Fahrenheit 9/11 is the best political commercial in history. Better than "Daisy," "Tank," the "Willie Horton" spots (both the sanitized :30 and the down-and-dirty five-minute number), the entire Reagan 1984 campaign and all the Dick Morris/Bill Clinton Dole-bashing numbers of 1996.
While the Madison Avenue and K Street practitioners worry about keeping a viewer's attention for 30 seconds, Michael Moore demands and gets two hours.
While the media-buying services cough up money in advance (political candidates are the advertisers least trusted by media back offices), the Weinsteins are able to nail viewers for as much as $10.50 a head. Having people pay to see your commercial is a concept that could make Omnicom, Interpublic and Publicis renew the dream of getting back into content. Like P&G, Moore made a trek to Cannes, but he got the Palme d'Or before his commercial ran.
Will Fahrenheit 9/11 sway undecided voters to Kerry or Nader? You bet. Will it move soft support away from Bush? No question.
I saw the spot only once—in Manhattan last Monday. It was a pretty liberal crowd (no one added butter to their popcorn), but its reactions—a little applause from a couple of rows at the end, laughter during the funny parts, silence during the emotional parts, calculus-class attention during the recitations of the Bush-Bin Laden genealogies—were what you would expect from an audience anywhere.
Moore's voiceover ability is underrated. His sense of credible wonderment sustains the story. Hal Riney, Charlton Heston and the guy Bob Schrum uses over and over—all the famous political VOs—couldn't do two hours of storytelling and questioning and conclusion-making and not cause you to scream and run for the fire doors after the first reel.
The content? Film creates reality. The arguments are too many to counter, too many for all but professional logicians and fact-checkers to sort through. It takes The New York Times 1,000 words to examine a 30-second spot about a denture entitlement for seniors. The first part of Fahrenheit 9/11 alone—a recap of the Florida primary—is told with such certainty that wading through it would take us through the November elections. Of 2008.
The Germans who saw Goebbels' newsreels of the attack on Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, thought they saw the Wehrmacht defending the Fatherland against an aggressor. In early 1945, the Japanese who saw newsreels of the Imperial Navy's exploits thought they were winning the war—or at least had a chance to pull it out like they had done with the original divine wind 1,000 years before. The Americans who saw the little girl counting the daisies believed Goldwater might incinerate the world or maybe just throw the country into an eight-year war with the North Vietnamese. In 1984, 60 percent of Americans believed it was Morning Again in America. In 1988, 40 states thought that Willie Horton would descend on them, that they would lose the Pledge of Allegiance and that their harbors would be polluted. In 1996, Dick Morris convinced enough people that Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole would take their Social Security away and replace it with Boystowns that a president up to his waist in scandal got re-elected.
A couple of months ago, I thought 2004 would be like 1980, 1992 and 2000—that advertising would not play a significant role in the election. That events would determine everything.
Now I am not sure. The Kerry campaign's best attack is this film, and he doesn't even have to say, "I'm John Kerry, and I approve of this message." Who ever heard of McCain-Feingold anyway? Free speech always conquers convoluted, impossible-to-enforce legislation, doesn't it?