Cinema was soooo boring - until Michael Moore came along

Alex James
Sunday July 11, 2004
The Observer

Being popular and being good are two different things, and cinema is about being popular. It's very simple. At the bottom of every big release there is a lot of money teetering at risk; typically $50-$100 million. To get this money back, the film studios will move heaven, earth and even the ending to make something which is as popular as possible. For most things in life, having products tailored to our desires works very well; it's the basis of marketing. Applied to the arts, though, it just means that Hollywood blockbusters stop being about what the film-maker wants and start being about what the 21 to 25-year-old Midlands male in the focus group wants. It's a bad shift of power.

For me, all cinema has become a vacuous drudge towards an obvious conclusion for I can't remember how long - something that works on the same level as OK! and Hello! magazines. It has ceased to be anything other than escapism. Surely fiction should be so much more potent than fact; with all the artifice, talent and pretty faces available. Hollywood should be able to come up with something that could give real life a run for its money.

Michael Moore, the director of Fahrenheit 9/11, doesn't look like a movie star - he looks quite like a frog, actually. Neither does he have any big budget production values. His secret weapon is his vision of truth. He's using the power of cinema to save the world! Hooray!

If you haven't seen any of his other films - and I hadn't - Michael Moore is an obese middle-aged documentary maker. That's it, really. The aim of Fahrenheit 9/11, as far as I can tell, is to topple the government of the world's biggest superpower. It's pretty subversive. It could well be the first film to turn a vote. It's hard to see how President Bush could survive this. In fact, once you've seen it, it's hard to refer to him as President Bush without the glimmer of irony or the use of inverted commas.

The genius of this most American of films is that it has turned politics into a blockbuster subject. It's the first punk rock movie: it must have cost less to make than The Blair Witch Project, and yet he's managed to distil reality and come up with something more powerful.

It is, I think, the most powerful film I've seen. If you thought that Tom Hanks was good in Saving Private Ryan, try this one on, it's better. It uses the medium of fiction, the big screen, as a medium of fact, and it's overwhelming.

It's the exact opposite of escapism for Americans. It's a wake-up call; and for the rest of us, an alarm call. You realise that you've been living in a dream world. If you haven't seen it, you're just not going to know what everyone's talking about for the next few months.

- Alex James is Blur's bassist

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