Just Above Sunset
July 11, 2004 - Who gets to tell the story? Narrative Theory.

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Ric, our friend who publishes MetropoleParis sent this mid-week. 

The Michael Moore Film Fahrenheit 9/11 has opened in France. 


Paris, Wednesday, 7 July:

There is no doubt that Michael Moore has had more free publicity than anyone is entitled to, but the cause is just.  Good folks have been eating shit long enough; now it's time to dump some on other plates and see how they fancy it. 

Fahrenheit 9/11 opened on 220 screens in French cinemas today.  This morning's Le Parisien gave Moore and the film a whole page, plus plugged his books - which are available here in French and are bestsellers - and mentioned the US box-office success.  The paper also noted the campaign against the film, saying that this hasn't hurt ticket sales at all.  The paper has rated the film with three stars - 'excellent.'

Tonight's national France2-TV news picked up the relay, showing scenes from the film and clips of film fans coming out of the cinemas.  'News' mentions for films are important because films are not allowed to advertise on TV. 

The film has had a good launch here because other new films haven't been more than average, with only 'Folle Embellie' getting a rare four stars.  It was at Cannes too, but only opened on 60 screens today.  It's a French-type psychodrama.  A comedy titled 'L'Américan' which was plastered on 400 screens has received a blackball from Le Parisien.  Le Parisien's lowest rating is the dreaded blackball - 'sans interet.' Other comment, "On a détesté."

'Folle Embellie' got a rave, but Fahrenheit 9/11 got a full page, and its subtitle is 'anti-Bush.'

My guess is that 'anti-Bush' has become popular without most people knowing very much about anything.  Newspaper readership in France is not high even if papers are generally of high quality. 

For about the last three months there has been a series of documentaries that are critical of US policy that have been shown on TV.  But these have been shown at non-prime times, and the majority of them have been broadcast on the French-German channel, Arte.  Compared to the mainstream channels, Arte does not get high ratings. 

So, just how 'popular' is anti-Bush sentiment? 

Not all papers are anti-Bush, so one is left with those that are reporting the news.  Each time it's qualified a bit more, there are fewer readers and/or viewers to be anti-Bush.  American commentators who have claimed that anti-Bush and anti-American sentiment is high have been snowing their readers and viewers.  They are basing their claims on what they read themselves, not on what the French actually see and read.  There is a tradition here, of protestors getting out on the streets, waving banners, being subjects for TV-clips.  All in all, those who are visible are a tiny minority - but newsworthy.  The silent majority is not and never will be. 

Moore's film will do a lot to change what people here think about the regime in Washington, because movies are very popular.  The same might happen in the United States too.  If I can find eight euros I might see it too. 

… from cinema paradise, ric


Eight euros?  That’s 9.91 dollars at the current exchange rate.  Bummer. 

If your French is up to it, here’s a link to the lead items from Le Parisien. 

Michael Moore a bien réussi son coup
« Fahrenheit 9/11 », percutant pamphlet anti-Bush, s'installe aujourd'hui sur 220 écrans français.  Pour le réalisateur, la partie est gagnée : après avoir raflé la Palme d'or à Cannes, son documentaire triomphe aux Etats-Unis. 
Pierre Vavasseur
Le Parisien, mercredi 07 juillet 2004

Rick’s photo of a « Fahrenheit 9/11 » promotional poster MetropoleParis – Paris Posters II on the streets of Paris. 

Actual size...

And the cover of everyone’s favorite left-leaning French national newspaper.  As I have mentioned elsewhere, Libération is one of the major French dailies - actually one of the founders was Sartre, or was is Camus?  I forget.  Libération is a bit to the left...  well, it's a lot to the left.  I think I first noticed the paper back in the sixties when I saw Claude Lelouch's film "A Man and A Woman" (Un Homme et Une Femme) - that was 1966 - and the gorgeous Anouk Aimée was reading a copy of Libération in bed and smiling. 

Actual size...













Back home?  One of the more interesting comments on the film in the America comes from Eric Alterman in his MSNBC column - suggesting the political issue with Moore's film is story telling. 


The fact is that while Moore makes a few contentions that are arguable, most of them adhere pretty closely to the known facts.  This is not the case of the Bush argument for war -the media by and large reporting those phony contentions with credulous admiration.  I’m willing to bet that I could find more lies, phony statements and false accusations in just about any single episode of “Meet the Press,” “This Week” or “Face the Nation” devoted to Iraq and the war on terror than can be found in Moore’s entire film.  I could probably find more in any single five-minute segment of an O’Reilly, Hannity or Scarborough show.  Why are the media so furious at Moore?  Because he is doing their job for them and taking away their narrative.  If they did it better, he wouldn’t have to.  Perhaps those reporters attacking Moore should be good enough to publish some of their own comments on the war alongside it.


Not likely. 

Back in June of last year this idea of news being a narrative form came up in Just Above Sunset (June 22, 2003), in The BBC versus We Report, You Decide, or "Tell Me A Story." - and that started out as a discussion of whether or not the rescue of Jessica Lynch was staged propaganda.  The BBC was pumping of facts.  Fox News was "on the story". 



That seems to me to be the big difference in approach on each side of the pond.  They, the BBC, seem to expect their viewers to make up their own stories from nuggets of news events.  That's a lot of work.  American audiences want to be told "the real story" - with a narrative already provided to make it all fit together from crisis to resolution.  And of course we over here also require a denouement - to be told what the story means to the next election or whatever.  And such a denouement is thus a teaser for the next episode.  Stay tuned.


And this was tied back to how the Watergate “story” had been covered. 


I suppose there is a reason we refer to some things on CNN and the rest as "news stories" a lot of the time.  So the formula for this is a bit of illicit or at least interesting sex, or a lot of sex, and a narrative flow - teasers for the next installment in the series - stunning revelations and defensive denials, heroes and villains and dupes, interesting characters like a sly country lawyer from North Carolina (Sam Erwin) and an tall, odd Ivy League scholar in a bowtie (Cox), and the two dim-witted loyal royal daughters (think King Lear) and various colorful Cuban patriots and the two kind-of-Germanic henchmen with buzzcuts (Halderman and Erlichman).  That works. 

Everyone likes a good story. 


Things are changing.  Michael Moore is taking the same footage (and a lot that was discarded) and is writing a different story line.  He doesn’t “connect the dots” the way we’ve been told they are, really, connected. 

This is a problem for Fox News, and for the other major purveyors of these familiar narratives – CNN and MSNBC and the broadcast networks.  And for the print media too, of course.  One might say they all, and each, have a commercial interest in keeping their viewers (and readers) coming back for more (not Moore) of this ongoing saga. 

The narrative flow of conflict and resolution has been set, and expectations have been raised.  Ratings depend on that.  Tune in for the next episode! 

And of course the sale of on-air advertising depends on those very ratings.  And the return on stockholders’ investment in News Corp or Time-Warner depends on those very advertising revenues.  The ROI determines whether the organization can survive as a going concern.  There is a whole lot riding on maintaining the accepted narrative. 

And now this blow-hard from Flint, Michigan proposes an alternative narrative for the same events.  Damn. 

This is a real threat of the most basic kind – as economic survival is the issue. 

Moore is attacking the media as much as he is attacking Bush.  He keeps saying just that in all the interviews he’s been doing. 

On the June 21 NBC Today show, Katy Couric of course had to ask Moore, in her interview with him, why he didn’t get the narrative right – the narrative that Saddam was a bad man and we were the good and noble liberators and it was a simple and plain and true as that – no more, no less.  Didn’t he have “the story” all wrong? 

Moore doesn’t dispute that Saddam was a bad guy.  That’s fact.  He simply disputes the framework into which that one fits the particular fact – this “story” we are being told:


You guys did such a good job of telling us how tyrannical and horrible he was.  You already did that.  What—the question really should be posed to NBC News and all of the other news agencies: Why didn’t you show us that the people that we’re going to bomb in a few days are these people, human beings who are living normal lives, kids flying kites, people just trying to get by in their daily existence?  And as the New York Times pointed out last week, out of the 50 air strikes in those initial days, the—we were zero for 50 hitting the target.  We killed civilians and we don’t know how many thousands of civilians that we killed.  And nobody covered that.  And so for two hours, I’m going to cover it.  I’m going to—out of four years of all of this propaganda, I’m going to give you two hours that says here’s the other side of the story. 


There’s another side?  We were told there was GOOD and there was EVIL.  Pick one or the other.  Moore doesn’t like the story that flows from those assumptions. 

Yep, the current administration wants to simplify matters, to make it an easy story.  And the news folks can sell that one easily – easy plot, recognizable black-hat and white-hat characters, lots of inspiration.  Ratings and revenues will go up and stay up.  It’s a whole lot harder to sell a nuanced plot line with ambiguous characters.  We know that well out here in Hollywood – an action hero flick will out-gross any art house “serious” psychologically detailed noir film in some odd foreign language, by ten thousand to one. 

But people are going to Moore’s film.  For a change of pace?  Perhaps. 
And Bush is still reading "My Pet Goat" to those Florida schools kid, isn't he? 

This is a fight for something very odd – for just who gets to tell the story. 

Saturday night (10 July) at the movies, in Paris, Montparnasse – Ric snapped this one…

Actual size...


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....