2. The trailers included the Helen Mirren espionage flick The Debt. When that title came up, a guy yelled out, “Haw haw! Starring Barack Hussein Obama!” The other trailers may have been similarly tailored for this demographic: The Devil’s Double (a thriller about the evils of Saddam Hussein and his sons); The Help (white girl helps black housekeepers during Civil Rights movement); and Anonymous, a historical conspiracy drama about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. Maybe the connection is that it shows one of history’s most elite intellectuals to be a fraud?
3. Sarah Palin wasn’t involved with the production of The Undefeated, and director Stephen Bannon seems not to have interviewed her, so primarily we see her through still photos, campaign videos and news footage, usually giving speeches. We also hear her reciting from the book on tape of her memoir Going Rogue: An American Life. Apart from a montage of childhood home movies and photographs, we learn practically nothing of Palin’s family history or personal life — not even the story of her “wild ride” delivery of her son Trig.
4. Bannon divides the film into three acts and a coda, with plenty of additional chapter titles like “Ms. Palin Goes to Juneau.” The titles appear in white letters against a black background, with windswept sound effects and big snowflakes falling. Every time you see them, you expect to hear Sean Bean say, “Winter is coming.”
5. The film starts on an angry note through a montage of Hollywood celebrities (Matt Damon, Joy Behar and more) and internet commentators saying mean things about her, intercut with ominous staged footage of, for instance, a guy in a black ski mask holding a switchblade. The film doesn’t really distinguish between Tina Fey’s impression and John Cleese saying “It’s like a nice-looking parrot” with people wishing Palin physical harm.
6. Bannon directs the film very much like a 30-second TV political ad, with constant editing and camera movement, despite the running time of nearly two hours. The soundtrack music maintains a constant state of triumphant crescendo, no matter what’s actually on the screen. Fans and former colleagues recount their history with Palin, standing against white backgrounds, and the image jerks left or right every time they appear. It’s like the camera’s constantly going rogue.
7. In the first major section, “The Seed,” when Palin describes the origins of her political career beginning with seeing images of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Bannon cuts between shots of dead animals being pulled from oil slicks and a seed slowly bursting from the soil. (Get it?) It’s kind of hard to square the message of environmental protection with her subsequent “Drill, baby, drill!” motto — which doesn’t appear in the film.
8. A montage of boom times in Wasilla, Alaska, includes an image of someone buying Ramen Noodles and a Wal-Mart logo, which may not be the best indicators of prosperity.
9. Few documentaries on either side of the political spectrum strive for journalistic objectivity (Michael Moore isn’t exactly known for being calm and two-sided.) The Undefeated lionizes Palin’s political accomplishments but doesn’t provide much context for the few criticisms it mentions. One early opponent accused Palin of “spending like a Nordstrom girl” as mayor of Wasilla. Her goals in office included cutting the budget and building infrastructure, but it’s unclear whether spending went up or down.
10. As Wasilla mayor, Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation commissioner and Alaska governor, Palin’s main adversaries were Big Oil and the corrupt Republican Party establishments. The film highlights Palin’s budget-cutting efforts and ethics reform legislation, but doesn’t match, say, Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job at clarifying complicated material.
11. In a section touting the Alaskan Gasline Inducement Act (AGIA), the film includes a clip in which Palin says that Alaska’s energy policy “can be summed up in three words: The natural gas pipeline.” I’m surprised that quote made the cut.
12. After John McCain picks Palin as his veep, a sequence shows the McCain/Palin Gallup poll numbers going up and the Obama/Biden numbers going down. The momentum reverses (apparently) with the financial meltdown. The film features the clip of John McCain announcing the suspension of his campaign, and doleful-looking stills of George W. Bush, Henry Paulsen and Ben Bernanke. The implication is that the men lost the election for her.
13. A section about Palin’s post-2008 governorship cuts between accounts of press attacks and ethics complaints against her with a montage of a collapsing bridge, a van flipping and, if memory serves me right, an erupting volcano. Palin defenders say she faced onerous legal bills, but the film implies that the ethics complaints against her were thrown out (which may or may not be a contradiction).
14. The film strongly implies that Congressional Republican leaders like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell aren’t real Republicans. Web publisher/activisit Andrew Breitbart describes his opinion of Beltway insiders thusly: “I see eunuchs.” He says this so much, it’s like his “Show me the money!” (Is it me, or does Andrew Breitbart look like Colm Meaney?)
15. The Undefeated frequently asserts that Palin is the true heir to Ronald Reagan, whom we repeatedly see in his ranch outfit. When Palin quotes Reagan’s reference to “a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol,” the film cuts to an image of the Barack Obama “beer summit.” Take that, Cornel West!
16. The film’s latter section asserts that Palin presaged the Tea Party movement. At times it feels like the point of The Undefeated is to persuade Tea-Partiers to support Palin, which shouldn’t need such a hard sell.
17. The audience at my screening booed at the Barack Obama quote, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” The rest of Obama’s remarks about pride in American excellence somehow didn’t make the cut. (Later, somebody booed when Nancy Pelosi briefly appeared onscreen.)
18. The audience applauded several times: during the first off-stage introduction of Sarah Palin; during her fiery speech about how politicians, “need to learn how to fight like a girl!”; most enthusiastically, for the results of the 2010 midterm elections; and at the end. As the credits started rolling, a guy stood up and I think was telling people to send emails or something, but was scarcely audible.
19. If you don’t like Sarah Palin, The Undefeated is unlikely to change your mind and will likely give you a migraine. If you like Sarah Palin and want to know more about her, you’d be better served to read her book or watch her reality show, unless you really want to see her standing at podiums.
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