May 28, 2004

Reliving the chad experience ... and CNN preening.

Last night, we watched CNN Election 2000: 36 Days That Gripped the Nation, which came in the mail yesterday. I explained my reasons for wanting to see it here. It was okay, it provoked some laughs, and it got us to pause at one point and get into a whole big debate about the best way to count the ballots all over again. (I said that Bush's best argument was that the punchcards were designed to be read by machines, so the best stopping point was the machine recount, because at least the machine had no opinion about who should win, and if human beings started looking at the cards, which were never designed for human eyes, human subjectivity would necessarily creep in. And that reignited the old argument.) But I was disappointed by the way CNN constructed its little documentary. It was TV hackwork. Having just last week seen a beautifully constructed political documentary--The Fog of War--I cringed at the lameness of CNN's little paste job. At least they could have maximized the footage of the historic events. There was a decent amount of footage of county officials squinting at punchcards, people holding signs with saying like "Sore/Loserman" and chanting "Get out of Cheney's house," and reporters trying to report on a Supreme Court opinion as they were glancing at it for the first time. But far, far too much of the documentary consisted of various CNN reporters, well-dressed and made-up and overlit against a black background, reminiscing about how they felt when the events were occurring. It was like those "I Love the 80s" shows on VH-1 were they plunk a celebrity in front of the camera to reminisce about something they'd just shown a clip of (e.g., show historic footage of Rubik's cube, then have, say, Juliette Lewis prate about how she had a Rubik's cube when she was ten years old and found it very hard to do). It's always so glaring that it's filler, as the celebs talk especially slowly, with pauses, and usually seem to be making half of it up or doing a retake. The real message is, we don't think you will pay attention to the footage (or we can't edit it into a good enough form to make it worth paying attention to), so we' ll just mesmerize you with a celebrity. Now, the intense focus on a single talking human being can, in fact, be great. The Fog of War is the example of how to do that well. But there is no way on earth that the diverse ramblings of Judy Woodruff about waiting out the election results can compare to the brilliantly edited speech of a brilliant and complex man--Robert S. McNamara--who lived through the most interesting events of a century!

7 comments:

Mary said...
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Mary said...

How about a mention this Memorial Day weekend, of all those who didn't live through the most interesting events of a century!, due to the actions and inaction of that "brilliant and complex" man Robert S. McNamara.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm admiring the documentary, please realize, not the subject of it. I also love Morris's documentary "Mr. Death" and the documentary "The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl. That's not an expression of love for the subject of those films. These people are interesting, and the most interesting people are flawed--or even evil. I'm a huge admirer of Erroll Morris, and wish people who make documentaries would learn a lot of lessons from him about how to do it well. I sent my money to CNN for their documentary, and it was slapped together--by someone who was probably well paid--using terrible technique that embarrassingly fawned over CNN characters. I'm outraged about that. Morris's documentary doesn't make a hero out of McNamara: it examines an interesting, complicated person who draws us into the examination of important historic events.

Mary said...

All the important and horrible things happening in the world today that you've blogged about, I wondered what it takes to "outrage" you. Now I guess we know. Thanks for dropping the "brilliant" adjective to describe McNamara in your second go-around.

Ann Althouse said...

Yes, that's right. My special area for expressing outrage is: bad art. Did you see my post about varnish? And, sorry, but McNamara is unquestionably a brilliant man. Leni Riefenstahl was brilliant too. Brilliant people are capable of making spectacular mistakes (and make the subject of great documentaries).

Mary said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mary said...

I see my earlier post was removed. Did you find something offensive in my comments that were posted under my name?