Now in our second year of a presidency that continues to depress the spirits of most Americans, Michael Moore returns to the scene with Fahrenheit 11/9, which had a stellar New York premiere this week at Alice Tully Hall. A human barometer of what’s going on in the heartland, Moore continues his filmic outrage at our government, entwining narratives of racism, Russians, guns, greed, and craven leadership in his coverage of the lead-infused water in Flint, Michigan, with the passion of Parkland students, going places obscured in the average daily news cycle. Often operatic, Moore’s tragicomedy intensifies as Pagliacci overtakes the soundtrack. An equal opportunity blamer, he is tough on Trump and does not spare Democrats who did not do enough, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, in his outcry: Take Action!
It is worthwhile to revisit Moore’s somber mood the day after the presidential election.
On November 10, 2016, documentary filmmakers gathered at Criterion offices for a panel featuring Michael Moore whose latest film at the time was Trumpland. It should have been a happy day, but given the stunning election results the night before, the event was nearly cancelled but the participants decided to proceed, modifying the agenda to include discussion of the proverbial elephant in the room. Readers of Moore’s blog in the months prior were well aware of this premier satirist’s warnings, that disenfranchised white men would swing for Trump, and they did, shaking up even the most astute pollsters. Now, suffering election hangover, everyone wanted to know, what do we do next?
Michael Moore was running late that night. A huge crowd had gathered a block away in Union Square to protest the Trump victory. “Not our president,” read signs, as police lined barricades. Moore is a hard man to hide, even when he’s got his signature hat pulled down at the brim. And so they stopped him to make a speech at the rally. Before he showed up at Criterion, Laura Poitras read Moore’s advice: Take over the disappointing Democratic Party, remember that the media created Trump, and most of all, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. That message is repeated and amped up in Moore’s latest foray into the American political scene, Fahrenheit 11/9.
The Tavern on the Green party was a reunion for that sad night in 2016, with documentarians in attendance: D. A. Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus, Laura Poitras, Barbara Kopple, Deborah Schaffer, Mirra Bank, and many others surrounded Moore as he exhorted the crowd to keep on. Moore revealed that he had asked Steve Bannon how he did it, how he got this unwilling and unlikely man to be president. Bannon, who like Moore has a unique distinction, dubbed “sloppy” by Trump, responded, we shoot to the head; liberals engage in “pillow fights.” Instead of asking what do we do next, Moore made clear that he knew the answer, inspired by the Parkland young people he filmed for this new movie. Take Action!