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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Journeys with George
Journeys with George
HBO // Unrated // February 24, 2004
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted February 18, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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Journeys with George (2002) is like a college student's independent study project gone horribly wrong. What might have been a weighty documentary zeroing in on any number of issues is instead overwhelmingly trivial, cloying to the point of madness.

The 75-minute film features its co-director, 29-year-old Alexandra Pelosi, a former segment producer with NBC News and the daughter of a Democratic representative. The documentary follows her as she joins the Bush press corps for the year or so leading up to his controversial "election" as the 43rd President of the United States. Most of the time, the media covering the Bush campaign seem to do little more than freeze their tails off on some runway in Iowa and elsewhere looking for that 15-second sound byte to broadcast to the nation. The rest of the time Pelosi and the other members of the press lead a mundane existence, traveling from city to city on buses, trains, and planes, eating generic turkey sandwiches and Cheetos, often boozing it up in the back of the bus to escape the general boredom.

About a third of the way into the picture, Pelosi offers what she describes as a "full disclosure," admitting that she's a registered Democrat, and indeed has come from a long line of left-leaning politicians. Why she bothers to do this is unclear, as Journeys with George has no political perspective at all; it is perhaps the most innocuous, apolitical documentary of all-time.

"It's my job to maintain my network's relationship with the candidate," Pelosi casually (and sadly unashamedly) admits in her narration, without additional comment. To say that her relationship here, with the Bush Machine, is superficial would be a gross understatement. Indeed, she makes Larry King look like the epitome of hard-nose journalism. One reporter calls Bush a "bad speaker," but rightly marvels at how "truly gifted [he is] at shaking hands." After clumsily attempting to ask Bush a single substantive question (about capital punishment), Pelosi is like a fallen rider too frightened to get back on her horse. Instantly, Pelosi becomes a dead weight, a journalistic non-entity, with all pretenses at anything like serious journalism thrown out the window. Time to have some fun! Now more a mascot that a documentarian, she jokes with Bush (and he with her) in a kind of faux father-daughter/uncle-niece sort of way. But now it's with an unwritten rule: no probing questions, no serious discussion about anything at all.

What might have been a high point in the film, Pelosi casting her absentee ballot aboard a press corps plane as Bush tries to win her over, instead is mired with the same insistence on both sides not to be serious, even for a single moment.

At the very end of the documentary someone contrasts how Al Gore's press corps maintained an adversarial relationship with its subject, while Bush "charmed the pants off" everyone. (Pelosi doesn't seem to understand perhaps she more than anyone fell victim to this.) Belatedly they wonder if maybe they weren't doing their job. The film goes a long way to support this. Initially bored with the repetition of Bush's speeches and the same white bread supporters (who carry "hand-made" campaign signs actually mass-produced courtesy the Republican war chest), the press corps quickly turn the backs of buses and airliners into one long party, where Happy Hour never seems to end. (Bush, however, sticks to Buckler's.) They give each other birthday parties, and make faces into the lens of Pelosi's ever-present camcorder.

And boy, do they make faces. Hardly a minute goes by before Bush or some member of the press smirks, bats their eyes, sticks out their tongue, or otherwise vamps for the camera. After a while, when one realizes that's all there is, it becomes maddening. In the end, Journeys with George is a documentary about nothing, its makers incapable of asking important questions, its subject too good at presenting exactly the image it wants to project.

Video & Audio

This HBO presentation, shot on video, is presented in flat standard format, 1.33:1 full screen with your basic English stereo mix and no subtitles. A mono Spanish track is also offered. There are no extras.

Parting Thoughts

Journeys with George is not completely without interest. It does capture the daily grind of the campaign trail well, at least from the perspective of an outside journalist manipulated into shapeless putty. Peripherally it also documents Bush's transformation from grinning good ol' boy to self-aware, image conscious, deer-in-the-headlights stiff. But after 75 minutes of reporters and politicians making faces at Pelosi's video camera, one can't help but ask what's the point?

Stuart Galbraith IV is a Los Angeles and Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf -- The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. He is presently writing a new book on Japanese cinema for Taschen.

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