A timely and terrifying documentary
Fahrenheit 11/9 (M, 128 mins) Directed by Michael Moore Reviewed by James Croot ★★★★
Donald Trump first met Michael Moore 20 years ago on the set of Roseanne Barr’s talkshow. Although, in fact, he nearly didn’t. Perhaps worried about the documentarian’s reputation for asking the hard questions, the entrepreneur was refusing to appear opposite him unless Moore promised to play nice.
Begrudgingly, Moore obliged and was surprised to learn that ‘‘The Donald’’ was a huge fan of his debut documentary Roger and Me. Although, the hotelier joked: ‘‘I hope he never does one on me.’’ Two decades later, the thing Trump dreaded has come true, albeit because he himself has become Moore’s and many other Americans’ worst nightmare.
Fahrenheit 11/9 (the title a flipping of his 2004 Palme d’Orwinning, George W Bush-focused tale and a reference to another significant date in US history) looks at the events that led to the former host of The Apprentice becoming the 45th President of the United States.
It was a scenario few saw coming. As a typically pointed and poignant Moore montage shows, on the eve of the election, celebrities such as George Clooney, Katy Perry and Jay-Z had already anointed Hillary Clinton as the next Commander in Chief, while The New York Times gave her rival just a 15 per cent chance of winning.
But as the evening unfolded, it became clear there had been a dramatic shift between the expected result and reality.
With trademark tongue-incheek, our guide initially comes up with a more humorous take on who or what is to blame. Rather than the Russians or FBI director James Comey, Moore suggests pop singer Gwen Stefani was the true culprit.
That’s because when Trump discovered that she was earning more than him at NBC for her role as a judge on The Voice, he decided radical action was needed. Attempting to prove his worth and popularity, Trump staged a fake Presidential announcement.
While the move backfired and NBC sacked him for some of the more outrageous comments he made during his speech, the interest it generated was all the encouragement he needed.
From there, Moore details how the American media and public were manipulated and how years of neglect of locals by the Republican and Democratic parties opened the door for the events of November 8, 2016, to come to pass.
However, he also offers a warning of potential events to come, especially if the current regime is left unchecked. There are the teachers, across many states, underpaid and forced to wear Fitbits to qualify for health insurance.
And, in his own hometown of Flint, Michigan, there’s the behaviour of State Governor Rick Snyder. The former CEO of Gateway Computers decided to build a second water pipeline from Lake Huron to assist businesses. However, in doing so, he also switched Flint’s supply from the lake to the heavily polluted Flint River. That decision resulted in a documented vast increase in public health issues – not that he would acknowledge them. When General Motors complained of the river water corroding car parts though, Snyder couldn’t have been more accommodating.
Both of these stories and Snyder’s use of emergency powers legislation will strike a chord with Kiwis, especially those in Christchurch who lived through the 2010-11 quakes. One almost feels relieved the likes of Gerry Brownlee were so benign in comparison.
But with Moore also throwing in examples of Trump’s ‘‘inappropriate’’ behaviour towards his daughter Ivanka, comparisons with Hitler’s rise, and showcasing the enthusiasm for activism of students from Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, there’s a danger that his message becomes a little too scattershot.
Fortunately, enough revelations and political and social points hit home, and his use of footage of the panic that gripped Hawaii during the false ballistic missile alert in January, provides a scary reminder just how on-edge America is at this time.
This is timely and terrifying documentary film-making.
Michael Moore offers Americans and the globe plenty of reasons to feel gloomy in Fahrenheit 11/9.