Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Where am I…and how did I get in this handbasket?

In 14 Women (2007), director Mary Lambert (Pet Sematary, Pet Sematary II) profiles the nine Democrats (Barbara Boxer, Maria Cantwell, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Dianne Feinstein, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln, Barbara Mikulski, Patty Murray, Debbie Stabenow) and five Republicans (Susan Collins, Elizabeth Dole, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Lisa Murkowski, Olympia Snowe) who comprise the contingent of women currently in the United States Senate (the feature was produced in 2006, so Amy Klobuchar and Claire McCaskill are only glimpsed briefly). Narrated by Annette Bening, it’s an interesting look at these exceptional women, and examines their personal lives as much as can be possible in a seventy-nine minute doc.

That, sad to say, is one of the drawbacks of 14 Women: with such a restraint on time, each Senator gets roughly six minutes of screen time—which seems like a cheat particularly when (speaking for myself) I found myself curious to learn more about them. It’s also presented with all the excitement of oatmeal: there are some interesting bits (Feinstein recalls the tragic events involving the murder of San Francisco mayor George Moscone and commissioner Harvey Milk, as she was on the commission at that time; Collins notes that her role model was long-serving Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith) but for the most part Women is perfectly content to function mainly as a civics guide, without any further indication on what makes the participants of this documentary tick. I’d give it two-and-a-half stars.

After Women, I watched No End in Sight (2007)—a documentary that was nominated for an Oscar as Best Documentary Feature but lost to Taxi to the Dark Side (2007), which is playing on HBO this month (I wish CharredHer would have another free weekend so I could see it.) It’s interesting to note that Alex Gibney, director of Dark Side, was the executive producer of Sight (directed by Charles Ferguson)—this is what’s known as “hedging one’s bets”; Gibney also helmed Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005).

As for Sight, I’ve watched a goodly portion of documentaries on the Iraq War and I can honestly say it’s one of the most even-handed of the ones I’ve seen. Sight straight-forwardly tells the audience in great detail that—no matter which side of the fence you’re on re: the conflict—the actual war and preparations afterward became a tremendous clusterf**k due to a combination of arrogance and poor planning. Interviews with notables as General Jay Garner, Colonel Paul Hughes and Walter Slocombe paint a horrifyingly vivid picture of an administration that simply didn’t have its act together for the post-war aftermath, and archival footage (mostly of Donald Rumsfeld, who emerges as a clownish buffoon) buttresses this argument—it’s often too painful to watch. The most revealing bit involves a professor (working with the post-war planners) who meets up with a recently graduated student from his class; the student happily informs the prof that she’s been put in charge of mapping out a strategy that will reduce automobile traffic in Baghdad. (It’s amazing what a contribution to the Bush campaign will reap, isn’t it?)

If you haven’t seen No End in Sight, you owe it to yourself to take a glance. I highly recommend this fascinating documentary: four stars.

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