Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)

Cynthia Fuchs

Bush's own behavior and speech are, of course, easy targets, as Moore repeatedly shows him fidgeting and misspeaking.

Fahrenheit 9/11

Director: Michael Moore
Cast: George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Clarke, Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, John Ashcroft, Lila Lipscomb
MPAA rating: R
Studio: IFC
First date: 2004
US Release Date: 2004-06-25
I'm a war president.
-- George W. Bush

"Was it all a dream"? Taking plain aim at the current U.S. administration, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 starts by recalling the Time Before Bush. Television footage from November 2000 shows Al Gore, surrounded by Ben Affleck, Stevie Wonder, and Babyface, the projected winner by network and cable anchors alike. And then, Moore intones, "Something called the Fox News Channel" bucks the tide and calls Bush victorious in Florida, and so, winner of the whole shebang.

Dan Rather and Peter Jennings recant their predictions, and Fahrenheit 9/11 zips through the recount, remaking the case Spike Lee made in his segment of Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet, "We Wuz Robbed," namely, black voters were disenfranchised, House Representatives of color protested, the Senate went "missing," and the Supreme Court voted Bush in. (See also, Jadakiss' new video, for "Why," which takes another run at the same problems.) But if the point isn't precisely new, it has newly alarming resonance after 9/11 and during the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Following some cute footage of Bush's extensive vacationing (42% of his pre-9/11 months in office was spent golfing, boating, or ranching: "I love the nature," he explains, "I love getting in the pickup truck with my dogs"), the film cuts abruptly to a black screen, over which you hear screams and sounds of the Towers falling, invokes that day's horror all over again for those feel they've seen it too many times.

Moore makes an aggressive argument against Bush's crusade (even if the president has long since backed off the term). On winning this year's Palme d'Or, the filmmaker was grateful: "Merci," he said, "I have a sneaking suspicion that [with] what you have done here, and the response from everyone at the Festival, you will assure that the American people will see this film." While Moore surely made promotional hay out of Disney's disallowing Miramax's distribution of the movie, his comment at the awards ceremony hints as well at his hopes for Fahrenheit 9/11, that it might make a difference.

Despite film per se's purported potential influence, politics is a more slippery business, a function of daily indoctrinations -- by news, the internet, Friends, detergent ads -- as much as by any overt flag-waving. Moreover, documentaries, even purposely entertaining ones, don't tend to reach huge or very diverse audiences, rarely appealing to viewers not already interested in or persuaded by their subjects. (Reagan, for instance, suffered no ill effects from the pre-election release of Barbara Trent and David Kasper's Coverup: Behind the Iran Contra Affair in 1988.)

Still, the noise attending Fahrenheit 9/11 is loud, and not only because Moore has hit up numerous talk shows (his interviews have been repetitive: at some point he notes the news media's rolling over for the WMD and other assertions, suggesting, they should have done their job better). Much like the controversy over The Passion, this noise has to do with staking out sides and asserting some sort of "truth." And, similar to Gibson's film, Moore's will re-convince believers, and will only annoy those who, like Bill O'Reilly, see Moore as a blustery, self-absorbed showman.

Like Gibson's, Moore's partisanship is part of his project, and he's less focused on convincing anyone of his rightness than on enumerating why he's right. As he reminds us early in the film, Moore started his own minor scrap with the president when he called him a Vietnam war "deserter." This by way of introducing the documents the White House released in order to allay concerns about Bush's Air National Guard service. These papers redacted the name of one James R. Bath, later the Texas money manager for the bin Laden family, and, the film indicates, another example of the Bushes' enduring links with the Saudi royals generally and the bin Ladens specifically, including Prince Bandar, Saudi ambassador at the time of 9/11. Fahrenheit 9/11 cites numbers and meetings between the Bushes and the Saudis, interviewing Craig Ungar, whose book, House of Bush, House of Saud, tracks the same connections, including Halliburton and the Carlyle Group.

The movie backs up this assertion of a financial relationship (to the tune of some $1.4 billion in the pockets of the Bushes and associates) with multiple images of the Bushes and friends shaking hands with various Saudis, under REM's "Shiny Happy People" (holding hands). Equally reductive is the film's introduction of the war in Afghanistan with a frontispiece and soundtrack from Bonanza, featuring Bush, Cheney, and Blair in cowboy hats, or its minimal listing of nations making up the "Coalition of the Willing" (comprised of some 30 nations, of which Fahrenheit 9/11 notes the army-less Palau and Afghanistan, which has "our army").

Bush's own behavior and speech are, of course, easy targets, as Moore repeatedly shows him fidgeting (as during the now famous seven minutes in the Florida elementary school classroom on the morning of September 11) and misspeaking or speaking incoherently ("They're not happy," he says of the Iraqis, "They're occupied. I wouldn't be happy if I were occupied either"). Perhaps most damning of all is Bush's endorsement by no less a political scene luminary than Britney Spears, whose nonsensical interview snippet ("I just think we should trust in our president, and be faithful in everything we do") reminds you that Moore, now as in the past, enjoys the occasional cheap shot.

More effectively, the film includes interviews with U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq, bloodied and angry civilians, and, interspersed throughout the second half, the story of Lila Lipscomb, a self-claimed "conservative Democrat" in Moore's hometown, Flint, Michigan, whose son's death in Iraq raises questions for her, about her patriotic loyalties and her faith in the administration. Scenes with Lila are respectful and moving, if only because she tries to hard to maintain her composure as she also gives voice to what she sees as the persistent dishonesty that took the U.S. to war.

As she provides the film's cogent heart, Lila's tragedy is buttressed by footage showing Iraqis' upset at U.S. aggressions and U.S. troops' bewilderment and exasperation over their mission ("If Rumsfeld were here," says one, "I'd ask for his resignation"). The troops shown here range from frustrated to dutiful to sublimely primed for their work. Late night house to house searches leave women in tears; a young man lifts a child's corpse into a truck and another finds pieces of a girl in a bombed building; troops hood and humiliate prisoners in the field (calling one "Ali Baba," they poke at his genitals). "There were a lot of innocent civilians that were killed," admits one soldier, just before the camera cuts to another, who exults, "It's the ultimate rush" when you have a good song playing in the background during a raid.

For one troop, the Bloodhound Gang's "Fire Water Burn" is just such a perfect song, and to illustrate, he spews lyrics: "The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire, / We don't need no water let the motherfucker burn. / Burn motherfucker burn" (reportedly, these lyrics, in addition to the bodies and one Saudi regime beheading, seen from a distance, led to the MPAA's R rating for the film). As scary as this kid's enthusiasm seems, it's hardly unusual, as the Abu Ghraib photos have demonstrated: even hints of orders find fertile cultural ground in which to sprout. The troops do not come to war out of a vacuum.

Most interviews with military personnel reveal their confusion and exasperation over their perceived lack of mission: "Part of your soul is destroyed in taking another life," says one, and, "If Rumsfeld were here," another asserts, "I'd ask for his resignation." Back in the States, Moore talks to Marine Abdul Henderson, who is going to court in order not to go back to Iraq, insisting that he will not return to "kill more poor people." As counterpoint, Fahrenheit 9/11 follows a couple of full dress Marine recruiters around a shopping mall, specifically selected, the film argues, because it is not upscale, and the young people in it will be looking for "career" options: one hiphop-looking kid says he wants to make music, and the recruiter suggests the military will give him the training to do so.

In this way, the military works less than mysteriously: it picks on people without options, and it takes advantage of an ever anxious, desirous U.S. population. Fahrenheit 9/11 also makes an argument much like the one Moore made in Bowling for Columbine, namely, the U.S. military-industrial complex profits from a perpetual culture of fear. Interviews with representatives of companies that make executive parachutes, portable safe rooms, and military hardware make clear the cynicism with which they approach their product lines. The war against Iraq, observes one, is "good for business, bad for the people."

Indeed, as the film quotes George Orwell, "The war is not meant to be won. It is meant to be continuous." It is a business, and affects other business, from the U.S. Senate and House (whom Moore indicts for sloppy, partisan voting, for war powers as well as the Patriot Act) to the news media. In his interviews to promote the film, Michael Moore has been especially critical of news organizations' failures to "do their job," that is, investigate U.S. allegations regarding WMDs, Iraqi-al-Qaeda connections, even Bush family links with the Saudis.

If Fahrenheit 9/11 is occasionally glib or unfocused, it is always angry and unafraid, and that makes it quite unlike the typically complacent news media and official bodies it targets. Moore scolds and preaches, he makes his case vehemently and at times, confusingly or ineffectively. The movie smartly points out the untruths that make up policy and business practices, even as it engages in similar hedging. It's less conventional documentary than that scattershot, hyper-opinionated, unnamed hybrid form increasingly familiar in tv news "magazines," reality tv, and talk shows. It's an onslaught and its outraged. It doesn't persuade, it hammers.

Truths and untruths remain impossible to know and crucial to debate. As the roof burns, as the administration's dishonesty is becoming a subject even for mainstream media coverage, more questions must circulate, and more answers must be sought. The process can be multi-dimensional, the variety of voices increased. When Spike Lee -- no stranger to controversy or the ongoing effort to find and speak truth -- emerged from one recent preview screening of Fahrenheit 9/11, a reporter pushed a microphone in his face and asked what he thought. And Spike said the right thing: "The point is that issues are raised and people come out talking about them when they leave the theater."

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Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

The Hall of Fame has been harshly criticized for some of its more inexplicable exclusions and for neglecting certain subgenres of music. Cynicism and negativity over the Hall's selection process and membership is fairly widespread. That said, despite the controversies and legitimate gripes, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is still widely viewed as a career milestone. The Hall's stature feeds its surrounding controversies: after all, nobody would care to argue so vehemently about the merits of one artist over another if it wasn't important. Very rarely will a newly inducted artist miss the opportunity to appear at the star-studded ceremony to accept their honor.

The criteria for nomination is as follows: "Artists -- a group encompassing performers, composers and/or musicians -- become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first commercial recording. Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock and roll." Specifically for performers, "This category honors bands or solo artists which demonstrate musical excellence. Such a descriptor includes (but isn't limited to) influence on other performers or genres; length and depth of career and catalog; stylistic innovations; or superior technique and skills."

These standards allow the selection committee wide latitude with their choices, and generating a list that would create zero controversy is an obvious impossibility. As for those deserving artists yet to be included, their time will surely come. There has purportedly been an emphasis on increasing diversity among the nominating committee and voters in recent years, and the list of contenders for the class of 2018 reflects this.

Radiohead, as expected and deserved, are nominated in their first year of eligibility, and there is little doubt they will be inducted. Other nominees include Bon Jovi, Kate Bush, the Cars, Depeche Mode, Dire Straits, Eurythmics, J. Geils Band, Judas Priest, LL Cool J, MC5, the Meters, the Moody Blues, Rage Against the Machine, Nina Simone, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Link Wray and the Zombies. It's a strong and varied group.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the list, however, is the British duo Eurythmics. Even though they've been eligible since 2006, this is their first nomination. Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox certainly deserve recognition for their important contributions to the musical fabric of the last 40 years. While Eurythmics have always been generally respected, they've never been darlings with the critics like some of their contemporaries. It's puzzling as to why. Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting and creative audacity. Lennox is second to noone as a vocalist, not just in her lead parts but also in the creative, often rhythmic way she uses her voice as an instrument. This nomination could boost the stature and perception of Eurythmics' body of work immeasurably.

Although Eurythmics are often consigned strictly to the synthpop genre, that designation fits only a portion of their repertoire. Each of their nine studio albums has its own unique vibe while retaining the duo's core identity. Eurythmics never repeat themselves, often taking bold risks and swerving in unexpected directions. Unlike many of their contemporaries, Eurythmics didn't "sell out" or compromise by chasing after obvious Top 40 hits. Even their most popular singles aren't commercial in the traditional sense, and they've always sounded like nobody else on the radio.

Despite the sudden emergence of their 1983 single "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" as an MTV staple and international smash, Eurythmics are far from an overnight success story. Their story begins in London, 1975, when Stewart fortuitously encountered Lennox at the restaurant where she worked as a waitress. The Scottish singer had recently dropped out of the Royal Academy of Music, which she felt didn't suit her musical interests. Stewart and Lennox strongly connected over their love of music, and they quickly became a couple who were inseparable. Along with singer/ songwriter/ guitarist Peet Coombes, Stewart and Lennox formed a short-lived group the Catch. After one failed single, they added two members and renamed themselves the Tourists.

Coombes was the dominant creative force and primary songwriter behind the Tourists. Lennox and Coombes shared vocals on the band's dour and melancholy power-pop. The Tourists released three albums and managed a handful of chart appearances in the UK. Two of their singles, a peppy cover of Dusty Springfield's "I Only Want to Be With You" and the hard-rocking "So Good T\to Be Back Home Again", made the UK Top 10. The band toured extensively, but their success was fleeting. The Tourists' third album, Luminous Basement (1980), tanked badly despite containing their strongest material yet, and the group dissolved shortly thereafter.

Lennox and Stewart also endured a painful ending to their sometimes tumultuous romance, but they recognized the power of their musical chemistry and decided to continue working together as a duo. They were a pair "who couldn't be together, and who could not be apart", as Lennox reflects many years later in the song "17 Again". History has shown that they made the right decision: Stewart and Lennox compliment each other intuitively through a shared passion for music, the thrill of experimentation, and the need for emotional release that songwriting and performing allows.

The name Eurythmics was derived from a technique used to teach music to children based on sensory and physical methods of learning rhythm. The newly-christened duo signed with RCA Records and in early 1981 headed to Germany to record their debut album with highly-respected krautrock producer Conny Plank.

Plank already had a long string of acclaimed albums to his credit, including collaborations with Neu!, Can, Ultravox, Kraftwerk and Brian Eno among others. The sessions for what would become Eurythmics' debut album, In the Garden, were held at Plank's studio in Cologne. He brought several of his regular collaborators into the proceedings, including bassist Holger Czukay and drummer Jaki Liebezeit of avant-garde rockers Can, Blondie drummer Clem Burke and D.A.F. electronics whiz Robert Görl. Stewart has described the sessions as a learning experience that helped expand his perception of what pop music could be and how it could be created without following any rules, a perspective that served Eurythmics well.

Eurythmics' austere and hypnotic debut single "Never Gonna Cry Again" was released in May 1981. They filmed a low-budget video and landed a couple TV slots to promote the track, but the song's haunted nature did not translate to mainstream success: it barely scraped the lower reaches of the UK singles chart. A second single, the dreamy guitar-rocker "Belinda", followed in August but failed to chart.

In the Garden was finally released in October 1981, but without a hit to generate momentum it was barely noticed. Despite scant sales figures, the album's gloomy psychedelic guitar-pop makes for a rather strong debut. In the Garden exists in late summer shadows, densely atmospheric and shrouded in a veil of dread. Lennox's vocals are understated, subtle and lower in the mix than on subsequent albums. Sound effects, odd vocalizations and bits of sonic experimentation fade in and out like flashes of hazily repressed memory.

RCA wasn't eager to invest in a follow-up to In the Garden after its disappointing reception, so Stewart financed Eurythmics' second album largely through a personal bank loan. Faced with a minuscule budget, they worked in a London warehouse to avoid spending money on studio time. They were able to purchase cheap second-hand equipment for the sessions, including the basic TEAC 8-track on which most of the album was recorded. Adam Williams, former bassist for the ska band the Selectors, helped the duo learn the equipment while co-producing some of their earliest tracks.

The primitive set-up was the ultimate blessing in disguise. Since they were financing the sessions and self-producing, Eurythmics had the freedom to experiment with no oversight. As both Lennox and Stewart were enduring periods of deep personal strife at the time, the sessions evolved into an emotional and creative catharsis that helped shape the mercurial nature of the music. It was out of this environment that a classic was born.

Despite appearing only a few months after their debut album, the first single to emerge from the new sessions proved radically different than any of Eurythmics' prior work. Released in April 1982, "This Is the House" is a flamboyant, horn-driven spectacle on which Lennox belts out a vocal more confident and brash than any of her prior work. The song's odd mix of synthpop, R&B; and latin influences renders it completely unique, but despite its infectious ingenuity and beguiling loopiness (or perhaps because of it), "This Is the House" failed to chart.

The follow-up single that landed two months later is even better. Entrancing and soulful, "The Walk" exudes the anxiety, drama and innovation that became Eurythmics' hallmark. The vocal arrangement is ingenious, and Dick Cuthell (known for his work with Madness, the Specials, Fun Boy Three and others) lets rip a blistering trumpet solo. As in many of their songs, "The Walk" slowly ratchets up the tension through hypnotic repetition and the gradual addition of more layers of sound until it reaches a haywire frenzy. Although a brilliant recording, "The Walk" fared no better than its predecessor.

With the duo's second album Sweet Dreams (are made of this) completed, RCA began a strong promotional push, issuing the opening track "Love Is a Stranger" as a single in November 1982. Lennox's dazzling vocal ranges from icy cool to fiery passion over a relentless electric groove bracketed by sinuous lines of synth. "Love Is a Stranger" rose to #54 in the UK, their highest placement yet, and momentum was finally building for the duo thanks in part to the single's provocative video.

The first significant chapter in a series of visually arresting promotional clips that Eurythmics generated over the span of their career, "Love Is a Stranger" showcases Lennox's dramatic presence and her innate ability to command the viewer's attention. She plays multiple roles, ending the clip with her red hair slicked back and dressed androgynously in a man's suit. Image was quickly becoming an important part of the Eurythmics' equation, with Lennox always compelling no matter which character she inhabits, and Stewart often appearing as her sort of mad-scientist counterpart.

Sweet Dreams (are made of this) hit the shelves on 4 January 1983, along with its title-track, a single that continues to reverberate through pop music nearly 35 years after its release. Suddenly everything changed for Eurythmics. An obscure British duo, barely managing to survive in the music business, soared to the top with one of the more unconventional songs ever to scale those lofty heights.

"Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" has an unusual structure, with no real verses or chorus. Lennox has described it as a mantra, and indeed it is. The lyrics, which Lennox rattled off spontaneously in a matter of minutes, are a simple but profound statement about the human condition: "Everybody's looking for something," the search for meaning and fulfillment, the ephemeral "this" of which sweet dreams are made.

Lennox begins the song with a single line of vocal, then starting with "some of them want to use you" at the 0:24 point it doubles. From there the song gradually builds intensity, with the vocals increasingly layered. A masterful finalé combines all the sonic elements before fading to black, the mantra repeating endlessly, the "this" still stubbornly undefined. The booming minor-key bass riff and the epic string-motif solo starting at 1:31 are played by Lennox on a Roland Juno-6 synthesizer. The main riff (improvised by Lennox while listening to Stewart working on a drum-machine pattern), is a simple two-bar arpeggio that loops throughout most of the song. Two parts were recorded separately and panned on opposite sides of the sound spectrum, creating a richly resonant effect. "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" is no dated relic from the early days of MTV burdened by the limitations the time. Its massive waves of synth flood out of the speakers with enormous power, as inexorably as the tide.

The music video, which became wildly popular on MTV during its heyday, is forever entwined with the song in listeners' collective consciousness. The iconic image of Lennox in her masculine suit and flaming orange flat-top helps to define the new wave era. Her forceful demeanor, nervy confidence and the subtle nuances of her facial expressions amplify the song's inherent tension. She confronts the viewer directly by pointing right in our faces at the 0:24 mark. At 1:56, she offers a sly half-smile with, "some of them want to abuse you", and at 2:15 she pounds her fist just as the song reaches its dramatic apex. Stewart appears throughout the video stoically pecking away on the drum machine he used in the recording of the song, the Movement MCS Drum Computer MK1 (except for that part where he and the cow have, well, a moment… It's all in the eye contact).

After a slow climb up the US pop chart, "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" was finally able to derail the Police's "Every Breath You Take" from its seven-week reign at the top during the week of 3 September 1983. It would be Eurythmics' only chart-topping pop hit in America, and it reached #2 in the UK. In the wake of Eurythmics' new-found fame, "Love Is a Stranger" was re-released, this time becoming a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

The album's deep cuts are every bit as strange and fascinating as its better-known singles. The ghostly "Jennifer" is a narcotic reverie of keyboard swells and spectral atmospherics. "I've Got an Angel" and "Somebody Told Me" are serrated neurotic fits, swerving dangerously off-the-rails from anything that would normally be considered pop music. A long and mesmerizing exploration of urban isolation, "This City Never Sleeps" is a powerful finalé. Sweet Dreams (are made of this) is an examination of the human psyche fraught with turmoil, a series of jagged recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks set to music that is soulful and experimental, melodic but eccentric, a stark electronic soundscape that bristles with horns and unexpected sonic jolts.

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