Celsius 41.11

2004, R, 90 min. Directed by Kevin Knoblock. Narrated by Tony Calabrese.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 22, 2004

It’s hard to know what to make of this documentary, the conservative rejoinder to Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11: At any other time in our nation’s history, it’s likely both films would have been consigned to the airwaves of public-access-television conspiracy theorists. Only because we find ourselves in the midst of some immediately identifiable history are theatres and Internet DVD outlets so flooded this electoral season with both strains of bitter acrimony. Moore’s film was certainly far from perfect, as is Knoblock’s, but they apparently both have their places in the media tsumani battling it out for the hearts and minds of American voters. Where Moore’s film was, at its best, an incitement to rally against some very obvious foolhardiness coming from the Bush administration and utilized classic documentary techniques, Knoblock’s film comes off as dull as dishwater by comparison. There are talking heads galore, precious few of whom the public will be familiar with (although film critic Michael Medved makes an appearance, which just goes to show that Moore has yet to fully corner the market on outright weirdness). Footage of the Twin Towers in flames are immediately, predictably followed by footage of antiwar demonstrators, some of whom seem to be unaware they’re playing right into the filmmaker’s hands via various incautious, unreasoned, and understandably fearful statements. Celsius 41.11 (the temperature at which the brain begins to die, apparently) is heavy on the doom and gloom. The very soul of America – if such a thing actually exists – is at stake, we’re told again and again, and it’s this heavy-handed technique that stops the film cold. Knoblock and his backers, the conservative group Citizens United, have managed to include everything from the contested 2000 Florida debacle to the by-now-disproved claim that Saddam Hussein had WMD and was planning on using them on someone, somewhere, at some point. By now, every film critic in the world has got to be sick to death of the nonstop partisan cinemania (I must admit I certainly am), freighted as it is with encroaching history on all sides, Democrat, Republican, and, um, that Nader fellow. And while Celsius 41.11 may be seen, by those on the right, surely, as a smart, well-timed broadside aimed at Mr. Moore and his ilk, the fact remains that this is such a partisan piece of work as to be nearly, merely a political tool (you could argue the same for Fahrenheit 9/11) more than a real film. Any way you look at it, November 2 simply cannot arrive fast enough.

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Celsius 41.11, Kevin Knoblock

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