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Celsius 41.11: The Temperature at Which the Brain...Begins to Die
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Kerry lost, but I don't think this movie can take the credit."
1 stars

Right-wingers have talk radio and left-wingers have documentaries. Let's keep it that way. Based on Air America, the lefties just haven't perfected auditory agitprop the way Rush Limbaugh and his ilk have. And based on movies like "Celsius 41.11," when it comes to galvanizing moviemaking, the righties ain't got game.

A quickie slapped together to refute Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 (it was one of several Moore-is-the-devil screeds to emerge during the election autumn of 2004), Celsius 41.11 is subtitled "The Temperature At Which the Brain Begins to Die." Or, perhaps, the temperature at which the brain begins to nod off. I needed an iced coffee just to get through it, and it's only 72 minutes long. The movie devotes its first forty minutes to dealing with five popular liberal objections to George W. Bush: He stole the 2000 election; he wants to steal our civil liberties; he didn't do enough to prevent the 9/11 attacks; he lied about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction; and his doctrine will inflame Islamists. I'm not here to debunk the so-called debunking, except to point out that it was definitively proven shortly before the film hit theaters that Iraq had no WMD or capability to make same. Oops.

Then we have a lengthy dissection of John Kerry, Bush's challenger that year. I have my own feelings about Kerry — he was a terrible candidate, at least in terms of the sort of guy America is or was apparently looking for in a president. Listening to him drone on in the clips in Celsius 41.11, even at his supposedly most impassioned, I cringed more than once. The section on Kerry is magnanimously prefaced with statements that, certainly, we're not questioning Kerry's patriotism, heavens no. Of course, the movie then brings in John O'Neill, one of the discredited Swift Boaters, to question Kerry's patriotism. Others who speak on the subject of Kerry and did not see any combat in Vietnam, such as Charles Krauthammer, Fred "Frankenberry" Thompson (the poor man's Tommy Lee Jones), and the preternaturally whiny Michael Medved, I will pass over in generous silence.

Say what you will about Fahrenheit 9/11, but at least it didn't morph into a free campaign ad for Kerry in its last minutes. A large portion of Moore's film delved into the connection between Bush and the bin Laden family, something Celsius 41.11 mentions not once. Moore also humanized the movie by bringing in the crestfallen Lila Lipscomb, who'd lost a son in Iraq. Celsius 41.11 has no comparable figure, just a bunch of white talking heads — as well as Mansoor Ijaz, a commentator who berates Clinton for not going after Osama bin Laden (oddly, I find that Ijaz has a long history of contributing to Democratic campaigns). The whole thing ends with Bush throwing the first pitch at a Yankees game. If not for him, dammit, there wouldn't be any Yankees games! (Rudy Guiliani pops up to lionize Bush in footage, too.) The idolatry can only produce giggles — it plays like a Michael Moore parody of Bush propaganda. Bush gives candy to kittens! Bush is Batman! Bush jizzes red, white and blue! Well, it doesn't literally get that bad, but it seems right on the edge of going there.

Actually, the worse Celsius 41.11 gets in its last reel, the more entertaining — in a darkly ironic way — it finally becomes. The movie was written and produced by Lionel Chetwynd, who also penned the Bush-fellating Showtime movie DC 9/11: Time of Crisis (with such hyper-macho Dubya dialogue as "If some tinhorn terrorist wants me, tell him to come and get me! I'll be at home, waiting for the bastard!"). Chetwynd's next project will be The Resurrection, a post-crucifixion account of Jesus' life co-produced by Left Behind hack Tim LaHaye. At times, Celsius 41.11 comes close to being The Passion of the Bush. As for debunking Michael Moore, whose treasonous unshaven face was splashed all over the film's advertising, the movie doesn't really deal with him at all outside of a few out-of-context quotes that Moore probably voiced in his usual jocular-satiric mode.

Now that we've had the four more years of Bush that the movie was designed to encourage (though, since it only played theatrically for three days on a fast track to a November DVD release, it didn't reach, much less convince, nearly enough people to have anything to do with the outcome — indeed, Bush only beat Kerry 51% to 48%), "Celsius 41.11" seems pretty sad and naοve. "Fahrenheit 9/11" — whose net was cast far wider than merely condemning a sitting president and endorsing a candidate — looks more and more savvy with each passing year.

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originally posted: 05/09/08 12:26:12
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This film is listed in our political documentary series. For more in the Political Documentary series, click here.

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  01-Oct-2004 (R)
  DVD: 26-Oct-2004



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