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April 26, 2004

Journeys with George

After commenting about my interest in documentaries about the President, I came across Alexandra Pelosi's Journeys with George. Pelosi, the daughter of California Democratic Congresswoman, Nancy Pelosi, offers a breezy take on the press corps feeding frenzy that accompanies any presidential campaign, and while Pelosi discloses her politics (in one scene, she votes for Bradley in the Democratic primary behind Bush's back), the film appearss remarkably apolitical, at least in terms of addressing specific Bush policies, but that "apolitical" stance actually enables her much more complicated critique of presidential politics. Pelosi, who cheerfully narrates the film, playfully banters with Bush about her love life, jokes about his taste in turkey sandwiches, and generally captures the camaraderie of the press corps.

Tobias Peterson's Pop Matters review reads the film's representations of American politics very effectively, noting that even the impromptu scenes in which Bush playfully jokes with Pelosi and the rest of the press corps are "highly crafted," with both filmmaker and politician engaged in a complicated game of give-and-take, the fact that the press corps cannot ask difficult questions because the risk being snubbed, as Pelosi herself was when she pressed Bush on his death penalty record. Perhaps this is the significance of all of the food images in the film: the press gaggle has to be careful not to bite the hand that feeds them. [Towards the end of the film, there's a really fascinating shot of a squirrel nervously eating peanuts out of a friendly press person's hand, and I think this is where I'm getting this metaphor.]

Pelosi confirms this reading in an indieWire interview (by the way this is a fantastic interview--great questions, interesting answers), noting that people criticized her for letting Bush off the hook when he couldn't explain why his policies benefit "the little people and the unemployed:"

I wasn't there as Alexandra Pelosi, the independent filmmaker. I was there as an NBC News producer. Anyone can say, "Well, if I was there, I would have said this or that," but that's all bullshit because nobody could even get there, number one, and if they got there, they could NOT say those things because he'd walk away and then you'd have no more access and I think that's counterproductive. Now if I was there as somebody else, it would be a different conversation. I had a role and I had to play my role. In the name of my own little home movie, I'm going to offend him and lose my job and get kicked off the plane? I don't think so. I'm not willing to jeopardize it all. And that is the dirty little secret of American political reporting and I say that in the movie. The truth is that all of our careers were tied to George Bush during the election campaign.
I'd say the scene speaks for itself, however, as then-governor Bush tries to sell himself as the little guy, teasingly asking Pelosi if she's ever seen him next to his brother.

As I've researched to write this review, I've become more impressed by it. I'm charmed by Alexandra Pelosi's narration, her "home movie" presentation of the campaign, and the film benefits from foregrounding her presence as the filmmaker. Meanwhile, Bush remains a mere image, a relatively shallow man who carefully crafts his image, as suggested by the number of shots of cameras filming Bush (who in several shots takes a camera himself). In a post-9/11 world, it's a strange document, though, a reminder of a much different moment in American politics.

Posted by chuck at April 26, 2004 12:53 AM

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I think Bob Woodward found a good way to work around this -- flatter the politican to gain their trust, then ask the juicy questions.

Posted by: Chris at April 26, 2004 12:45 PM

In a sense, I think that's what Pelosi has done with the documentary albeit on a different scale. Flatter the politician through some friendly banter, and then take out all the positive stuff in editing.

Posted by: chuck at April 26, 2004 1:47 PM

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