DVD Talk
Release List Reviews Shop Newsletter Forum DVD Giveaways Blu-Ray Advertise
Reviews & Columns
Reviews
DVD
TV on DVD
Blu-ray
International DVDs
Theatrical
Adult
Video Games

Features
Collector Series DVDs
Easter Egg Database
Interviews
DVD Talk Radio
Feature Articles

Columns
Anime Talk
XCritic.com
DVD Stalk
DVD Savant
High-Def Revolution
Silent DVD

discussion forum
DVD Talk Forum
Resources
DVD Price Search
Customer Service #'s
RCE Info
Links

DVDTalk Info
Review Staff
About DVD Talk
Advertise
Newsletter Subscribe
Join DVD Talk Forum
DVD Talk Feeds


Special Offer

Search: For:
Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Deflating the Elephant: The Framed Messages Behind Conservative Dialogue
Deflating the Elephant: The Framed Messages Behind Conservative Dialogue
Cinema Libre // Unrated // May 19, 2009
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Jason Bailey | posted May 17, 2009 | E-mail the Author
Buy from Amazon.com
C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Skip It
E - M A I L
this review to a friend
P R I N T
Printer Friendly
The Movie:

Honestly reviewing political films can be a tricky business, because it can be difficult to separate one's ideology from what is on the screen; often, we respond to the message and not the messenger. So let me get this out of the way before plunging into Deflating the Elephant: Framed Messages Behind Conservative Dialogue, because if I don't, it will be the elephant in the room (har har): I'm a proud progressive who would be hard-pressed to find one word in Deflating the Elephant that I disagree with. And by the fifteen-minute mark, even I was ready to switch it off.

The central conceit--that over the last thirty-some years, conservatives have managed to reframe the issues, change meanings, and push ideas and agendas primarily through their use of language--is an intriguing one, and many of the topics covered (economic trends, foreign policy, values voting, the comingling of the conservative movement and strict Christianity) are worth examination. The trouble is, "director" Aldo Vidali hasn't bothered to find a way to discuss them in a documentary or filmed essay form. His film is, and I'm not exaggerating, two hours and four minutes of people (mostly one person) talking directly into the camera. No cutaways, no clips, no examples, no nothing. Point and shoot. You might think that nothing would be duller than a static camera shooting one man talking for twenty or so minutes at a stretch, and you know what? You would be right.

We begin with on-screen text laying out the thesis of the film, followed by a brief introduction by Sean Penn, followed by a brief outdoor section, in which Vidali interviews George Lakoff, an author and professor of cognitive linguistics at UC-Berkely (hold on, Sean Penn and a Berkely professor? Bill O'Reilly would have a hemorrhage watching this thing). The interview is scored with odd music and interrupted by amateurishly choppy scrolling graphics (they look like Final Cut templates that were never properly rendered). Once they get that "flashy" opening out of the way, it's on to the film, which is structured thusly: Penn rages about Bush for a couple of minutes, and then Lakoff (seated at a desk in front of a map) talks and reads for ten or twenty minutes. Then back to Penn, then back to Lakoff, over and over, and then it's done (following an end credit sequence that is simply a list of names, with no explanations of who did what).

There's no flow or continuity between the sections, which often end with an abrupt fade-out; Penn's rants are frequently unrelated to what Lakoff says before or after him. They're also less than timely; he was clearly shot while Bush was still in office, and his calls for a change in government and a revolution are a few months late and haven't aged well (I'm a fan of his acting and agree with much of his politics, but he frankly sounds a little unhinged here).

But what's more distressing is the utter lack of visual stimuli. If all you want is information, read a book--Lakoff has written a couple, in fact, which Deflating the Elephant would serve as an infomercial for, except informercials give you something to look at. But this is not a book, it's (purportedly) a documentary film. However, 124 minutes of people talking at you does not a documentary make. A doc might include multiple interviews (maybe even from people on the other side), or (for illustrative purposes) clips and examples of the infractions mentioned (as in Robert Greenwald's films). And at the very least, it would shoot its interviews with more than one camera, so we can cut away to something else every few minutes or so. So it's not a documentary; it's a videobook, a filmed lecture, like one of those telecourses you take in college for an easy grade. But whatever it is, it's not compelling, it's not stimulating, and it's not cinema.

The DVD

Video:

The viewer has plenty of time to analyze the three or four static anamorphic widescreen images; the shot-on-video picture is decent if not exciting. Color temperatures and black levels are fine, though some aliasing can be clearly seen on the edges of Lakoff and Penn's sport jackets.

Audio:

With the exception of the music under the opening, it's all interview dialogue, so the 2.0 mix does the job just fine. It's consistently clear and audible, if pitched at a lower-than-average volume.

Extras:

No special features are included, save for a few trailers for other Cinema Libre Studio releases.

Final Thoughts:

Deflating the Elephant: Framed Messages Behind Conservative Dialogue is a disc without much of a discernible audience; the conservatives it targets will certainly stay away in droves, while liberals like myself, while intrigued by the message, will likely be bored to tears. Perhaps it will be helpful to those who would like to audit Lakoff's courses or have been assigned to read his books, but you must admit, that's an awfully narrow demographic.

Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.

Popular Reviews
1. Pee-wee's Playhouse: The Complete Series
2. Gone With the Wind: 75th Anniversary Edition
3. Nightbreed: The Director's Cut
4. 24: Live Another Day
5. Jennifer
6. Penny Dreadful: The Complete First Season
7. Desperately Seeking Susan
8. Avalanche
9. Squirm
10. The First Power


Special Offers
DVD Blowouts
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
Alien [Blu-ray]
Buy: $19.99 $9.99
8.
9.
10.
Special Offers
Release List Reviews Shop Newsletter Forum DVD Giveaways Blu-Ray Advertise
Copyright 2014 DVDTalk.com All Rights Reserved. Legal Info, Privacy Policy, Terms of Use