THE PARTY'S OVER
Directed by Donovan Leitch & Rebecca Chaiklin
The Party's Over is the second documentary by Leitch that examines the Presidential election process. The first one was Last Party, which looked at the 1992 race between President George H.W. Bush and Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. Robert Downey Jr. was the interviewer and guide. The Party's Over recounts (sorry I couldn't resist), the 2000 election race between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush and it showcases different issues and factors on the 2000 Presidential campaign trail. Our guide this time is Phillip Seymour Hoffman. He and the crew travel all over the country, meeting and listening to the people on the street to find out what matters to them while also talking with politicians, activists, and celebrities.
Hoffman attends both the Republican and Democratic conventions. When the conventions previously appeared on the networks in years past, they used to show the inner working of the political process, the wheeling and dealing of the minor factions that made up both parties as they struggled and strived for more power in the party and in the country. Those days have changed. Nowadays both parties present polished infomercials, shaped by consultants, publicists and marketers, to sell you their new and improved model for this year's election. Making sure the cameras catch all the beautiful people on stage as well as those in the convention floor's front rows, while at the same time attempting to hide those party members that are less desirous to the skittish moderate populace watching at home. It's a fine line to be walked because those same members are necessary to have in the party's ranks to keep power.
Hoffman also attended Shadow conventions, which took place concurrent to the party conventions and provided a platform to those shut out from the national stage. All sides of the political spectrum were welcome. One speaker was New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, who advocated the end of the failed war on drugs and wanted to find alternatives ways of dealing with the problem. Other events of a political/activist nature that are outside of the two major parties were visited. They attended Farm Aid and spoke with farmers who are trying to compete with the agribusiness corporations. They talk to sellers at a gun shows and the homeless in the streets. They attend a Green Party rally and talk with their candidate Ralph Nader.
As fate would have it, this was a historic election to cover and their mission went on longer than planned. Off to Florida for the recount, off to Washington D.C. as the Supreme Court made their decision. Always finding people with signs and opinions. Then a winner is finally confirmed and President Bush becomes the 43rd President. Normally, I don't like to give away the endings of films, but in this case I think it might be all right.
I enjoyed the film. It's well put together and at 90 minutes it felt like it was over too soon. They covered a lot of ground, but it still felt like the film had more to offer, more people to hear from, and other issues to learn about. This could easily have been a mini-series and I hope the filmmakers consider it with their third installment.
Hoffman is a good choice to be our guide. The world of politics is something that most people are turned off to and Hoffman came in no different. He wants to learn why he should care about politics. He stays objective most times when dealing with people he interviews, asking fair questions when he doesn't understand or agree with an opinion. And in an unusual move from current discourse on American politics, he lets people answer his questions so he can listen to what they have to say.
The film offers plenty left-of-center political views, but I wanted to hear more from the right than was presented. I don't know if the filmmakers didn't use the interviews or weren’t able to get them, but it would have really strengthened the debate the film offers. And I'm not referring to the loudmouth knuckleheads on talk radio, but the intelligent thinkers. Someone like George Will or William F. Buckley, who regardless of whether or not you agree with them you can understand how they arrived at the views they have.
Throughout most of the film the interviewees speak about issues while the camera serves solely as a recorder; however, there is one sequence that I didn’t care for because it seemed to display a bias of the filmmakers. Pat Robertson was speaking at a Christian luncheon during the week of the Republican convention. The camera was zoomed in for a handheld, extreme close-up. Due to the tightness and jerkiness of the shot you could not see Pat's whole face at once, an eye here, a mouth there. I don't know if it was intentional, but it created and ugly, monstrous image, which I thought was unfair because no one else was shot in this manner. It was also redundant because Pat was able to create the same tone with his words alone.
The Party's Over might not change your views on any issue presented, but it can offer you a push to get more active, especially when you see how involved the people you disagree with are. I was angered and upset by the film, not at the system or at those smart to take advantage of it, but those that sit by and do nothing to help make this country better. By the end, Hoffman is touched by some issues and appears that he might take a more active role. This film might make the viewer do that as well. I sent money to Farm Aid afterwards, so it does work.