Thursday, May 26, 2016

The political tale our our time: Josh Kriegman & Elyse Steinberg's riveting, baffling WEINER

Why is the new documentary, WEINER -- about the hoped-for comeback then further implosion of the political career of former congressman and would-be mayor of New York City, Anthony Weiner -- so redolent of the time in which we live? For the simple (or not so) reason that -- unlike, say, the 1970s politician Gary Hart (and so many others) who placed his actual penis inside of someone outside his marriage, was found out by the press (he stupidly taunted them, as I recall) and had his political career destroyed -- Mr. Weiner's wiener, so far as we know, never entered a vagina other than his wife's. His was a "virtual reality" scandal in which nothing more than a photograph of his dick was placed online, by the man himself, for a lady friend (or several) to view and appreciate.

Now, this was every bit as stupid as Mr. Hart's actions, and even if it does not make the man an adulterer, it brands Weiner (shown at right and below) as a wannabe one, as well as someone just a little too stupid -- for all his seeming intelligence and progressive politics -- to be given his constituents' trust and votes. How does something like this happen? Particularly to a man who otherwise would seem to have so much to offer? This is the question, among some other good ones, that filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg (shown below) try to address in their new, eponymously-titled documentary. And it is one that really needs an answer. seeing as how the Internet and its discontents are with us--constantly seducing us--in more and more ways these days.

One can certainly understand how politicians -- who self-aggrandize to the point that they can seem, in the mirror anyway, to be all-powerful -- would use their power to obtain extra-curricular sex whenever possible. But what accounts for doing all this in "virtual reality," a non-place in which the payoff is.... well, what, exactly? On-line masturbation? Or maybe a "sense" of intimacy with (or power over) women you actually don't need to get to know? Clearly, the candidate, while imploding, was in no mood, nor did the situation make it easy, to address the question. At one point in the film, Mr. Weiner seems to think about this and expresses some thoughts regarding the "appeal" and "intimacy" of the Internet. But we need to go much deeper into this subject, and not simply where politicians are concerned. Why do kids post such compromising photos of themselves online? Why did Hillary use an illegal form of email to do government business? The Internet entices us all -- and it is not private, hello! -- with the results of its usage all too often unintended and harmful.

So, other than touching on this important subject, what else do we get from this unusual documentary? The two filmmakers were originally hired to document the candidate's run for mayoral office, and once the campaign began, along with the further revelations of Weiner's "sexting," the filmmakers simply stayed on -- through thick and thin. To his credit (or maybe his hubris), Weiner allowed them to continue filming, and the result is the fly-on-the-wall document we can now view. Alternately surprising, funny but mostly sad, we come to see and somewhat know Weiner, his wife Huma (above, right) and his campaign staff of energetic, likeable kids who care about their candidate and what he stands for.

The documentary, as you may have gathered already, is about as up-close-and-personal as one could get in terms of what is going on, and why. Weiner is smart, articulate and seemingly well-intentioned. We watch him march in parades, talk to the voters, speak on City Island, and even after the further degradations are out of the bag, his words and ideas still resonate. (Hell, even now, I'd vote for this guy over a pompous, phony windbag like Donald Trump -- whose probably tiny dick has undoubtedly been in more out-of-wedlock habitats than those of most politicians.)

Throughout this documentary, the ongoing feeling is one one of sadness for the people and their situation: Here, again, is a gifted, caring politician who lets his cock get the better of his brain until his career implodes. It's the old story in a newer, virtual setting. The results, however, are pretty much the same. "You are there" at each step along the way, and at the end, waste and sorrow reign.

Weiner, from Sundance Selects/IFC Films opened last week in New York and L.A. and goes nationwide tomorrow, Friday, May 27. Here in South Florida, you can see it in the Miami area at The Tower Theater, The Bill Cosford Cinema, and the O Cinema-Wynwood; in Fort Lauderdale it will play at the Classic Gateway.  

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