Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"It's real!": unconventional films that capture the reality of conventions

Posted By on Tue, Aug 28, 2012 at 11:06 AM

As the Republican National Convention plans to kick-off in earnest tonight in Tampa, there's a sense that every second of the action will carfully scripted to remain on message. Nothing will be left to chance. Ths event is a three-night extravaganza: part sales-pitch, part reality show, part infomercial. The result is pre-determined. The event is, in effect, a gigantic piece of political theatre.

Want to see something a little more real? Ironically, it takes an artist to pull back the curtain and expose some reality. These films and programs shot during conventions using unconventional methods capture a sense of the unexpected.

Shot during the turbulent 1968 DNC in Chicago, Haskell Wexler's Medium Cool captures the zeitgeist of the era, imbued with real-life danger. As the National Guard fires a gas canister at the crowd of protesters, a member of the crew is heard warning the director, and camera man, "Look out Haskell, it's real." Chilling.

Tanner 88

Robert Altman (featured twice in yesterday's Isaac piece) along with cartoonist and satirist Garry Trudeau crafted the HBO series "Tanner 88" arguably the best work of political fictional (using techniques that presaged the resurgence of the mock dock) including terrific footage from the floor of the DNC in Atlanta, note—this is a decade before HBO became the cool home for groundbreaking original series. The faux campaign garnered media attention at the time, and flummoxed real-life political pundits keen to figure out exactly who this upstart candidate was:

In one scene, [actor Michael] Murphy [as candidate Jack Tanner] and company walked onto an elevator near the convention hall as a foreign journalist asked Tanner how the campaign was going.

Reid Davidson and Tip Carroll stopped to peer in the windows of the Tanner campaign office during their lunch hour recently.

They glanced at the copied newspaper articles taped to the windows, then wandered away, still not entirely sure who Tanner was.

``I`ve been trying to figure out who he is. I knew he looked familiar,`` Davidson said. ``I thought he was somebody trying to get his name in front for the `92 race.``

Even actor Murphy speaks of Tanner as if his campaign has been real.

``Eight months we`ve been out on the campaign trail,`` he said. ``It`s very similar to being an actor. You`re the center of the universe, but next week it`s all over.``

Finally, D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus' The War Room is a doc that showcases terrific behind-the-scenes footage from the campaign of Bill Clinton, all the way through the conventions and the election. Among the most notable sequences in the film is a scene where star-crossed lover and democratic strategist James Carville is led into the heart of the beast as he crosses enemy lines accompanied by his love interest (and later wife) Bush deputy campaign manager Mary Matalin. It's a genuine moment as the two share real affection for one another, even as they craft sound-bites, speaking points, and other scripted strategic touchstones for their respective candidates. The other thing that emerges from the film is a genuine sense of commitment from people really care. As cynical as we've become around political issues, there's no spin as James Carville and young George Stephanopoulos show genuine enthusiasm for their candidate, as they write the script for a successful political campaign.

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