Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Unwitting Alex Gibney Completist: "Eliot Spitzer," "Casino Jack," "Hunter S. Thompson"

Maybe because he's bald like Greenblatt the Great!....maybe because Netflix's documentary section is awash in his DVDs.....last week I unwittingly became an Alex Gibney completist, seeing three of his most recent films in a row.

All three docs were solid and interesting documentaries produced by his Jigsaw Productions (could he be a fan of the SAW villain? Or does he side with The Punisher's arch-nemesis?) although the one common thread (which tipped me off to investigate if these were all directed by the same person) was there's something a bit slick, cocky and formulaic about his directing style...a bit too smirky in places....just call him "Glib" Gibney! Luckily, it doesn't get in the way of some interesting detective work....

First, I saw Gibney's Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer (2010), his most recent work. Despite his lapses in ethics, I overall enjoy Spitzer and his CNN political commentary show. Spitzer's a smart guy, if a bit too overzealous and self-righteous in his opinions. He was an effective state attorney general before becoming the New York governor taken down by a hooker scandal after he had been so dogmatic about cleaning up Wall Street pre-economic meltdown. What makes this documentary interesting and somewhat of a mea culpa opportunity is the fact that (maybe out of narcissism?) Spitzer cooperates with the filmmaker, telling his story in detail on camera and admitting to his foibles. It's an ultimately sad portrait, as the brilliant Spitzer could've run for higher office but is now disgraced. Guess he's lucky to have the CNN gig!

Casino Jack and the United States of Money (2010) was the next one, another rise and fall story, this time about the failed lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Equally compelling and as incriminating of a multitude of politicians and the Washington culture as it is of Abramoff himself.

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (2008) was the last of the three I watched, about the bat shit crazy guy who liberated journalism and then inadvertently enslaved it by inspiring thousands of journalists to insert themselves into their stories. Thompson was a journalist who somehow lived like a rock star. He's kind of like the Gary Busey of writers. At one point, he comically ran for sheriff of Aspen, Colorado, and created an uproar that led the town's conservatives to drag the sick and the near-dead into the poling centers to vote against him (it worked). He has lucked out, winning over Jann Wenner, publisher of Rolling Stone, who bankrolled his crazy escapades. More recently, after a fallow period of years, Thompson killed himself after giving those around him plenty of caveats. He supposedly wanted to leave the planet while he was still on top (debatable). Ultimately, living in isolated, rural Colorado + depression + gun fetish + lots of hard drugs - emotional stability = an elixir for disaster. Hunter's son and exes are interviewed, along with political allies and enemies alike (even Pat Buchanan). Even Johnny Depp appears in this film. Much like Hunter Thompson in his articles, Depp has inserted himself into this documentary on Thompson...if he had not played him in a movie, his appearance here would be pretty dubious. My favorite revelation from this doc: Thompson effin' hated "Doonsebury" and despised his Uncle Duke doppelganger in the strip! Brilliant! That's all I wanted to know!

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