September 14, 2004

"George took a hatchet to the film."

What are we to think about "Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry," a documentary film directed by an old friend of John Kerry's (George Butler), that is being distributed by a Canadian company (ThinkFilm)?

The film is set to open on October 1--a date chosen with the hope of affecting the election and foreclosing effective debate about any new or deceptive material that might be in it. The film has also been re-edited, according to the NYT:
"Going Upriver" has shifted in content and story line almost daily. Three weeks ago, the film was far different, before the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth emerged to attack Senator Kerry's wartime record, the filmmakers said.

"George took a hatchet to the film," said Mark Urman, the head of distribution for ThinkFilm, and the focus was tightened exclusively to the Vietnam era. "The film was suddenly printed in capital letters. He took out anything that didn't address the point: who is this man, and why do we care about him?"

It sounds as though the filmmaker began with a film of some complexity, which might have been a worthy film, but then decided to sacrifice his significance as a documentary film director for the sake of helping his friend get elected. Yet the end result is that he's made something no one will see. Maybe the hope is in the advertisements for the film that will run--presumably free of campaign finance restrictions--and the free coverage the film will get on entertainment and news shows. In any event, Urman is positively giddy about it all:
"This film is being made as history as being made," Mr. Urman said. "I've never been involved with something that is so now. It's film distribution as performance art, and it's very exciting. We're making it up as we go along."

I love the way the film distributor Urman (who is probably Canadian), sees the film's distribution as the work of art, now that he seems to have squelched any potential for art in the original film that has now been edited into a commercial.

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