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Published: Friday, 10/22/2004

Movie review: Celsius 41.11 *

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

You knew it had to happen.

It was just a matter of when.

And will it be before Nov. 2?

If Michael Moore got away with Fahrenheit 9/11, his wildly entertaining and often disingenuous rant against George W. Bush, if he walked away with $100 million-plus in box office receipts, then you knew the right would eventually respond in kind. And now that it has, I have to give credit where credit is due and say Celsius 41.11, which aims to give "the truth behind the lies of Fahrenheit 9/11," as well as yet another dissection of John Kerry's career for good measure, at least has a pretty clever title.

Though far less explosive or urgently argued a slice of agit-prop as the Bush-bashing films from the left - and as would be expected from any documentary that essentially argues the status quo - Celsius 41.11 refers to the point at which the brain begins to die.

It's a nice, funny idea - if not necessarily for the reasons intended by its backers, Citizens United, the conservative organization whose president David N. Bossie (the film's executive producer) is a former congressional aide with a resume full of service on Clinton-era investigations.

According to the press notes, Celsius 41.11 "takes its roots" from Bossie's books about John Kerry and why 9/11 was a failure of the Clinton Administration. So you know where it's coming from. The movie, not nearly as much fun as Moore's, is organized like a PowerPoint presentation, highlighting then refuting the key arguments of Moore's film: that Bush inflamed extremists, that Bush stole Florida, that the Patriot Act is dissolving civil rights, etc. Each is met by a host of conservative talking heads, former congressmen, and plenty of punditry from film critic Michael Medved, who attempts to bring a withering scorn to the movie.

As in Moore's film, we don't learn much that's new - indeed, the news cycle moves so frantically now, a few of Celsius 41.11's arguments are already moot or discredited. And so what happens is that Moore's "facts" are replaced with a different set of "facts," complete with a dose of Moore's shameless use of juxtaposition.

Especially ugly is a moment that argues for the necessity of the war in Iraq, complete with uplifting music, but is illustrated by a photo of a smiling mother standing beside the casket of her son, a soldier. She's accepting condolences but the image is co-opted, meant to imply support.

This is all depressing. But not for the politics or pictures. For its effect on that shop we used to call the marketplace of ideas. After months of partisan documentaries, it seems that the temperature the brain dies already has been reached. For the simple reason that though there are poignant, bruising films in that bunch - and Moore at least implicated Democrats as well as Republicans - a good argument needs a good challenge. And a referee. Perspective wilts in an echo chamber and these films stay on message. You nod at the charges in Celsius 41.11. Or attempt an argument in your head. But those "facts" just keep coming, without any context or nuance, and we're right back to square one - none the wiser.

Contact Christopher Borrelli at: cborrelli@theblade.com

or 419-724-6117.



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