Well, I finally got to see the movie yesterday, and I have a number of personal impressions to report. These are really just preliminary notes while the event is fresh in my mind.
At 11 a.m. there was a long line extending several hundred meters from the ticket lobby in Ebisu Garden Cinema. My friend had arrived when the ticket window first opened at 9 to validate the pre-purchased tickets. He thought he would be able to waltz through to the front, but there were already a lot of people ahead of him and he had to wait, and his tickets were eventually validated around number 130 for the 12:30 (third) showing. They had changed the schedule to use both of their screens for Fahrenheit 9/11, but the second screen is only about 100 seats. At that time there were a lot of media people taking pictures of the line (and I took some). Some people were also setting up for a little straw vote presidential election for people coming out of the first showing.
When we came back for the showing itself, they let the first 10 validated tickets go in first, then the next 10, etc. We still had plenty of good seats to choose from when we got in, and we got a block pretty near the front. The theatre was soon full, and I could see no empty seats anywhere, so I believe it was sold out. The advertisements were mostly for French movies, so I felt like it's an "arts" theatre.
I had three main impressions of the movie itself:
There didn't seem to any real justification for the R rating. Though there were some gruesome images, they were the kind of thing regular TV news could include and they flashed by quickly enough. I think I'm rather squeamish about these things, but I was able to watch all of it.
There were no material errors of fact. I was listening very closely for ANY mistakes. This was not naive searching, but based on various reported criticisms of the movie, mostly from devout Busheviks who certainly seem to be quite sincere about wanting to find flaws in the movie. Having read their claims, I was listening very closely at those points--and I could not spot anything that supported their criticisms. The closest thing was in the section about the post-9/11 evacuation of the Bin Ladins, where Michael Moore juxtaposed the closed air space very closely--but the movie did not actually say when the Saudis first received their special permissions to get out of the US--and of course the REAL issue there and the REAL focus of the movie was on whether or not the Saudis should have been allowed special treatment in comparison to the other "suspicious" "Arabic" people who were rounded up and interrogated. Around 1/4 of the way into the movie, I actually thought I did hear a one-word mistake that I had never read about, but it was a minor item. Not sure if that's sufficient justification to go again next week when it opens in my local theater. Kind of expensive just to try to catch a one-word glitch. (However, I'm at least going to visit the theater to see how big the "pure" Japanese crowd is.)
Notwithstanding all of the noisy criticisms, it was a very balanced and even moderate documentary. It certainly mentioned a lot of the smoke around BushCo, and even showed a few of the fires, but it stuck quite ploddingly to the facts. It did ask a lot of really rude and pointed questions, but they all seemed to be questions for legitimate public discussion. Especially as regards the questions about the real justification or lack of justification for the Saddam-removal war, these are life-and-death questions that should have been answered much more definitively before anyone died. It's really hard for me to understand what all the violent criticism is about. Well, actually I think I sort of understand some of it, but it's a complicated question of push propaganda. When you ask questions and show the available evidence, some people will leap to conclusions--and in this case most of those conclusions are NOT favorable to Bush.
I did see a LOT of examples where the critics were willfully misinterpreting scenes from the movie. For example, there were a few pre-war scenes of life in Iraq, but nothing suggesting that there was any sort of Iraqi paradise under Saddam. It showed normal human beings living their normal lives--and they just happened to be Iraqi human beings. Michael Moore's obvious goal was to juxtapose those images against what ALWAYS happens in REAL war, which is that some innocent people also die.
After the movie, there was no big reaction from the crowd, though I've heard of reports of standing ovations and such. I should have looked to see what percentage of the audience were foreigners. The Japanese in our group liked the movie, but had no strong reaction to it. There was one pro-Bush American in our group, and he wasn't particularly offended or upset, though he wanted to defend Dubya by diffusing the responsibility, especially for the seven minutes of sitting. (By the way, I'm now sure the movie did say My Pet Goat as the title of the book, which is a known mistake, but obviously irrelevant to the significant question of Dubya's inaction and lack of leadership.) We did stand around talking about the movie for a while afterwards, but it wasn't a big long discussion.
My overall conclusion is that the movie was pretty good, but not really great--but maybe that's just because Michael Moore knows his target audience very well and I'm not in the target. My initial reaction to Dubya was to see him as a kind of sick political joke, not a REAL politician who could possibly wind up in the White House. Michael Moore wants this movie to reach the people who have initial doubts about Bush, but my doubts are WAY past that stage. I can see where someone who had never heard about any of this stuff would be surprised--but to me it seemed that Michael Moore was only showing the tip of the iceberg. For example, he only scratched the surface of the material covered in House of Bush, House of Saud, even though he spent a fair bit of the movie interviewing Craig Unger, the author of that book.
From the amount of crying and screaming from the BushCo side and the sheer number of violent ad-hominem criticisms directed against Michael Moore, I really expected the movie to be MUCH stronger. I think Michael Moore did what he could with the editing of the pre-existing stock film that was available, but that kind of documentary footage is fundamentally limited. The specially produced footage (like the ice cream truck) was not really that compelling or powerful. I think it would be a legitimate candidate for best documentary, but I have trouble seeing how it could win in the best picture category. Also, if it were nominated in the best director category, I don't see how the judges could make fair comparisons, because it would be like comparing apples and oranges.
On the other hand, Michael Moore's criterion for the success of this movie is simple. If it helps remove Dubya from the White House, then he (and I) will be happy. The question of Dubya-removal will soon be resolved, but it may never be absolutely clear what part this movie played in real life.