In 1831 a young French aristocrats, Alexis de Tocqueville, arrived in the United States. He traveled the young country to see how their experiment in democracy functioned. When he returned to France, Tocqueville published a book about what he saw and experianced, "Democracy in America." This book is required reading in many college classes today. Many of its critiques and observations are still valid.
In The Party's Over, filmmakers Rebecca Chaiklin and Donovan Leitch follow host Philip Seymour Hoffman on a similar odyssey across America looking at democracy. Filmed in 2000, Hoffman attends the Democratic and Republican national conventions, as well as the conventions of the Christian Coalition, the Green Party, the Shadow Convention, and others. He talks to such diverse people as Robert Reed, Willie Nelson, Michael Moore, and Eddie Vedder. He talks to protesters at the conventions and home town activists from across the country. He looks at how the democratic process is (or isn't) working in America today.
When I heard about this film, my first thought was of Michael Moore. He has made a career out of similar types of movies putting people on the spot and highlighting what he believes are injustices in our society. I figured this would be a film in a similar vein. I was wrong. It struck me early on in watching the movie, that everyone involved was trying to be neutral. To a very large degree they succeeded. Hoffman attends a gun show and lets the dealers there explain why more gun regulations are not needed. He does not goad them or ask them leading questions. He doesn't quote gun death statistics at them. He just talks with them. He then goes to the "Million Mother March" where many people spoke out in favor of gun control. Again, they are not confronted about their beliefs, just given the opportunity to say how they feel.
The movie is not totally neutral, it would be impossible to make something that every side thought was fair. There are more interviews with liberal protesters than with their conservative counterparts. This is mainly because there are not many conservative groups that protest. In an interview with Barney Frank, the Democratic representative from Massachusetts points out that the NRA is one of the most effective special interest groups in the country, yet they never hold protests. As he noted, when liberals get upset they march in the streets, when conservatives get angry they vote people out of office.
The most interesting thing about this documentary is how similar the Democrats and Republicans sounded. When Hoffman asked a delegate to the Democratic National Convention why she wanted a Democrat in the White House, she gave almost the same reasons Republicans gave: they will improve education, bring dignity back to the White House etc.
There was a segment of the film dealing with the death penalty. They showed many people protesting Bush's frequent use of capital punishment. They did not give much time to people who support its use. Then they cut to a presidential debate where Bush was defending his record on that subject, and Al Gore was asked how he felt. He admitted that he was in favor of the death penalty too. The moderator, Jim Lehrer held his hands up and asked "What's the difference?"
Which is related to another theme of the movie: The two major parties are not inclusive. There are a lot of people who are not represented, and a lot of important issues that are not discussed at all. Women, minorities, young people are not to be found in either party except as tokens. Drugs and the rising prison population are just never mentioned. It's as if these problems don't exist.
The film does not follow the candidates around the country. They are not the focus. It's on the people the support them and those who are active in politics that Hoffman is interested in. After the conventions, it fast forwards to election day, and then has a brief segment on the recount vote in Florida.
The main point of the film is to make people contemplate the political
system we have in the US. And it does that very well at that.
In showing so many activists of all different stripes, the film was almost
daring you to go out and do something if you don't like what your seeing.
After all, the people in the film did.
The Party's Over was released by Film Movement. This company buys the rights to independent and foreign films, and then releases them theatrically and on DVD at the same time. To be eligible for purchase, a film have to have been entered into competition at one of the major film festivals. Most that they aquire have won awards. Since these are small art house films that not everyone is able to see, it distributes them to a wider audience. Each DVD contains a short and other extras. Making it an attractive package for those who like independent film.
Film Movement DVDs are released monthly, and only available by subscription. (Past DVDs are available through their web site at a higher cost.) This cuts out the middle man and also allows them to have a good estimate of the number of DVDs that they will sell for each title. It is a very good idea, and one that I hope fares well. The subscription rates are very reasonable.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. There are no subtitles and no alternate languages. The sound varies but is generally very good. In some of the crowded convention scenes there is a lot of noise, and it's hard to hear. The background noise in some scenes gets distracting, but there really isn't anything the film makers could have done about it, given the circumstances under which it was filmed.
The film is widescreen but it is not anamorphic. I think it is a disgrace that Film Movement does not release their DVDs enhanced for 16:9 televisions. The people they are targeting, independent and foreign film buffs, are the people most likely to want an anamorphic disc.
Other than that, there were some digital artifacts, but they didn't jump out at you. Horizontal lines flickered as the camera moved perpendicular to them, and horizontal lines had a stair step effect. It was not as bad as many DVDs though. The dreaded edge enhancement is present, but not to a great extent. In some scenes it is more apparent than others, but it never gets annoying.
The colors were okay, not bright and dynamic, but not faded and dull. Given the subject matter it was appropriate.
The Film Movement discs I've seen have very nice in terms of extras. This is no exception.
There is one thing that was very negative about the disc though: Before the movie, there is an unskipable commercial, almost two minutes long, for Film Movement. They disable all the buttons (except "menu") so you can not fast forward or skip to the next chapter. I thought this was a strange thing to do, since most people who watch the DVD will be familiar with the company already. Film Movements does not allow their movies to be rented, so that can't be the reason either. I was very disappointed in this.
Interviews: Three extended interviews with Michael Moore (7 minutes,) Eddie Vedder (3 ½ minutes,) and Billy Baldwin (5 ½ minutes.) These were good extras to include. Moore's interview was the most interesting.
Commentary: Full length audio commentary by host Phillip Seymour Hoffman and producer/co-director Rebecca Chaiklin. I am always glad when a commentary track is included on a DVD, and I've heard a lot of them. This one isn't the greatest, but isn't a disaster either. The two filmmakers are able to espouse a little bit more than they did in the film, and flesh out some of the ideas that they illustrated in the movie. It doesn't add to much, since they did a good job of covering things in the film itself. Much of the commentary sounds like old friends reminiscing, which I guess it is. "Do you remember when we filmed that?" gets asked a lot. There are several long pauses. It was a good thing to include on the disc, but it doesn't add much to the film.
Short: Eau: This 12 minute short from Belgium was directed by Dominique Standaert. It is shot in black and white and takes place in the Congo in 1960. Two people, and white Belgian man and a black native woman are trying to flee a country in the throws of war.
This short is excellent. You feel the confusion and uncertainty the characters do. It is beautifully filmed and well paced, it is worth seeking out.
The dialog to this short is in French and English. Unfortunately, there are burned in subtitles for the French portion, and none for the English. I can not think why they did not have removable subtitles to this film. It would have been very easy to do, and would have improved the disc.
Other Extras: The disc also contains a trailer for the feature, and one for Ginger and Cinnamon, the next DVD in the series. There are text biographies of the host and directors.
I'm starting to like Film Movements. I wish they would spend a
little bit more time on encoding, and release their films enhanced for
16:9 screens, but they are still
As far as the movie's attempt to get people interested and involved in politics, I'm not sure how well it succeeds. You have to have a certain interest in politics to begin with to even watch the film. The movie isn't exciting and dynamic, but then again politics isn't either. Even if it does not totally succeed, it is a very good effort.
If you are a political junky, this movie is highly recommended.
Recommended to anyone who is slightly interested in how our country works.