Last week, Michael Moore announced that Disney had refused to distribute his new film, "Fahrenheit 9/11." As with all of Moore's pronouncements, you might want to season this one liberally with salt.
Moore -- who poses as a heroic truth-teller and who in a speech last year after winning an Oscar for his documentary "Bowling for Columbine" bemoaned these "fictitious times" -- is a virtuoso of fictions himself.
As the filmmaker's fictions go, this one was fairly modest; Moore appears to have timed his announcement to stir up publicity for his movie's upcoming screening at the Cannes Film Festival, though he has known for a year that Disney Chief Executive Michael Eisner was refusing to distribute "Fahrenheit 9/11." Still, the complaint was vintage Moore: People who disagree with you are part of a conspiracy led by corporate evildoers. When a film magazine panned his breakout film "Roger and Me," Moore dangled this explanation: "Film Comment is a publication of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Lincoln Center had received a $5-million gift from GM just prior to publishing the piece trashing 'Roger and Me.' Coincidence? Or just five big ones well spent?"
After some people booed his Oscar acceptance speech last year, Moore insisted in an interview with the San Jose Mercury News that "those boos were amplified ... as I looked out at the audience no one was booing. You could see the camera desperately trying to find people who were disagreeing with me and they couldn't." Actually, those boos were more real than "Bowling for Columbine," which from title to credits was a torrent of partial truths, pointed omissions and deliberate misimpressions.
Moore based the title on the testimony of a few students that the killers had gone to a bowling class before the massacre -- even though investigators concluded on the testimony of many other witnesses that they could not have been in class that day.
The dazzling opening sequence, in which Moore runs out of a bank waving a gun that he received in exchange for opening an account, is no less factually challenged. According to later interviews with the bank service representative shown in the sequence, Moore staged the scene, knowing that it takes six weeks to do a background check before a customer can receive a gun.
And that's only the first few minutes of the movie. Later, Moore implicitly condemns the United States for giving $345 million to the Taliban in 2000 and 2001, neglecting to mention that the money went through a food program run by the United Nations for a famine-ravaged population.
Moore's admirers justify his dysfunctional relationship with facts by insisting that the filmmaker still manages to get at core truths, but "Bowling" is a perfect example of how slippery facts skid toward incoherent conclusions.
Moore tries to show the connection between individual and state violence by pointing out that the Columbine murders occurred on the same day that the United States dropped the largest number of bombs in the conflict in Yugoslavia. But if trying to depose a tyrant like Milosevic in a NATO operation is somehow related to kids committing mass murder, then why were there so few murders that year in Britain, where the government strongly supported the bombings?
He also tries to argue that the media feed people's fear, which in turn leads to violence. But if the U.S. is so violent, shouldn't the media cover it?
Moore justifies his fictions by pleading comic license: "How can there be inaccuracy in comedy?" he once asked Lou Dobbs.
When "Fahrenheit 9/11" does finally open, you may be able to call it funny. Just don't assume that it is true -- or, for that matter, a documentary.