JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

The beginning of a montage sequence that depicts an
oxymoronic moment: “The targeting capabilities and the care that goes into
targeting...” says Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

The montage immediately cuts in this image...

... and this. Rumsfeld can still be heard saying, “...is as impressive as anything
anyone could see.”

“The care that goes into it, the humanity that goes into it,” Rumsfeld continues.

“Victory to Iraq,” an older Iraqi woman finally cries out in response to the bombing of her uncle‘s house.

Moore often overlays sounds to link two shots together. In a crossfade, the sounds of Britany Spears chewing her gum blend with the older Iraqi woman‘s screams.

A classic Moorism: By enhancing a clip from an old Western, Moore adds in all of the key players in the Afghanistan bombings. Moore‘s commentary engages the audience with both its pop culture references and overt humor.

With the Go-Go’s “Vacation” playing in the background, a montage sequence presents scenes of Bush vacationing in the first months of his Presidency.

After being told that the United States was under attack on September 11th,
Bush remains seated in the Florida classroom he was visiting at the time. Moore imagines what Bush might have been thinking in these moments.

Fox News first announced Bush as President in the 2000 election. Bush’s
first cousin who worked for Fox was the person who called the Presidency in Bush’s favor.

A real victim: Rosemary Dillard, a widow from 9/11, tearfully explains why the 9/11 Commission is so important to her.

 

Montage to create meaning

Throughout much of the film, Moore uses the technique of montage to create meaning. In some sequences, the montage works by splicing several images or scenes back to back to allow the audience to discover their connection. For example, when Moore explores the Patriot Act and Homeland Security, he provides three vignettes to demonstrate how extreme the Patriot Act has become.

In the first example, Moore meets and hangs out with a group called “Peace Fresno” that was infiltrated by the sheriff’s anti-terrorism unit. Moore uses a 50s style background music to give a sense of innocence and peacefulness. In the next example, Moore introduces Barry Rheingold, an older retired gentleman, who one day at the gym said some denigrating remarks about Bush and the war on Afghanistan. Because of these remarks, Rheingold was visited by the FBI. In the third example, Moore introduces baby Patrick Hamilton, whose mommy’s breast milk didn’t make it past security. Finally, Moore shows a scene of someone going through airport security and being allowed to carry four books of matches and two butane lighters on the plane.

“Okay, let me see if I've got this straight,” Moore says. “Old guys in the gym: bad. Peace groups in Fresno: bad. Breast milk: really bad. But matches and lighters on the plane, hey, no problem.”

Moore’s point is clear. The U.S. government has enacted a bill for the protection of this society, but if you have enough money, power and influence (i.e., like the cigarette industry), you don’t have to follow the rules.

Moore also uses montage sequences to provide shock value. Words are juxtaposed with images that directly contradict each other. These are Moore’s oxymoronic moments.

For example, Moore shows Donald Rumsfeld standing behind a White House podium during a press brief. Rumsfeld says, “The targeting capabilities and the care that goes into targeting...” Moore quickly cuts away to show an Iraqi building blown apart. Rumsfeld’s voice continues and blends into another shot of a young boy writhing in pain, his right temple stitched crudely, his left temple being treated: “...is as impressive as anything anyone could see.” Moore then cuts to a shot from the perspective of a scope on a machine gun shooting and killing ghostly figures that move along the horizon. “The care that goes into it, the humanity that goes into it,” Rumsfeld says. And then there is a shot of an older Iraqi woman standing in ruins and yelling in hysterics. “They have no conscience,” she screams. “This is our uncle’s house! We're all civilians! There is no militia here.”

Not only does Moore juxtapose images against Rumsfeld’s words, but he also juxtaposes place. Rumsfeld stands securely behind his podium, but the elderly Iraqi woman stands in front of shambles.

Moore also uses montage to provide the punch line. At the end of this sequence with Rumsfeld, Moore blends this series of shots into a shot of Britney Spears sitting in front of a reporter, smacking her gum, a hot pink stripe rippling through the blond wig she is wearing. “Honestly, I think we should just trust our president in every decision he makes, and we should support that,” she says.

On top of this, Moore blends the Iraqi woman’s yelling with the sound of Spears chewing her gun. Before Spears enters the frame, before the camera cuts to her interview, the sound of gum smacking can be heard. The jump from a war zone to a teenage pop star is jarring: As the Iraqi woman’s world has been destroyed, Spears sits leaning forward with a giant jeweled “B” hanging from her neck. Moore seems to include this particular scene with Spears to lighten the mood, but because of the jarring transition, Moore also seems to be chastising the Spearite age group (who seems to be his target audience) and the general ignorance of the U.S. people.

And there are other examples. A series of shots showing Bush golfing with the Go-Go’s “Vacation” playing in the background. The war on Afghanistan is edited into a Western with Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Blair wearing huge cowboy hats sitting around a camp fire. Bush’s repeating the phrase “smoke him out” in reference to how U.S. forces would capture bin Laden is then juxtaposed against a scene from a Western film using the same line. How is the bombing of Afghanistan supposed to be interpreted when presented in such a fashion?

Moore’s camera follows two Marine Corps recruiters through the parking lot of one of Flint’s shopping centers as they work their magic. These two recruiters are seen by the camera differently from the people they are trying to recruit. When they are first introduced, swanky 70s music plays in the background adding to their image as suave, smooth talkers. The camera peers up at them making them appear larger than life. In contrast, many of the men they are trying to recruit are filmed from the side, standing on the fringes of the frame. Rarely does any potential recruit appear in the center of the frame.

“I am not trying to pretend this is some sort of... fair and balanced work of journalism,” Moore told a news reporter. “I would like to see Bush removed from the White House.”

Beginning with his first film Roger & Me (1989), Moore became a voice of the working class, an average concerned citizen (who grew up in the town he was filming about) who could do and say what others couldn’t or wouldn’t. Whereas the thousands of workers laid off by GM in Flint, Michigan were concerned with how to pay bills, where to live after being evicted, how to feed their families, Moore takes it upon himself to be the individual who has the time, the passion, and the obsession, to do what others are too busy to do.

Here he is donned in his baseball cap, wearing blue jeans with shirts untucked, walking around with disheveled hair. Here he is standing at the reception desk of a prestigious country club or fitness club where he stands out like a sore thumb asking to see Roger Smith, the CEO of GM at the time. He almost never gets past that point. Instead, it seems, he’s always one step behind the CEO, and rarely does he even make contact with the people he wishes to question. But, because of his style, because of his appearance, he is easily familiar. And because he is pushed aside, thrown out, marginalized, he is an everyman. He’s one of us.

For example, in one episode of Moore’s television series The Awful Truth that aired on Bravo in the late 90s, Moore confronts members of Congress who support the display of the Ten Commandments in schools. He hands Dave Weldon, a representative from Florida, a plaque with the quote: “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Weldon claims that this is one of his favorite quotes from Scripture. When Moore segues from the quote to politics, asking Weldon about accepting money from PACs and supporting a flat tax, Weldon says these things make it easier for “the little guy” to file their income tax reports because filing can be “too complicated.” Moore, always ready for debate, quickly says in response, “Do you think we're that stupid that we can’t fill out our tax returns?” Moore is the little guy.

Along with aligning himself as the average American, Moore also becomes a living, breathing example of democracy (whether you agree with his views or not). Through his appearance in his films and this characterization of himself as the average American, Moore reminds his viewers that they have the responsibility and the power to act as educated, concerned citizens. Rather than sitting idly by and accepting the choices CEOs or elected politicians make, Americans have the right to question these choices completely.

Moore has carried this style into all of his other films. Rather than being the observant eye, rather than documenting life, Moore takes his viewers on a journey and asks that they trust he is leading them in a good direction. And because his persona is so outwardly flawed yet capable of putting elected officials or CEOs on the spot (something many Americans no doubt would love to do from time to time), it is easy to follow Moore.

Although Moore’s persona as the little guy and his style of placing people on the spot holds a prominent position in all of his films, Moore’s physical presence as the common linking device from scene to scene and as a prankster seems to be diminishing in Fahrenheit 9/11. In his past films, Moore has gone after Roger Smith, the CEO of GM, and Phil Knight, the CEO of Nike, and Charelton Heston, the president of the NRA. But in Fahrenheit 9/11, it is the President of the United States. Unlike his other films, Moore doesn’t chase President Bush through the streets of Washington D.C. He doesn’t appear at the Capitol Building waiting for some Presidential representative to escort him out. He doesn’t hunt Bush down for an interview. And he doesn’t appear on the screen nearly as much as he has in the past.

Instead, Moore is less physically visible in this film than in his previous films, but he is more visible (and some would say more intrusive) in his editing style. So, instead of chase scenes, we have images of Bush playing golf, fumbling over speeches, saying the most inappropriate thing at the most inappropriate times. Here is President Bush on September 11th sitting in a classroom in Florida. He learns that the United States is under attack, but he doesn’t move. And here is the voice of Michael Moore wondering what the President must be thinking in these moments (“I've been hanging out with the wrong crowd.” “Which one of them screwed me?”), imagining that the President is worried about himself more than about the state of the country.

“On the issue of his own relative absence in the film—in which he appears on screen perhaps one-fifth of the time he was on in Bowling for Columbine—save for voiceover and general editorial point of view, Moore said, ‘This time I was the straight man. Bush wrote all the best lines.’”[7]

Bush may have written all of the best lines, but Moore has spliced these moments together so this is all we see of the President. For example, in one scene early on in the film when Moore is taking his viewers back through the 2001 elections, Moore shows an image of the Fox News Channel and says,

“But what most people don’t know was that the man in charge of the decision desk at Fox that night, the man who called it for Bush, was none other than Bush’s first cousin John Ellis. How does someone like Bush get away with something like this?”

Moore cuts to a scene of Bush laughing, his shoulders shaking, and then Moore quickly cuts away and continues his narration. Moore’s meaning is obvious here. He shows Bush giggling like a county bumpkin while asking viewers how this guy managed to pull off the scandal of the year.

So, on the one hand, Moore is invested in presenting his views, and he seems particularly careful to express those views through a hip-hop, MTV-esque style. He uses montage sequences to not only create meaning, but to create his meaning. And, on the other hand Moore asks his viewers to trust that he will get to the bottom of whatever situation he is investigating to the best of his ability, that he will provide the truth in a time when journalists are not asking the hard questions, that he will show you what the powers that be don’t want you to know or remember.

Continued: Melodrama and one woman’s story