Flint, Mich., at the Michigan governor's residence. (Courtesy Toronto International Film Festival)

Moore makes a splash, spraying water from Flint, Mich., at the Michigan governor's residence. (Courtesy Toronto International Film Festival)

One must appreciate Moore for a certain bracing honesty, even when he is supposedly issuing a rallying cry. But his impatience with old-guard Democrats is justified when their strategy of "compromise" resulted in... Trump.

Surprisingly, Moore barely touches on special investigator Robert Mueller’s noose-tightening investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election, which he apparently deems a longshot solution.

The salvation of the Democratic Party — and it is a party that needs saving, he insists — is in its activist upstarts. These include Sanders, superstar congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or the students of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., who somehow succeeded in subverting the all-powerful National Rifle Association where previous generations of gun-control activists failed. It includes striking schoolteachers fed up with living below the poverty line.

Hope, Moore seems to say, is just a word on an old Obama election poster. Something more is required of the American electorate. And Moore demonstrates convincingly through an examination of Trump’s despotic tendencies that the stakes have never been higher.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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