'Fahrenheit 9/11' Gets Standing Ovation
Tuesday, June 15, 2004
By Roger Friedman
The crowd that gave Michael Moore's controversial "Fahrenheit 9/11" documentary a standing ovation last night at the Ziegfeld Theater premiere certainly didn't have to be encouraged to show their appreciation. From liberal radio host/writer Al Franken to actor/director Tim Robbins, Moore was in his element.
But once "F9/11" gets to audiences beyond screenings, it won't be dependent on celebrities for approbation. It turns out to be a really brilliant piece of work, and a film that members of all political parties should see without fail.
As much as some might try to marginalize this film as a screed against President George Bush, "F9/11" — as we saw last night — is a tribute to patriotism, to the American sense of duty — and at the same time a indictment of stupidity and avarice.
Readers of this column may recall that I had a lot of problems with Moore's "Bowling for Columbine," particularly where I thought he took gratuitous shots at helpless targets such as Charlton Heston. "Columbine" too easily succeeded by shooting fish in a barrel, as they used to say.
Not so with "F9/11," which instead relies on lots of film footage and actual interviews to make its case against the war in Iraq and tell the story of the intertwining histories of the Bush and bin Laden families.
First, I know you want to know who came to the Ziegfeld, so here is a partial list:
Besides Franken and Robbins, Al Sharpton, Mike Myers, Tony Bennett, Glenn Close, Gretchen Mol (newly married over the weekend to director Todd Williams), Lori Singer, Tony Kushner, "Angela's Ashes" author Frank McCourt, Jill Krementz and Kurt Vonnegut, Lauren Bacall (chatting up a fully refurbished Lauren Hutton), Richard Gere, John McEnroe and Patti Smythe, former U.N. ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Carson Daly, NBC's Jeff Zucker, a very pregnant Rory Kennedy, playwright Israel Horovitz, Macaulay Culkin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kyra Sedgwick, Linda Evangelista, Ed Bradley, Tom and Meredith Brokaw, director Barry Levinson, NBC anchor Brian Williams, Vernon Jordan, Eva Mendes, Sandra Bernhard and the always humorous Joy Behar.
If that's not enough, how about Yoko Ono, accompanied by her son, Sean, who's let his hair grow out and is now sporting a bushy beard that makes him look like his late, beloved father John Lennon?
And then, just to show you how much people wanted to see this film, there was Martha Stewart, looking terrific. I mean, talk about an eclectic group!
Now, unless you've been living under a rock, you know that this movie has been the cause of a lot of trouble. Miramax and Disney have gone to war over it, and "The Passion of the Christ" seems like "Mary Poppins" in retrospect. Before anyone's even seen it, there have been partisan debates over which way Moore may have spun this or that to get a desired effect.
But, really, in the end, not seeing "F9/11" would be like allowing your First Amendment rights to be abrogated, no matter whether you're a Republican or a Democrat.
The film does Bush no favors, that's for sure, but it also finds an unexpectedly poignant and universal groove in the story of Lila Lipscombe, a Flint, Mich., mother who sends her kids into the Army for the opportunities it can provide — just like the commercials say — and lives to regret it.
Lipscombe's story is so powerful, and so completely middle-American, that I think it will take Moore's critics by surprise. She will certainly move to tears everyone who encounters her.
"F9/11" isn't perfect, and of course, there are leaps of logic sometimes. One set piece is about African-American congressmen and women presenting petitions on the Florida recount, and wondering why there are no senators to support them.
Indeed, those absent senators include John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy, among others, which Moore does not elaborate upon. At no point are liberals or Democrats taken to task for not supporting these elected officials, and I would have liked to have seen that.
On the other hand, there are more than enough moments that seemed to resonate with the huge Ziegfeld audience.
The most indelible is Bush's reaction to hearing on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, that the first plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.
Bush was reading to a grade-school class in Florida at that moment. Instead of jumping up and leaving, he instead sat in front of the class, with an unfortunate look of confusion, for nearly 11 minutes.
Moore obtained the footage from a teacher at the school who videotaped the morning program. There Bush sits, with no access to his advisers, while New York is being viciously attacked. I guarantee you that no one who sees this film forgets this episode.
More than even "The Passion of the Christ," "F9/11" is going to be a "see it for yourself" movie when it hits theaters on June 25. It simply cannot be missed, and I predict it will be a huge moneymaker.
And that's where Disney's Michael Eisner comes in. Not releasing this film will turn out to be the curse of his career.
When Eisner came into Disney years ago, the studio was at a low point. He turned it around with a revived animation department and comedy hits such as "Pretty Woman" and "Down and Out in Beverly Hills."
But Eisner's short-sightedness on many recent matters has been his undoing. And this last misadventure is one that will follow him right out the doors of the Magic Kingdom.