Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11: How One Film Divided a Nation

By Winstead, Antoinette | Film & History, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11: How One Film Divided a Nation


Winstead, Antoinette, Film & History


MICHAEL MOORE'S FAHRENHEIT 9/11: HOW ONE FILM DIVIDED A NATION Robert Brent Toplin. University Press of Kansas, 2006. 161 pages; $24.95.

FOUR QUESTIONS

Engaging and well executed, Robert Brent Toplin's Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11: How One Film Divided a Nation manages to achieve what other critiques and examinations of Moore's controversial documentary overlook-the presentation of an objective analysis through what he terms "a more broad-based assessment of the movie's (and the moviemaker's) art and politics." How does Toplin manage to accomplish what some may see as a Herculean feat of impartial analysis? By asking and answering four straightforward questions.

"Did Michael Moore interpret recent American History effectively and with sophistication? Did he violate unwritten but generally acknowledged rules concerning responsible communication through documentary cinema? Were the accusations trae or false? Did his political cinema have an impact on public opinion?" Had others taken this approach when the film was first released, perhaps the din of dissent would have been lessened and the merits and flaws could have been reasonably assessed. But hindsight, as they say, is "20/20," which makes Toplin's book all the more relevant as an example of how films with obvious political leanings should be analyzed in the future.

Toplin's analysis is divided into six chapters, which serve to answer the four questions posed in his introduction. He begins with "The Reel Politics of Michael Moore," a short biographical chapter on Moore's film career and politics and how the two have always been intertwined. Toplin notes that "praise and condemnation" for Moore's work, from the beginning with Roger & Me, have been the norm, laying the ground work for the book's thesis, that those who agree with Moore's messages tend to "praise" him for "constructing an impressive film[s]," while those who disagree with his message "disparage the film[s] on artistic grounds, concentrating on . . . cinematic techniques rather than directly disputing the filmmaker's . . . arguments."

In Chapter 2, "The Anatomy of Fahrenheit 9/11." Toplin provides a concise, tightly woven analysis of Moore's filmmaking technique, paying particular attention to the seven comic approaches he uses, which include: "The Comic Investigator," "The Outtake," and "The Amusing Yet Revealing Quote." In this chapter, Toplin also examines how Moore incorporated primary sources, that "had received relatively little attention in the mainstream media prior to the movie's release," and how these sources, while stirring up a whirlpool of controversy at the time, foreshadowed the human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib, and the nation's growing dissatisfaction with the war, as voiced through Lila Lipscomb. …

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