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June 3, 2006

Being Al Gore

By the way, Green Cine has a link to Spike Jonze's campaign video made for Gore's 2000 presidental campaign, which wasn't shown during the election but really should have been. It's really a fascinating document, about thirteen minutes long, filmed entirely on digital video with Jonze essentially spending the day with Gore and his family as the candidate gears up for the campaign trail. It features Gore's daughters teasing their dad about his movie-watching habits (he likes Jonze's Being John Malkovich, among other films and pauses films whenever anyone leaves the room) and Gore speaking lovingly about his family while showing Jonze and the viewer family photographs, a painted self-portrait by his wife Tipper, and other family heirlooms.

These family scenes depict Gore as anything but stiff, as Tipper and Al joke about the media depiction of him. The "home movie" format depicts Gore as a relaxed family man, with Gore's politics evolving organically out of his daily life. In one scene, he describes a friend whose struggles with grammar and spelling suggested to Gore that government should be about helping the "little guy." It's an amazing piece of footage and yet another reminder how important it could have been to have seen this version of Gore during the 2000 election.

Posted by chuck at June 3, 2006 3:15 PM

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It's unrelated to the post, but today I was at the bank and I saw an poster advising me to open a checking account today so that I could take advantage of their "limited time travel offer". If you're going to write about time travel you should ideally experience it first hand, so maybe you should look into one of those checking accounts...

Posted by: AHorbal [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 3, 2006 11:56 PM

My question would be how is time travel limited here? Can you travel into the past but not the future? Can you only travel short distances? These are important questions.

Posted by: Chuck at June 4, 2006 10:39 AM

I'm surprisely disappointed by the poor creativity featured by Jonze on this piece... Anybody could have filmed this documentary. There is no cinema in there.
And I understand why they didn't air it, being a film snob who imposes his taste and decisions isn't quite a popular way to keep in touch with your base... it was funny, but maybe not the best possible publicity.

What is Spike Jonze up too lately by the way?

Posted by: HarryTuttle [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 5, 2006 11:06 AM

I think that what I like about it is how different it is from most campaign advertisements. It also shows Gore in a more informal context, allowing his politics to emerge from his everyday experiences rather than appearing as soundbites from scripted campaign speeches.

It probably doesn't work *that* well as cinema, although I find it incredibly strange as a document of the American political process. And you may be right that it's not the most effective campaign "commercial," but I wonder if this image of Gore would have appealed to disaffected people of the liberal-left who voted for Nader because Gore didn't appeal (and to be fair, I was one of those who voted for Nader, although I would have voted for Gore if my home state showed any sign of being contested).

Posted by: Chuck at June 5, 2006 11:33 AM

Oh, and while I'm thinking about it, Jonze apparently has another collaboration with Charlie Kaufman along the way as well as plans to film the children's book, Where the Wild Things Are, in which he'll be collaborating with novelist-memoirist Davdi Eggars (anoter intriguing collaboration).

Posted by: Chuck at June 5, 2006 11:36 AM

The first issue of the DVD magazine Wholphin has this too. (There's a Eggers link, too, since Wholphin is associated with McSweeney's Heavy Industries, or whatever it's called.) I guess I'm a little disappointed that it has popped up on teh Internets, since now it's not so special to have the DVD. In the liner notes, Jonze says he feels privileged to have seen the then-Vice President body-surf. I do think there's an aesthetic link between this piece and Jonze's earlier work, in particular his skate videos and the video he did for Sonic Youth's "100%". I'd argue there's an authorial link between videos of youth skateboarding and middle-aged politicians body-surfing.

I'm sort of intrigued by the sentence "There is no cinema in there." At first I thought, "How do you construct an ontological category of cinema so this work falls outside?" But I realized HarryTuttle wasn't saying this isn't cinema, but it lacks cinema, as if cinema were an essence or a substance. Could a marketer say, "Now with 35% more cinema!"? Anyway, it still seems like an ontological issue, but there's an inversion of the containers. I guess I'd probably just call it a video and leave it at that.

Posted by: McChris at June 5, 2006 3:27 PM

Hey, thanks for the pointer to Wholphin (and the implied connection to Eggers). I'd agree that there is a pretty direct connection between Jonze's earlier videos and his video of Gore, which I think is pretty subtle.

In terms of the "ontological" question, I see "cinema" primarily as an institution (in the more theoretical sense of the term) informed by technological developments, pedagogical practices (film professors had to justify the study of film as "art"), and other determinants. I am, of course, incredibly fond of the "homemade" aesthetic, but calling it a video is enough for me.

Posted by: Chuck at June 5, 2006 4:15 PM

"Now with 35% more cinema!"
I like that :)

hehe, yes the quotes around "cinema" were implied. I guess I used Godfrey Cheshire's acception (from his Death of Cinema article).

I know it's not meant to work as "cinema", video or whatever (I'm not arguing DV v. film there), but if the guy who gave us Being John Malkovich is in command, I'd expect at least a hint of vision to make the recording unique, and also serve the political message better than being passively looking "laidback and friendly".

I believe there is a lot more cinematic intentions in the "homevideo look" of music videos intentionaly looking "cheap".
Well, I can't see any specific shots giving power to the piece. Please point me to examples where I could find it.

As far as his politics, he does have his bullet points ready, even if uttered in the woods...

Now, I agree it is a UFO in political campaigns (although it's definitely risky to run unconventional ads for a nationwide election) but my primary concern was Jonze's signature.

Posted by: HarryTuttle [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 5, 2006 5:01 PM

I don't know that I would have run this as a "nationwide" ad, but for the right audience, it could have played well, and with campaigns marked so heavily by niche marketing, I think they could have accomplished that.

I like the wind-surfing scene and enjoyed the scene around teh dining table when they were talking about Gore's movie-watching habits. I don't know if there's anything going on stylistically, but they're interesting to watch. The opening, which fcouses on the security at Gore's family farm is also an interesting framing device.

Posted by: Chuck at June 6, 2006 1:15 AM

Maybe Jonze was impressed by the security service and the military helicopter ride, but I'm not sure if it was a pertinent image for a campaign ad, to make a presidential candidate look closer to his people.
The message reads for viewers:
Our Vice-President uses tax-dollar for a family beach trip to body-surf? His house (and symbollicaly him) is inaccessible? He imposes his movie choices on everyone (which he admits is the same at the government)?
Even if it's a reality everyone knows, it's not the best thing to remind in a campaign spot... Well IMHO it doesn't look too good.

Although I like Jonze a lot! And thanks for linking to his coming up project. Back with Kauffman!

Posted by: HarryTuttle [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 7, 2006 2:22 PM

All good points. More than anything, I just find the video stragely compelling, and seeing it after having heard about for years made it even more compelling (like finding a "lost" object).

I'm looking forward to seeing his future collaboration with Kauffman even if I was disappointed in Adaptation.

Posted by: Chuck at June 8, 2006 12:14 PM

I have an alternative and maybe more affirmative reading of that opening sequence, one that occurred to me just as it hit "post" before (maybe I should try hitting "preview" next time).

Instead of seeing it as "Al bodysurfs on your tax dollars," I think it can be read as a moment of entering into Al Gore's real life, as getting access to a Gore that other don't get to see. That might not be enough to "justify" it, but it's still an interesting moment, IMO.

Posted by: Chuck at June 8, 2006 12:35 PM

I know, I should use preview to correct typos...

I'm with you on the Adaptation let down.

Posted by: HarryTuttle [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 9, 2006 2:26 PM

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