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A behind-the-scenes documentary about the Clinton for President campaign, focusing on the adventures of spin doctors James Carville and George Stephanopoulos. Bill Clinton himself is almost never seen.Written by
Tim Horrigan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This is one of the great political films since All the President's Men, and one of the best documentaries I've ever seen. The story is fascinating, the characters are very interesting, and its all real. Even the music adds to the frenetic pace of the film.
The documentary follows the 1992 Clinton Campaign from the doldrums in New Hampshire, through the Democratic convention in New York to its summit on election night in Little Rock. But Clinton spends very little time on the screen. The film captures the behind-the-scenes action of James Carville, George Stephanopolis, and the rest of the cast and crew of Clinton campaign headquarters. The film shows how TV spots are written, how interviews are managed, how the candidates' message is distributed, and how the "spin doctors" do their stuff.
The pace is quick. Staffers come into and out of scenes constantly, and there is a great deal of off-camera dialogue, much like an emergency-room scene from E.R. The mix of standard documentary footage with news reports and interviews is terrific. Some of the best scenes are of the pols watching the news reports and reacting to what they see.
The central character is James Carville, who is more interesting than anyone else in the campaign, much moreso than the candidates themselves. He reveals that his "Ragin' Cajun" image is genuine, for he is truly passionate about his work. But it also reveals a mind working on overdrive, and a sensitive nature that you wouldn't expect to see. His "people will say you are lucky" speech to staffers at the end of the film is as moving as anything written for the studio, and moreso because it is genuine.
Stephanopolis came off less well. Behind his youthful looks and seeming intelligence comes a certain shallowness. Much of his contribution was more of a "me too" nature than anything truly creative or deep. He also had a moment at the end of the film when, in a room with a starry-eyed female staffer, he's describing how he feels. And the conclusion is, not much. It is not hard to understand why years later George was a washout in the Clinton White House, never managed another campaign, and is now earning his living in front of the camera.
After all is said and done, it is clear that the candidate is secondary in a modern presidential election. He's like the hand your dealt in a game of poker. It's important, but what you do with it once it is dealt to you is much more important. And these guys are pros.
So are the filmmakers. There were several times when I had to remind myself that this was a documentary, and not a work of fiction. In fact, if you see it immediately after seeing "Primary Colors" you'll see that truth is not only stranger than fiction, but it can be more interesting as well.
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