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Though it has aroused viewers in sharply different directions--in one Internet moviegoer poll, 64% gave it an A rating, 30% an F--the film has also found audiences across the range of America, in big towns and small, blue states and red. It attracted mostly men its first Friday night, mostly women on Saturday. Exit surveys show that as the week wore on, it even became a date picture. ("That's a good idea," Moore says, "especially if it's a first date, because you'll have plenty to talk about. And also you can vet the date. You'll know right away if you should have a second date.") And thought it wasn't a date, last week, the day before a big race in Sonoma, Calif., racer Dale Earnhardt Jr. even took his crew to see the movie.
From his debut movie, Roger & Me, which detailed his attempt to confront General Motors boss Roger Smith about the social effects of closing a GM plant in Moore's hometown of Flint, Mich., the filmmaker has been America's pre-eminent populist pest. He has taken on Nike's Phil Knight over factory conditions and the N.R.A. and America's gun love. Fahrenheit 9/11 considerably ups his nuisance value: he is after a President's foreign and domestic policy, and Moore is not cowed. "I come from a factory town," he says, "and you don't go to a gunfight with a slingshot." Moore shoots only with a camera, but it's loaded.
"I'm not just preaching to the choir. And it's not just the choir giving the ovation. I've got letters from a bunch of Marines who went to see it at a theater near Twentynine Palms, Calif. A church group in Tulsa went to see it and was incredibly moved. There was a Republican woman in Florida unable to get out of her seat, crying."
You would have expected Moore's movie to play well in the liberal big cities, and it is doing so. But the film is also touching the heart of the heartland. In Bartlett, Tenn., a Memphis suburb, the rooms at Stage Road Cinema showing Fahrenheit 9/11 have been packed with viewers who clap, boo, laugh and cry nearly on cue. Even the dissenters are impressed. When the lights came up after a showing last week, one gent rose from his seat and said grudgingly, "It's bull____, but I gotta admit it was done well."
In the press, Fahrenheit 9/11 has made news with its assertions of White House duplicity. But in theaters, the movie can hit home, especially for those who have loved ones in Iraq. Greg Rohwer-Selken, 33, of Ames, Iowa, and his wife Karol are former Army reservists who both volunteered for Afghanistan (but weren't sent). Now Karol is serving in the National Guard in Iraq. After seeing Fahrenheit 9/11 in Des Moines, Rohwer-Selken wipes away tears as he says, "It really made me question why she has to be over there." (The Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which books films to be shown on military bases around the world, has contacted Fahrenheit's distributor to book the film.)