Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections (2007)

Suppose that you’re a normal, everyday moviewatcher. You’ve seen a few documentaries and now I come to you and ask you to make a documentary your own self. “Who, me?” you say, “What do I know about making a documentary?” “Just give it a try,” I say, and I say, “David Earnhardt did it. This is his first stab at making one. So, your movie will be about voter fraud, like his was. Here’s a camera. Get out there and record some interviews with the sort of folks that you see shopping every day down at the Save N’ Go Supermarket. That is, turn up some interesting folks – folks maybe just a tad peculiar in their views and in their aspect. Then Wiki some voter statistics and find some footage of voters standing in line and, I predict, you will make a movie very like Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections.”

Nothing wrong with that. The movie’s karma is positive. It’s impossible to take a step these days without tripping over an article on voter problems, so you probably won’t learn anything new, but at the movie’s conclusion, Earnhardt urges you to:

1. Contact your representatives in congress.
2. Say no to paperless voting machines.
3. Volunteer to be a poll observer.
4. Volunteer to be a poll worker.
5. Share the film with others.
6. Dialog with others on the subject of voter fraud.
7. Write letters to the editor.
8. Lobby for change.

Good and reasonable urgings for these, our parlous times.

The end credits also serve as a bibliography.

Thus endth my review of the documentary Uncounted.

But now listen. Who do you want to govern you in difficult times? A guy who can’t win an election even when he garners a majority of the legitimate votes cast, or a guy who can turn a handful of votes into a freaking landslide?

There is incontrovertible evidence in the Lascaux cave drawings that before one of the annual cave elections, the Neanderthals stole all the voting clubs and as a result soundly thrashed the Cro-Magnons. The Neanderthal who was thus elected started some unnecessary wars, flubbed local aid after the neighborhood volcano erupted, and caused the cave-dwelling population in general to seriously rethink the whole business of voting-with-clubs technology going forward.

Full disclosure: when I was in the fourth grade, the student who was to do the voice and operate the strings for the Peter Pan puppet in the big school puppet show was to be determined by student vote at an audition. Those of us trying out for the role stood behind a blanket rigged as a screen. We were to read out lines from the Peter Pan script when our number was called. The students on the other side of the blanket, once they heard all of us read, were to vote on the voice that would be Peter Pan. Before we began, I went to the end of the blanket and wrote down my number on a piece of paper and surreptitiously flashed it around the end of the curtain. We then did the readings. Turns out that the voting students didn’t like me. They all voted against the number that I had flashed. However, by dumb luck I had flashed the wrong number and won the vote when all the haters raised their hands for me by mistake. My point here is that vote rigging is rife! Whatever it takes to pull Peter Pan’s strings!

Now let’s suppose that the Republicans stole the ’04 presidential election by flipping 3 million votes, as some claim that they did. This still means that almost half the voters in the U.S. cast their ballots to reelect Bush, after four years of his presidency – after the war, Katrina, the gutting of the EPA, so forth. Can we make an argument here that fraud or no fraud, fix or no fix, if almost half the country voted for Bush in ’04, then the country as a whole deserved what it got throughout his second term? Can we make an argument that one in three citizens in America still likes George Bush and so the country richly deserves what’s coming up next as well?

And by the way, thought experiment: If Michael Moore made Fahrenheit 9/ll today instead of four years ago, how would the movie be different? Bush reading about the bunny rabbit, Katrina, the start of the war – all far in the past now. What the frack has Bush been doing the last four years that would still make Moore’s movie Cannes-Golden-Palm-worthy? If you see Moore, please ask him for me and email me his response at this address. Thank you.

If you do go ahead and make a documentary about voter fraud (votes don’t kill people, voters kill people), and if you are of a conservative stripe, the film will probably focus on voter registration fraud, which according to McCain and Palin threatens to convert the U.S. into a Soviet-style state governed by the spawn of Satan. ACORN, formerly thought of as a minor civil-rights organization, turns out to be an outfit structured along the lines of SPECTRE. If you are of a liberal stripe, you’ll want to warn all black voters that their ballots have already been cast by the central Republican Diebold computer, and that if they actually show up at the polls, they’ll probably be pulled down by Sheriff Crawford’s German Shepherds and dragged off to the county Gulag out beyond the settling ponds.

I mean, if I’m standing there in front of an outsourced computerized voting machine, I’m accepting the fact up front that anything might happen to my vote. The computer might turn it upside down, or right to left, or black to white, or flip it, or delete it, or recycle it, or email it to Kirghizistan, or use it later to have me tracked down like a dog. Far from losing my vote, the computer may never forget or forgive me for it. I’ve seen Idiocracy. Twice. Dumb is stronger than smart and I’ve got history on my side to prove it. Last but not least, there might be a little person hiding inside that machine, operating its lights and whistles. Capture that reality in your film.

And put in gerrymandering. For a nice touch, shoot the exteriors in Gerry, New York (on Route 60).

And while I’m thinking about it, what is it with all those names on the ballots? Why am I voting for a damn judge? And how was I to know that my random selection of school-board members last year would cause natural selection to be tossed out of the grade-school curriculum in favor of that divine Providence who misengineered my lower spinal disks? And what is a county adjuster anyway? Explain to the viewer the steps that should be taken to clean up these ballots. Put all these jobs up for sale.

Also, here’s a hint for you, novice documentary-maker: rather than focusing on the sins of one political party or the other, go find an election that pits two unscrupulous win-at-any-cost types against each other. Gather your information during their campaigning and electioneering, as the attendant payouts and other tricks and frauds and jackanaperies ensue. Work quietly so as to avoid being shot or otherwise disappeared while doing so – and then when the election is over, don’t fail to interview several of the folks who voted a lot – do they plan to spend their money or save it? Will they have a place in the new administration? Etc.

General guidelines:

1. Don’t make the movie in your home state or any state that borders on your home state, to minimize blowback when you screen it.

2. Never admit what you’re doing to the local populace. Your great-uncle Jeter on his deathbed begged you to come to Cletisville to visit and record memories of the town and its old – very old – family memories. Hence your camera and the interviews.

3. Adopt a rural accent.

4. Wear only togs from Walmart.

5. Buy drinks all around, frequently.

6. Never mention the election, but it’s ok to say, “So who is this Bubba Prendergast with his picture up on posters all over town?”

7. Go to church.

8. Don’t talk to anyone with a dark skin, foreign accent, or Asian eyes.

9. Keep your own eyes peeled on election day for ballot stuffing, vote buying, counterfeit votes, disappearing ballots and ballot boxes, scaring the voters, and murder.

For a historical discussion of voter fraud, I refer you to Tracy Campbell’s “Deliver the Vote: A History of Election Fraud, an American Political Tradition—1742-2004.” For an in-depth examination of how to lose a local election and then come back and win the next one, if you know what I mean, I recommend “The Path to Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 1),” by Robert A. Caro. It can’t be beat. For Diebold (not Livebold), Princeton University Exposes Diebold Flaws.

Contest: What’s the craziest conspiricy theory you’ve heard regarding the Bush/Gore, Bush/Kerry, or McCain/Obama election? Prize: Three votes in this year’s special coroner’s election in the town of Pigliver, Texas. (You have to cast one vote in the morning, one vote in the afternoon, and one vote in the evening, using the names Pardee, Pardeux, and Pardoo, respectively.)

Movie recommendation: When it’s all over, go watch Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to restore a little bit of your faith in the country.

Let me conclude this review like any good politician concludes his speeches, whether currently indicted or not: God bless America.

Advertisements

KISS CHEMISTRY

I wrote the following a while back:

“I was watching the poorly-received Over Her Dead Body (2008) the other night, (Rotten Tomatoes = 14%) and enjoying it, when, along toward the middle of the movie, Paul Rudd and Lake Bell realized that they were in love, and smooched. Then, pulling back, Rudd made a little joke about it. Ok, I understand that there is such a thing as a “script,” and that in this romantic comedy, the protagonists are keeping it light, but still… After Bell lays one on him, in a perfect world, wouldn’t Rudd have a few more stars in his eyes? So it occurred to me that his star power, so cool here, maybe was overmatching Lake’s, whereas if he had tried acting cool after a kiss with Angelina Jolie, say, he’d have looked like a schmo. Could it be that when we talk about the chemistry between a man and a woman in a romantic movie, we’re just comparing their relative star powers? If the luminescences match, the kiss works; otherwise, it doesn’t? So that Tom Hanks can’t give or receive a good smooch in his movies because he’s too big, starwise, for his leading ladies? The Fiennes brothers are good smoochers because they consistently hook up with medium-level female stars? Or how about Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in The Notebook (2004) – there’s a star-power match. This requires further research.”

Watching The Proposal (2009) again the other night, I again pondered this kissing thing as Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds were required by the plot to smooch twice. Bullock was 45 when she made the movie, Reynolds 33. Age is never mentioned and Bullock is shot with vaseline on the lens. There is nothing wrong with romance between those of different ages, for sure, and the first Proposal kiss is thrust upon the couple while they still think that they hate each other (but then, after the brief kiss, their brows wrinkle for a moment…), so that kiss doesn’t count so much, chemistry-wise; but their final kiss, when they realize that they’re in love, during that kiss, I couldn’t help thinking that all through the movie, Bullock is presented as trim, youthful, gorgeous, the equal of Reynolds, who doffs his shirt to display his six pack and is in possession of the natural beauty that is the sweet bird of youth, whereas to my eye, knowing what it means to be 45, Bullock could be seen, especially in one moment of one shot, which the film editor probably just missed – just a few frames – to be, indisputably, Reynold’s senior, and I found myself contemplating, instead of the rosy future ahead of this couple in love, their impending frank discussions regarding what it will mean for them to be of different generations (born in the first half of the 60s vs the second half of the 70s), so to speak.

What I’m saying is, in this case at least, age differential took me out of the movie a little during the kissing time. Not so much as in Teacher’s Pet (1958), for example, wherein the concept of creepy kissing is introduced by the 57-year-old Clark Gable (and looking older. Movie stars of the 30s and 40s aged faster, which is one reason why there are a lot more woman working in their 40s and 50s and above today than there were then.) smooching with a 36-year-old Doris Day. Woody Allen/Michael Douglas creepy.

Speaking of being taken out of the kissing moment, when Reynolds and Bullock latch onto each other’s lips in the finale, Reynolds does a little hitch, unlatches, repositions microscopically, and then latches on again. Question: what percentage of the kiss’ chemistry is located in the actual physical technique of the act? If we want the couple to get together enough, does it matter how they osculate? If they osculate exceptionally well, can the act overcome our indifference to their relationship pre-kiss? Which works better onscreen, open-mouthed, close-mouthed, moving-mouthed with obvious tongue action…? And length of kiss… Do those longgg kisses give you too much time for your mind to wander? Geez, a lot of questions.

And btw, for me the best kisses of all are the ones that never quite happen. Bosoms heaving with passion, protagonists panting, panting with desire, but no, they must not, it would be wrong, for whatever reason, and… they don’t do it. I refer you to Scorsese’s Age of Innocence (1993). The Messenger (2009) also generates some heat this way between Ben Foster and Samantha Morgan.

I typed in “kissing in the movies” on YouTube. Watched some “best kissing compilations.” Turns out, who wants to watch kissing? It’s not about the kissing at all. Once the couple kisses, the drama and anticipation are done. It’s the pre-kiss chemistry that counts.

And this just in! Matrix 2, Keanu is confronted by Monica Bellucci, who demands a kiss, as Carrie-Anne Moss stands by and fumes dangerously. We get lip closeups. There is definitely a spark. Compare and contrast this with the scene at the end wherein Keanu reaches into Moss’ binary innards and zaps her digital heart, bringing her back to life, and then, as she gasps like a fish, they go into a clinch. Ok, there was a spark there too, but that heart thing was a little creepy. When I wake up from heart surgery, I never feel like kissing.

And Ninja (2009). What is it with these movies? The dude brings the dudette back to life with the secret potion, her eyes creep open, where am I, and they smooch. And then, spoilers, he takes a break to lop off the bad guy’s head. But you had to figure that, going in.

SHOULD SHE TAKE HER TOP OFF?

A while ago, I read a column somewhere, or a paragraph in a column, maybe after watching Juno, that discussed the current cinematographical fad in which scenes of sexual congress are filmed with the female participant (in the heterosexual case) remaining clothed, in full or in part, above the waist.

Such discreet draping of the bosom would occur in nature, as opposed to in film, in the case of (a) panting sex driven by an onslaught of desire too demanding to allow time for complete disrobement, or even time to unhook that one vital snap in the back, or (b) chilly weather causing a conflict between the heat of passion and the cold of skin, or (c) modesty on the distaff side, or (d) the male partner being what they call in the vernacular “an ass man.”

In the movies in question, however, none of these conditions obtain. The couple is normally young, in love, in the apartment of one or the other and, as a required element of plot development, doing it. I’m watching these lovers, who are sort of under the covers, when the halter top or T-shirt or a bra strap inches into view at blanket’s edge. Is it my duty as a good viewer to suspend my disbelief, whereas, for ninety-nine percent of the straight guys out there, job one is to get that piece of clothing off and get hold of what they call, out on the stoop at 5th and 98th, the ta ta’s?

Who gets a base hit and runs directly to third base without passing first or second? It don’t make sense. You spend your formative years just trying to get a good look at the damn things, never mind handling them, and now I’m supposed to sit here and watch the guy, who is in bed with a freakin movie star, him all smiling or whatever, and he can’t be bothered to pull her shirt off? What is he, a priest?

I’m not saying she should take her top off. Far from it. Back in the day, an actress who exposed her midriff was through, washed up. No InterTubes existed to display Joan Crawford’s mistake to the world. You knew the actresses had them but you were never never going to see them on God’s green Earth, not in this life. Of course all of that has changed now. An actress like Marisa Tomei or Maria Bello will not miss an opportunity to get naked onscreen, but that doesn’t mean everybody has to do it. It’s the actress’s choice.

Having said that, though, why can’t the director tell the couple to keep the blanket pulled up to their ears? What, it’s summer outside and that wouldn’t make sense? Well then, as she rides the guy out in the open, can’t the actress say something like, “I’m leaving my top on, if that’s all right with you, because… because… well, I was badly bitten back when I was developing… and there was an accident with acid… and they just didn’t come in right.” Something like that? You know, an explanation? We might still want to see them, but now for a different reason.