Ebert on Fahrenheit 9/11

Roger Ebert has posted a thoughtful essay on Fahrenheit 9/11 that addresses a main complaint about the film: that it’s not “objective” like a documentary should be. Newsflash! No film is objective, and no book is either. If a human being is deciding which images and words to use, then the result is inherently biased.

I think this is a useful point to make. I spent a semester studying with director Jill Godmilow and she quickly disabused us of the notion that documentaries were supposed to be “the truth”. Everybody’s got an agenda. Everybody’s making an argument. I remember she showed us Nanook of the North, which is the prototypical “follow the foreigner through his daily life” documentary. We all assumed it was True. Then we learned how the director cheated, how the big walrus fight was actually staged with a dead carcass, how the igloo was a cut-away to let the light in better, how he glossed over Nanook’s second wife so as not to offend audience sensibilities. The whole thing was a construct, and everything contributed to the theme of the exotic yet noble Savage. It was about as “true” as reality television.

Cinema is by definition untruthful and biased. That’s just how it is. Moore’s under no obligation to present the opposing viewpoint. At least he never claimed to be “fair and balanced”, huh?

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  1. Even though I haven’t seen the film yet, I’d bet a bundle it’s more “fair and balanced” than Fox News.

  2. There was a similar ‘interview’ on 20/20 with the guy who made ‘Supersize Me.’ It was like the interview (John Stossel, who I loathe) thought he had caught the filmmaker b/c he also interviewed 2 other people who actually lost weight by eating @ McDonald’s for 30 days. However, both of these people had eaten less and excercised – one was even a scarry bodybuilder-type. Stossel just kept saying, ‘You’re trying to say that if you eat like this, the outcome is inevitable. If you had this many calories from a fine French restaurant, you’d get the same results.’ Nothing gets past that guy, I’ll tell you.

    I just hate it when people don’t get it.

  3. Exactly. McDonald’s is running commercials here that make the same argument, as if Spurlock was somehow claiming that his experience was universal. Of course he’s not. McDonald’s is ignoring the fact that while it’s possible to eat healthy at their restaurant, there are a lot of people who do exactly what Spurlock did. And they do it for YEARS. (My favorite anecdote about the movie is that when Spurlock was having all the problems after 3 weeks, and the doctors and his girlfriend were all urging him to stop, he went to his brother who said: “Well, shit, Morgan! Some people eat this shit their whole lives!” Exactly.)

  4. Cinema is by definition biased (any art is), but it is not by definition untruthful. Well sort of.

    I read a piece about Farenheit 9/11 somewhere that basically said the best documentarians (like Andrew Jarecki, who made Capturing the Freidmans) understand that the whole truth is impossible to capture and present their work as a version of a story, not the authoritative version.
    This is not what Michael Moore does. He’s too absolutist and too simplistic. The Christopher Hitchens piece (http://slate.msn.com/id/2102723/) made some pretty powerful points.
    Michael Moore’s funny and he’s thought-provoking, and I’ll see the movie, bur after all the sketchy stuff that came out about Bowling for Columbine, you kind of have to take him with a grain of salt.

  5. Right, but not by definition truthful either. There are lots of “mockumentaries”. Hell, Fox News presents a lot of pieces that could be documentaries but aren’t in any way truthful. All the genre means to me, as a film student, is that the author is making an argument. It’s the difference between a speech from Hamlet and the State of the Union address. Both are patently fictional, but only one is trying to change the way you think. That’s my opinion, anyway.

    The Hitchens piece was discussed and, for me at least, pretty thoroughly debunked on MetaFilter yesterday. Like: “The dishonesty of this article is made plain by the fact that Hitch has subtitled it “the lies of Michael Moore”, and refers repeatedly to the “lies” in the film, and yet I read it and read it and do not find a single instance where he actually identifies a lie. Sorry Chris, somebody’s lying here and it ain’t Moore. … This kind of deceit by labeling is becoming very popular: summarise and hype your article with a conclusion you utterly fail to prove, and hope the witless and inattentive reader will come away with the impression that you actually made the point that you slathered all over your article’s own self-hype.”

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