Sunday Morning Film Reads

In an otherwise insightful review of F9/11, David Edelstein comments,

This is not quite a documentary—which I define, very loosely, as a work in which the director begins by turning on the camera and allowing the reality to speak for itself, aware of its complexities, contradictions, and multitudes. You are with Moore, or you are a war criminal.

To imply that documentaries only exist when the filmmaker allows “reality to speak for itself” is an incredibly rarefied concept of a documentary, verite to the highest possible degree. I realize that I’m overreading here, but Edelstein seems to ignore that every cut, every camera movement is a meaningful act, one that will shape the reality that we see. I do think that in spite of its clear thesis (which Edelstein overstates for emphasis), Moore’s film shows some awareness of the complexities and contradictions of American life, particularly when it comes to social class, even if many of those complexities are subsumed within Moore’s larger thesis.

One of the other Big Questions about the film has been how the film will play among swing voters. An LA Times article includes interviews with several swing voters and lifelong Republicans who now claim they will not vote for Bush. A similar AJC article notes, however, that ticket sales in suburban Atlanta have been “good, but not overwhelming.” No word in the AJC article about how the suburban audience responded to the film.

Now for some non-F9/11 reading material (all via GreenCine): A Eugene Hernandez interview with Jim McKay, who recently directed the fantastic HBO film, Everyday People, and a second McKay interview by Craig Phillips. Finally, a Jennifer Ordoñez profile of Julie Delpy who stars in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset, a follow-up to Before Sunrise, which I re-watched last night, just to give myself a break from all of the documentary films I’ve been watching lately.

8 Comments »

  1. Rusty Said,

    June 27, 2004 @ 1:39 pm

    Here in Cobb County, the first night I went they almost filled two theaters for a 7:30 show (just the front couple of rows had a few empty seats). I went to a 10:30 show the second night, and one theater was full and the second was half-full. I should qualify by saying this is in the area of Galleria, only a few scant miles OTP, so it could have attracted some intown visitors.

  2. chuck Said,

    June 27, 2004 @ 5:45 pm

    Similar business was reported in Gwinnett in the AJC article. I’d guess there is a fair amount of interest in the film OTP, but I’ll also be very curious to see if there’s a steep decline in box office next week. I’d imagine the film will get great word-of-mouth, but given that so many liberals, lefties, and other anti-Bushies were attending the film opening weekend as a clear anti-Bush statemnt, it will be very interesting to see if the film “has legs” (I’m pretty embarrassed by my use of Variety-speak there).

  3. Chris in Boston Said,

    June 28, 2004 @ 9:57 am

    To imply that documentaries only exist when the filmmaker allows “reality to speak for itself” is an incredibly rarefied concept of a documentary, verite to the highest possible degree. I realize that I’m overreading here, but Edelstein seems to ignore that every cut, every camera movement is a meaningful act, one that will shape the reality that we see.

    Good point. Edelstein’s statement is even odder, given the classical, Griersonian definition and model of a documentary as a film which structures actuality to make an argument.

    Perhaps what Edelstein is responding to are documentaries which play Bazin to Grierson’s Eisenstein. High School or Harlan County USA are highly structured arguments, but they also allow the spectator to experience chunks of actuality on their own. In some ways, this approach to documentary is even more ideological, because it gives rise to the “reality speaks for itself” illusion – though admittedly it’s an ideology I sometimes buy into.

    An interesting question Edelstein’s off-hand comment raises is where does F/911 fit in with this? Is Grierson’s definition (or any other previous definition) an adequate way to understand Moore’s nonfiction polemics? Or does the film point to a new mode of documentary filmmaking?

  4. chuck Said,

    June 28, 2004 @ 12:29 pm

    Chris, I’ve been thinking about the role of direct cinema, or cinema verite, in all of the debate about Moore’s film. Certainly Kopple, with Harlan County, makes a powerful argument using the verite style (nice connection to Bazin, too, BTW). And, I think you’re right that verite may in some ways be more ideological because of that pretense. Many of my students at the University of Illinois (where I taught “Harlan”) were acutely aware of the ideological effects of Kopple’s style, in part because their class positions prevented them from sympathizing with the striking coal miners. But in general, it works well for Kopple’s argument, which I think relies heavily on the authenticity of the miners’ struggles.

    I wanted to address the “ideology of verite” problem more precisely in my Control Room review because the director tends toward that approach, and she still managed to develop a powerful argument about US coverage of the war in Iraq. Something for me to think about…

    I’ve also been thinking about your final question: is Moore re-inventing the documentary with F9/11? Or is this film safely within Grierson’s definition? I do think that Moore (along with Errol Morris–maybe they sat next to each other in film class) may be changing what is permissible in documentary form. I’m not yet willing to say anything more assertive than that because I could then generate plenty of counterexamples. It might be asserted, for example, that Moore’s documentary is no more “rhetorical” than, say, Frank Capra’s WWII documentaries or Fox News. Certainly Moore (and to a much lesser extent Morris and Morgan Spurlock) are the first group of filmmakers to imagine the documentarian as “star.”

  5. Rusty Said,

    June 28, 2004 @ 5:01 pm

    One of my friends brought up the point that much of the ground Moore covers was already included in Alex Jones’ “Road to Tyranny.” Do you know anything about this film? I’m, umm, looking for a copy right now.

  6. chuck Said,

    June 28, 2004 @ 5:08 pm

    I haven’t even heard of that film. If you find anything, let me know. I’d really appreciate it.

  7. Rusty Said,

    June 28, 2004 @ 8:29 pm

    There’s some info about it at http://www.infowars.com/

    It’s full of hardcore conspiracy theories. He basically says the government was responsible for the attacks because it wants to establish a police state; Illuminati/New World Order stuff.

    I found a copy and can send it to you if you want it. Just drop me an email.

  8. chuck Said,

    June 28, 2004 @ 11:17 pm

    Sounds a bit creepy to me. I’ll check out the wesbite later and let you know, but that paranoid stuff gives me the creeps.

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