At the end of this documentary, "Hail to the Chief" plays in the background as President George W. Bush mounts the stage at a military dedication. The camera focuses on Senator Kerry clapping ritually along with a hundred others in the audience. "So now Kerry has a chance to unseat George Bush," says Allie Pelosi in her grown-up teenager's voice. "If he wins, he'll be written into the history books. If he loses, he'll be home reading them like everybody else who failed."
The humor in the movie arises chiefly out of the candor of Alexandra Pelosi's voice-over. None of the candidates seems as willing to joke around as Bush did in "Journeys With George," except maybe Kerry, who shows a quiet appreciation of the irony in the absurd. Pelosi wants to see another side of Kerry so he begins to turn around. He asks her for her camera, turns it on her, and begins to ask her pointed questions, some of them the same as she has asked him. Interestingly, in this same exchange, Pelosi asks him why political candidates seem to be reduced by the media to stereotypes -- Gore is boring, Bush is dumb -- and what stereotype Kerry would like to project. And he repeats the opinion he gave in the second presidential debates when he was called the most "liberal" member of the Senate. He says he doesn't think the media create the stereotypes but the candidates themselves as filtered through the media. In any case, he says, he doesn't believe them. Gore was not boring and Bush is not dumb. It's easy to pin simple labels on people but the world is more complicated than that. (If Gore is boring and Bush is dumb, can Kerry be a philosopher?)
Oddly enough the movie has very little to do with political issues. We learn nothing about the Democratic candidates' positions on issues like abortion or Iraq. The movie is about the political process itself and how it's managed by the principles. By the end we're almost as fatigued as everyone else by the thousands of corn dogs, the bowls of chili, the hog lots, the weeping groupies, the well wishers, the nuisance who asks the same stupid questions of all the candidates, the flights, the buses, the need to keep showing those shining teeth in public, the identical stump speeches ("You ARE the power!"). Ugh. The wonder is that anyone would be willing to put himself through this meat grinder just to become president of the world's only superpower.
It's less focused on personalities than "Journeys With George," perforce. Pelosi had to cover half a dozen guys this time around, instead of just George W. Bush. So we don't get to know them as well as we got to know Bush. And there is far less of Allie Pelosi herself, of her affairs with other correspondents and of her decision to cut her hair. In the few shots of her we do see -- mainly taken by Kerry -- she still looks thoroughly deglamorized and goofy, yet vivacious and pretty nevertheless.
She has a sharp eye for the balmy among the supporters without overdoing it.
One Dean supporter in a beard died magenta explains why he's writing letters for Dean. Another, a woman from Portland, Oregon, is speaking to a group of Deanies. She DOES look a little strange, a middle-aged thin brunette with curiously off-kilter glasses, fiercely tied-back hair, lipstick the color of a three-day-old cadaver, and she speaks in a way that matches her grooming. Pelosi wordlessly lets the camera slide down the speaker's body, below the table, until we see her legs encased in thigh-high stockings that are made of multicolored rings, and finally her feet in things that look like some kind of modified geriatric devices. Not a peep out of Pelosi, although, let's face facts, it's a bit unkind. Pelosi doesn't spare Gebhart's supporters either, whom she describes as mainly old, and she gives us multiple shots of people in wheelchairs, a man with oxygen cannula in his nostrils, and an old woman with thick glasses and crooked teeth who responds to Pelosi's question with, "What?"
Another amusing moment. It's the airport at Wassau, Wisconsin. An employee tells Pelosi, "They're the biggest airplanes that ever came to this airport." We see a shot of a smallish executive jet and Pelosi says, "Howard Dean's plane." The camera pans slowly to a long sleek airliner the size of a small freight train. "John Kerry's plane," says Pelosi. Pan back to the little jet. "Howard Dean?" Then slowly back to the airliner. "John Kerry?" She does this several times.
There's pathos in this movie, too, which was also missing from her earlier film. Howard Dean buried in a horde of leaping fans, not alone for a moment. Then "the scream." And now Pelosi has Dean all to herself as he walks with a few friends through empty hotel lobbies and "The Party's Over" plays in the background. Gebhart weeping during his concession speech, a nice guy, as is Joe Lieberman, who proves to be bright and witty but is hampered by his receding chin and a voice that sounds as if it's coming through a mouthful of matzoh meal.
This film is all over the place, disjointed, funny and improvvisata, strangely sad, kind of like its maker. It's worth seeing as an historical document although no one should expect penetrating insights into policy or character.
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