Sunday, October 19, 2008


I dunno, I guess it hit the spot today. Maybe next week I'll hate it.

One common (and fair) critique of Oliver Stone is that he's a bit heavy-handed -- cartoonish characters, obvious visual metaphors to underscore "really important parts of the story," melodramatic uses of music, and so on. For much of his career, that style has been a hindrance, because the stories Stone likes to tell -- especially the political dramas -- generally seem to require a more nuanced and thoughtful narrative approach (though not necessarily a kinder one).

What's different about W. is that Stone has (at long last?) found the perfect subject matter for his filmmaking schtick. I mean, with a group of people this single-minded and shallow in real life, the conventional narrative wisdom -- flesh out those characters, young screenwriters! -- seems misplaced. Which is why I think Peter Rainer (for instance) misses the point when he argues that the film "offers up not a single new insight into Bush or his presidency."

Huh? Maybe I'm just burned out, but at this point I'm less interested in insight than I am in subpoenas. For me, it all seems so freaking obvious by now. There's no mystery or complexity, just bad people behaving badly: that's why they call it the banality of evil.

Which is not to say we shouldn't study and analyze the misdeeds of this administration. Just that I don't expect to be surprised by anything that is revealed when the documents start to be declassified. And also that cinema is a poor vehicle for that kind of analysis. So sure, people will complain that W. lacks historical authenticity, or even historical completeness. Events are embellished, moved around, fudged with abandon. Entire scandals are skipped over or mentioned fleetingly (the most glaring omission is Katrina). But think of it this way: what if, instead of exploring what is already well-known, W. merely aspires to re-tell this story through a cinematically-induced lens of scary drunk paranoia?

I mean, we don't need Oliver Stone to teach us about what has happened in this country in the last eight years. We already know what has happened in this country in the last eight years. What I was looking for from this film, and what it delivered, was a sense of vindication, and a dramatic anticipation of closure, finally. Half-assed, stupid, and mean, W. may not be a great presidential biopic, but it's a representative presidential epitaph.

* * * * *

By the way, if you're canvassing for Obama in the remaining days of this campaign (as you certainly should!), be careful, and be safe. There are some real angry folks out there, as Tim explains.

On the other hand, we can't afford to let up now. Even if you think your state is pretty much "in the tank" for Obama (as they say) -- canvassing helps to (among other things) confirm that support. That confirmation then enables the campaign to redirect its resources to trouble spots. Canvassing also helps ensure the success of down-ticket Democrats (remember that without a solid Democratic majority, an Obama administration won't be able to get much done next year).

We canvassed for a bit on Saturday -- made it a sort of family affair -- and I can say that the hardest part is knocking on that first door, and getting over the initial hump of talking to a complete stranger about something so personal as politics. Once you get past that, the rest is gravy.


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