|Index||8 reviews in total|
Terrific for those looking for a hidden Altman masterwork. It shares many traits with Altman's best (i.e. _Nashville_, _Short Cuts_, and Three Women_, etc.): strong ensemble acting, overlapping dialogue, quirky sense of humor, lots of serendipity. The political insider's perspective - which we must credit to Trudeau - only adds to the fun. _Tanner_ gains greater richness of character and narrative as it unfolds. Here's hoping Tanner runs again
During the 1988 presidential campaign, Democratic hopefuls spiritedly
canvass the country and jostle for their party's nomination and the
honor of opposing Republican Vice President George Bush when
congressman Jack Tanner emerges from a long political hiatus to
challenge such opponents as Al Gore, Michael Dukakis, Gary Hart and
Jesse Jackson. The Tanner campaign appears at all the events and
interacts with many important figures. What no one seems to realize, or
particularly care about, is that Jack Tanner doesn't even exist.
Michael Murphy stars in this hilarious and biting satire of media-age
politics - relevant now more than ever.
Renegade filmmaker Robert Altman and Pulitzer-winning Doonesbury cartoonist G.B. Trudeau created the Jack Tanner character, but they couldn't hope to predict the frenzy he'd create. Politicians were eager to meet him, and more than happy to pretend they knew him. If it would make them look good, of course. Everyone from Pat Roberston to Bob Dole happily talked to Jack and his crew, knowing he had a media blitz surrounding him. The catch is they didn't know why he had a blitz around him.
Altman and crew were constantly filming Michael Murphy as he took the Tanner role and ran with it, frequently improvising, as Trudeau couldn't keep up with the goings-on well enough to script half of what Murphy did. What Trudeau did script was the behind-the-scenes action of the Tanner campaign. Campaign Manager T.J. Cavanaugh (masterfully portrayed by Pamela Reed) and her slew of assistants hustled and bustled in their HQ, desperately trying to spin everything Jack did to make him look 'For real', so as to match his slogan. Unfortunately, as T.J. put it, 'things happen to this man'.
Tanner has a lot of problems both in front of and behind the camera. First there's the camera-man Deke, who reads Jack's diary and puts his personal thoughts into campaign commercials and, after being fired, joins the NBC news crew that is assigned to follow Jack, which gives Deke even more chances to ruin Jack's life. Secondly there's the fact that Jack has fallen deeply in love with Michael Dukakis' (fictitious) campaign manager, Joanna Buckley. Thirdly, Jack's daughter, Alex, bounces between free-spiritedness and megalomania, both of which make Jack look bad. Last, but not least, is the fact that Jack never takes a definite stance on anything except drug legalization. This makes him look like more of a hippy than a politician.
Over the course of six hours and eleven episodes, Altman and Trudeau use their characters and the real politicians to weave a brilliant fable about the state of politics in a world where image means more than qualifications and standards. Pathetic as it may be, it's true. In most of the encounters Jack has with politicians it is quite clear that these people have no idea what is going on, yet they still pretend to be completely in control. When we put them in the White House, do they know what they're doing or are they just pretending to be completely in control? "Tanner '88" is a mockumentary that actually has a point, and makes that point very well.
Robert Altman and Garry "Doonesbury" Trudeau teamed up to create this
unforgettable look at American politics -- an ongoing series about Tanner, a
fictional candidate for president, filmed against the backdrop of the real
race (primaries, conventions, etc.) with real politicians playing themselves
and interacting with the characters.
This one is as brilliant, funny and thought-provoking as the best of the writer and director's solo projects. All the performances are terrific -- Pamela Reed, in particular, shows why she's one of the most interesting American actresses working today.
After a contentious decade for Robert Altman, during which he was
pretty much shunned by the Hollywood system and made some of his worst
films, it's only fitting that he should cap the decade off with an
absolute triumph, this absorbing mini-series made for HBO.
I don't know why it took so long for someone to pair "Doonesbury" writer Garry Trudeau with Altman, because in retrospect, it seems like a match made in heaven. Both have the exact same sarcastic sense of humor and the talent for seeing the absurd in the mundane. They crafted a fascinating look into the world of political machinations, following the story of fictitious 1988 presidential candidate Jack Tanner but setting it against the real world of the democratic primaries. Therefore, actual members of the political scene at the time interact with star Michael Murphy as if he's a real presidential nominee, and the viewer is never sure what action is authentic and what is staged.
Murphy is superb as Tanner, and he's perfectly cast. Tanner is handsome and charismatic enough to make a fairly successful run for the nomination, but he's too bland and too nice to make it all the way. The series examines one of the major conundrums about American politics: to have a candidate with conviction and good ideas isn't enough. He must also be a personality and be able to navigate the tricky terrain of the American media, with the result that those who go farthest are those who know how to work the system, not those who are most honest. "Tanner '88" captured perfectly my own feelings about presidential elections. On the one hand, they're of supreme importance, because they determine who will be the leader of one of the most powerful nations in the world. But on the other hand, they seem like such pointless exercises, and it's hard to muster up the energy to care time after time.
But one of the strongest and most serious points made by this series comes in an episode in which Tanner visits the slums of Detroit in his home state of Michigan. He realizes that he is completely out of touch with the very people he promises to help, and has no clue about what their lives are really like. That's painfully true about our own leadership -- it was in 1988 and still is today. There's a vast and probably insurmountable gap between the privileged few who ever have the remotest hope of being president and the millions of average Americans over whom they govern.
All of the acting in "Tanner '88" is sensational, to the point where I forgot I wasn't just watching real people being filmed by a documentary filmmaker. Most notable are Pamela Reed, as Tanner's campaign manager, Cynthia Nixon, as his overbearing and very young daughter, and E.G. Marshall, who makes a few memorable appearances as Tanner's awful father.
This is a must see for Altman fans, or really anyone with an interest in American politics.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This has that typical Altman mix, often brilliant, sometimes just good,
and occasionally over the-top, and self conscious. The acting is
generally good, but a little uneven. Some characters are very real,
others come off as pure caricature. The series felt longer than it
needed to be to make its points. The middle episodes were a bit boring
But then there's the episode where Tanner goes into the hood and meets w/real mothers of murdered kids, in an improvised scene of pain and anger which is simply devastating, and the whole series felt redeemed.
Overall, while watching it, I liked it, not loved it. But looking back, it left me with a much more powerful and lasting impression.
Robert Altman and Gary Tredeau were a good match, and according to the
DVD interview it makes a lot more sense than the simple notion of
'well, Doonsbury is a funny comic, Altman makes some funny movies.' As
the two say and agree upon, it has to do with scenes, the behavior
allotted not in a very rigid story structure but in what can be done
just in one scene. Although the structure has to fit into half hour
time slots, it's as epic in its own area as Altman's own Short Cuts, or
even Band of Brothers in creating a world unto itself, as stark and
true as possible to being there in person. As it ends up happening with
Altman there are scenes that get cut into other scenes, perfectly,
without a beat missed. Oh, sometimes a door closes and a door opens
sort of cut might happen, which is fine, but as far as editing goes-
which Altman says is when he starts to get much more in control as
opposed to the loose approach to letting actors improvise (and with
this, aside from the back-room scenes and really specific ones, there's
a lot of it even for a production like Altman's)- it's much stronger
than for a regular television show.
Which is interesting since it sometimes has that long feeling of an Altman shot here and there, or one that is held for longer than one might expect in a TV show; one crucial shot being when Jack Tanner (Michael Murphy) is shot unawares by a camera looking through a glass coffee table as he gives a passionate monologue to his campaign team after a bad day. Shots like these, or when two characters have a conversation for a stretch of time (i.e. Tanner and the governor Bruce Babbit talking along the Potomac) should be self-conscious, but they aren't. And other times the trademark Altmanesque approach to shooting is actually spot-on for a kind of soap opera quality to the proceedings that ends up lending itself to comedy more than the melodramatic moment of revelation. It's a great moment of comedy, for example, not merely in the look between Stringer (Daniel Kincaid) and Joanna Buckley (Wendy Crewson) as he knows it's Dukakis's campaign manager who's been sleeping around with Tanner, and likewise she knows he knows, but how the shot goes, a quick zoom in on each other's eyes, as if the audience didn't know- which of course we do- and the light touch of theme music in the background.
Tanner '88 is also great entertainment as far as being able to expect "For Real" reality, to quote an episode, as Tanner encounters real politicians, for the most part not knowing that it's a fictional show (Pat Robertson, for example). We know how this will all end, but the question of the how and when is what strikes up drama and madness in equal measure, as if even in the most predictable means it adds to the appeal (new campaign supervisors on how to speak more forcefully and with strict attention, then the scandal(s), awkward campaign stops, a not-quite assassination attempt as one of the funniest asides, dissension from reporters). And touches of irony help along the way, like how Veronica Cartwright's reporter, who at first is not getting much of the scoop, and how she soon acquires the fired former camerman on Tanner's inner circle (let go for an uproariously stupid montage video on drug legalization, taken mostly from Tanner's notebook) who shoots like many a pretentious reality-TV cameraman- and then also reports first on the affair scandal to boot! I also liked how Kitty Dukakis got figured into the actual storyline, as opposed to just another throwaway political figure.
And all the while Murphy is a total pro- robbed of an Emmy severely in fact- and there ends up being more for him to do as an actor, in playing a sympathetic but flawed character who as TJ describes about his running for president is like a "lifestyle choice." Pamela Reed, Cynthia Nixon and Ilana Levine make up the principle female characters, all with their own pragmatic, optimistic, and just frustrated views on the campaign trail, and they're great to have in the midst of an otherwise predominantly male cast. It's important that they too are right on the ball with Murphy at just saying the right things when diverting from Trudau's script. Suddenly it doesn't feel like we're simply seeing a fictional account of a debate between Tanner, Jesse and Dukakis, but it's more immediate than that. Even more-so than Primary Colors we're given a first-hand look at the process, the ugliness and dirty side, the idiots and mistakes made consistently, the cynicism and irony, and how the media and politics are inseparable and insufferable depending on the beat. And it has the immediacy of news while keeping a hold on the multi-dimensional framework that Altman mastered in his career.
Taken as a whole work it is very long, but worth every moment of extra characterization, and ever extra song performance of the theme (my favorite was the hair metal version at the fundraiser in Los Angeles), and it's one of the most insightful, amusing, and superlative works from a quintessential American director.
A long-time Altman fan, I rented the video of Tanner 88 just in time for
final days of the 2000 election. In fact, on election night, I was
back and forth between Altman's clever take on presidential politics and
"real" thing, and I can tell you, Tanner 88 was much better television.
The mini-series of 10 half-hour episodes is available on three VHS tapes.
It was excellent, overall. Especially good was the way it punctured so many of the hot-air balloons and pretensions of American politics, but clearly sympathized with the people who want to believe in it. We see a liberal Democratic candidate, Jack Tanner, played skillfully by Michael Murphy, go through a campaign from the New Hampshire primary to the end of the convention. Typical of the series, Tanner is on the one hand shallow and full of empty rhetoric, while also sincere, idealistic and sometimes inspiring. Tanner's campaign manager, a woman, is also extremely smart, more than a little cynical, but capable of being inspired by her candidate whose weaknesses she knows very well. The first half of the series, which takes place in New Hampshire, is extremely funny, especially in showing how the citizens there have become inured to the hoopla of the candidates and the media. Also outstanding in this series is the way the working press is portrayed as part of the life of the campaign--these are real people, not just role players. The last two episodes, at the convention, lack the bite of the first five or or six, and could be skipped without losing much.
Where the whole world is holding its breath because of the upcoming
2004 election, it is refreshing to watch this TV series. Not only
because of the superb acting of Pamela Reed & Michael Murphy and each
and every one of the ensemble (something we almost take for granted
with Altman pictures, which always give sublime acting) and the great
writing, but also because it gives non-Americans some insight in
Inspiring and clarifying, it makes one wonder first of all why it's always the wrong movie people that get elected in politics. Wouldn't we all be much more relaxed if USA politics had a bit of the Altman-touch to it...
Unfortunately, the inspiration of this Maverick doesn't seem to reach the oligarchy in power. Altman DOES show us that TV can be fascinating and uplifting, even though he got curtailed, which will keep us wondering how that 12th episode that was never shot would be like.
Does this TV-series, which is over before one knows it and doesn't seem to take the 12x 30 minutes it says on the DVD jewelbox, draw a true picture of political USA ? Being from Europe I sincerely hope not, but I'm afraid it is even worse than Tanner is showing us. 'Let's not tell too much and focus on the face'.
And even worse, after globalization and sugarfrosted horrors for breakfast, the 'old world' is quickly picking up on this terrible excrescence too...
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