Category Archives: Documentary

#307 Fahrenheit 9/11

(2004, Michael Moore)

“George Orwell once wrote that, “It’s not a matter of whether the war is not real, or if it is, Victory is not possible. The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous.”

It’s September the 11th today, which means that it’s the anniversary of the terrorist actions on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. A tragic day for sure, but also one shrouded in conspiracy theories and some questionable exploitative actions by politicians. In reaction to this, today we’ll be taking a look at Michael Moore’s infamous documentary about former president George W. Bush’s actions on and around that day in 2001, Fahrenheit 9/11.

Fahrenheit 9/11 is the account of Bush’s political career up to the point of the film’s release, from his election to the invasion of Iraq. It follows events in chronological order and raises questions about Bush’s actions as well as those of those close to him. It’s a political documentary. What more do you want?

This is a difficult film to review because it’s a divisive political piece that you either agree with or you don’t. Reviewing it on an objective basis is difficult because those who were opposed to the War On Terror are likely to enjoy the movie, while those who were supportive of Bush are likely to view the film as terrible propaganda. There is literally no middle ground in this issue. However, while trying to look at it on a technical level is difficult, it is not impossible. Let’s take a look at what Moore has done right here.

The movie does have some great presentation throughout. The movie flows well and explains its points fairly well. It covers a surprisingly broad spectrum of topics surrounding 9/11 and the War On Terror, from stock footage of Bush speeches down to personal accounts of those closer to the events. The movie is paced properly, and never drags or feels rushed for the majority of its running time. And Moore has added plenty of humour to certain parts of the movie, especially when the topics he’s discussing are particularly absurd.

However, Fahrenheit 9/11 isn’t perfect. There is an inherent bias running throughout the movie that sometimes makes it hard to fully enjoy the movie. Some of his claims feel a little shaky and I would have liked to have seen more evidence backing them up (such as claims the Saudi embassy receives preferential treatment from the US government), while sometimes I felt that his snide remarks were going to do little to sway those with opposing views.

I also felt that Moore was guilty of emotional manipulation throughout the movie. When he reached the 9/11 attacks themselves, he seemed to linger on shots of the shocked crowd, along with the sound of screams and cries. Admittedly, at the time of the film’s release (ten years ago!), the wounds from the day were far from healed, but this felt somewhat exploitative.

I also wasn’t fond of the focus on one particular family who had lost a son in Iraq. While I have no objection to bringing a human face to the death tolls, I do have a problem in how it was approached. There is a scene where the soldier’s mother travels to D.C. to confront the government about her grievances, and there’s a long shot where she walks away from a heartless conservative woman in tears that almost seems to revel in her sadness, as it allowed Moore to prove his point.

However, the movie does do its job. While sometimes it is overly manipulative, there are points where I found myself getting angry, and not because of Moore’s filmmaking, but because of the points raised. As someone who failed to see the point of the Iraq invasion, being reminded of it wasn’t making me feel particularly pleased. Fortunately Moore avoided making much reference to the UK’s involvement in events, because I think the sight of Tony Blair would have made me want to throw my TV out of the window.

But it’s also not going to convince anyone who isn’t already convinced. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a competently made documentary with a lot going for it, but if you’re a pro-Republican, Iraq-war-supporting conservative, then you’re not going to be swayed.

Written by Michael Moore
Produced by Michael Moore, Jim Czarnecki, Kathleen Glynn, Monica Hampton, Harvey Weinstein & Bob Weinstein
Music by Jeff Gibbs
Edited by Kurt Engfehr, T. Woody Richman & Christopher Seward

Favourite Scene: I always loved seeing Bush screw up his speeches, so the “won’t get fooled again” speech was hilarious to me.
Scene That Bugged Me: The lingering shots of shock and the sounds of anguish that marked 9/11 itself felt far too emotionally manipulative for my taste.

Watch it if: You opposed the War On Terror
Avoid it if: You’re a staunch Republican who believed Bush could do no wrong


#216 Close-Up

(1990, Abbas Kiarostami)

نمای نزدیک
Nema-ye Nazdik

We’ve had a lot of movies from all over the world here on Sven vs. The Movies, and now it’s Iran’s turn to present its cinema to us. This is Close-Up, one of three movies by Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami on the Movies You Must See list.

Close-Up documents the trial of Hossain Sabzian, a man who frequently visited the Ahankhah family pretending to be the director Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Using footage from the actual trial and reconstructions of events using the actual people involved, Close-Up examines why Sabzian did what he did and how guilty he really was of fraud.

Close-Up is an odd movie, one that spends a lot of time in a room watching a man talk. It’s a movie that sums up why “show, don’t tell” is an important rule to follow. It’s a movie with an intriguing concept but fails to execute that concept well. Let’s take a closer look.

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#215 Koyaanisqatsi

(1983, Godfrey Reggio)

Koyaanisqatsi is a weird anomaly of a film. It’s a movie that celebrates cinematography and exists to make film an artistic statement without using pesky things like plot, characters or dialogue. Just pictures and music, the very basic definition of audio-visual entertainment.

That’s right, Koyaanisqatsi has no plot, at least not one that’s obvious. Based on the Hopi word meaning “life out of balance”, Koyaanisqatsi presents us with ninety minutes of moving images and asks us to interpret our own meaning out of it.

So this is an absolute disaster, right? I mean, I often criticise movies for having meandering or unclear plots, so one that openly admits that it lacks one at all must be horrendously unwatchable, surely? Well, I don’t know about that. I was curious to see how this would pan out. It’s experimental and unusual and I had no idea how the concept could be sustained for a feature-length film.

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#209 Woodstock

(1970, Michael Wadleigh)

“What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for four hundred thousand”

Round about this time 44 years ago, a bunch of hippies got together in a field and had a little gathering, where some people played music and a few million others watched. It wasn’t anything special, just Woodstock, one of the most influential and most successful music concerts of all time. Some guy also made some documentary about it. This is that documentary.

Woodstock documents the three day festival, bringing together vignettes of people involved in the festival, human interest pieces about the concert-goers and, of course, many music performances from the festival itself.

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#161 Sunless

Sans Soleil
(1983, Chris Marker)

“He wrote me: I will have spent my life trying to understand the function of remembering”

Hi, this is Sven. I’m unable to provide today’s review and instead it will be written by an assistant of mine, based on opinions I’ve sent her in a series of letters. I’d have emailed, but, you know, I’m on holiday in the 1980s, so yeah.

He wrote to me about a film called Sans Soleil, sometimes known as Sunless depending on where you are in the world. And being in different places in the world is important to Sans Soleil, apparently, because this is an international movie about memories.

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#128 Anvil! The Story Of Anvil

(2008, Sacha Gervasi)

“Everything on the tour went drastically wrong. But at least there was a tour for it to go wrong on.”

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#126 Nanook Of The North

(1922, Robert J. Flaherty)

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