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'Fahrenheit 11/9' is Moore at his best

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    This image released by State Run Films/Briarcliff Entertainment shows filmmaker Michael Moore in a scene from the documentary "Fahrenheit 11/9."

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • LA-Premiere-of-Fahrenheit-11-9

    Michael Moore arrives at the premiere of "Fahrenheit 11/9" on Wednesday at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

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Fahrenheit 11/9, Michael Moore's latest documentary, opens with footage of Hillary Clinton’s fervent supporters enjoying the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, TV pundits and pollsters predicting a landslide in her favor, and the Donald Trump campaign contentedly cruising along in the “we’re just happy to be here” mode.

Few expected Trump to win, including the New York billionaire himself, Moore says.

But Moore did. In fact, when he made the “Truman Defeats Dewey” prediction months before the election, he was chastised by fans and mocked by liberals.

And now that we're approaching the second anniversary of the election night — which was actually called on Nov. 9, 2016, hence the film's title reference of “11/9” — Moore has made a political documentary based on a simple question: “How did we get here?” (In the movie he asks this with an additional colorful intensive not suitable for this publication.)

“How did we get here?” is rhetorical; Moore has his answers. And like his Trump prediction, what he says will not be well received by many of his supporters, particularly those in the old guard of the Democratic Party, and may actually surprise some of his detractors.

Bill and Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama. The New York Times. Nancy Pelosi. The Democratic Party. They all played a part in Trump's victory, he says. As did Fox News. Voter apathy. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. Big Media. And Gwen Stefani. No, the latter is not a typo. Moore has a funny anecdote about the “Just a Girl” singer being paid more for her co-hosting duties on NBC’s prime-time talent show, The Voice, than Trump was paid as host of The Apprentice, which caused him to launch his presidential bid in an effort to get NBC to increase his salary.

Is it true? Who knows. But Moore makes it plausible and funny.

Moore also gets meta, showing a clip with himself and Trump as guests on Roseanne Barr’s talk show from the late 1990s. Moore says Trump didn't want to go on the show with Moore as a guest, but producers asked the filmmaker to be nice to Trump. He was and he still has regrets over it. At that point Trump was still a registered Democrat and Barr was an outspoken liberal. The times changed them all, it seems, though Moore as liberal provocateur continues to promote those causes near and dear to the left, such as the Flint water crisis.

A Flint native whose 1989 documentary Roger & Me took on Roger Smith, then-CEO and president of General Motors, after he shuttered several of the city’s auto plants and opened new ones in Mexico, Moore is even more blunt with his unrelenting criticism of Snyder over the Flint water crisis, including trying to perform a “citizen’s arrest” of Snyder and later, spraying gallons of Flint water on the front yard of the Governor's Mansion in Lansing. The latter prank, like a David Letterman bit from the 1980s, only more political and personal, is funny, but serves no purpose other than to entertain and amuse Moore and his audience.

As with most of his crusading documentaries, the formula has him reach that point in the film where he has had enough with being nice and polite. In Fahrenheit 11/9, he expands that sentiment as a criticism for those liberals who “compromise” with conservatives. They are Benedict Arnolds to the liberal cause, and now he’s staking the party’s future on the movement to the left — Bernie Sanders and the new wave of anti-establishment Democrats running for public office — as well as the youth movement including the teenage survivors of the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting on Valentine's Day.

Eventually, Moore wends his way to Trump again, as the filmmaker states his fears over what the presidency portends: either the end of our democracy or a liberal rallying cry to do better.

As usual, the filmmaker does not equivocate.

Moore doesn’t make documentaries. He makes op-ed art. His works are open to interpretation, have their share of fierce critics and stalwart supporters, and always generate a response.

His best works have typically been those movies such as Roger & Me, Bowling for Columbine, and Fahrenheit 9/11 that are narrow in focus and righteous in anger. Fahrenheit 11/9 is an exception.

The two-hour film is part exploration of today’s America, and part therapist visit. It’s expansive, messy, and mostly fascinating. Many will disagree with what Moore has to say and they’re not all wearing Make America Great Again hats, either.

In fact, none other than Steve Bannon offers effusive praise of Moore as a documentary filmmaker via an interview from a few years before he would serve as one of Trump’s primary advisers on the campaign and in the White House.

One wonders if Democrats will be as complimentary of the filmmaker after Fahrenheit 11/9.

Contact Kirk Baird at: kbaird@theblade.com  or 419-724-6734.

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