Docs for political gain … Ugh
The HuffPost reports that a new Sarah Palin documentary that Palin herself “has authorized” will possibly “set the stage” for her 2012 Presidential run.
Palin supporters hope an upcoming documentary about her rise and time as Alaska’s governor will calm their worries. “The Undefeated,” set to premiere next month in Iowa, is stoking speculation she wants to reframe how that period is characterized.
“This film is a call to action for a campaign like 1976: Reagan vs. the establishment. Let’s have a good old-fashioned brouhaha,” Stephen Bannon, the filmmaker, said in a statement.
Palin asked an aide to reach out to Bannon about making videos on her time as Alaska’s governor; Bannon wound up making a movie instead, reported on the website Real Clear Politics, which broke the news of the film.
There is so much wrong with this. The idea that this is a documentary in any real way is preposterous, right? But at the same time, documentaries on Joan Rivers, Anna Wintour and Hugh Hefner have shown such documentaries can relaunch careers, burnish images and get a story told in a way they can control, but yet still in the veneer of objectivity. In The New York Times last year, Laura M. Holson wrote,
Celebrities used to eschew the documentary as little more than late-night cable fare. And such films rarely, if at all, make a profit. But with interest in last year’s “September Issue” (which really was about Anna Wintour, wasn’t it?) and image-boosting movies about the bad-boy producer Robert Evans or the disgraced boxer Mike Tyson, some are embracing documentaries as a visual editorial for the Internet era.
Twitter, Facebook and TMZ have made it difficult for celebrities to manipulate their public persona. A sympathetic documentary can be the first step in rehabbing a damaged reputation (think Mr. Tyson or Mr. Spitzer) or in the case of Vidal Sassoon or Rush, reminding viewers of an aging icon’s cultural relevance.
These celebrity documentaries have the Hollywood equation to them: People using each other for personal gain. But the idea of politicians authorizing documentaries of themselves seem to bend the very definition of the form. Isn’t it just a feature-length political ad? The fact that it will “premiere in Iowa” is another cue as to the cynicism of the effort.
Maybe she won’t run. Maybe documentaries that one authorizes (and we’d suggest anything the subject authorizes is not an actual documentary) is strictly an exercise in ego. But with Oprah’s new channel not just doing documentaries, but asking celebrities to make them (because celebrities doing films about celebrities is the perfect analog for our fame-obsessed culture). It seems, though, that the documentary as it had been, that of more staid, deep and probing inquiry, is potentially fading into history.