Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Miscellaneous: Report From The Polls

No lines to speak of when I showed up at an off-peak hour. Just a steady influx of voters. A few turned in their absentee ballots in person. Which begs the question: why did you need an absentee ballot if you’re here? I know some people like to vote in the privacy of their own homes. The neighboring state of Oregon now does all of their voting by mail. But I enjoy the ritual of going to the polling place. It underscores the gravity of the task.

I thought about taking the day off from the site, but who am I kidding? I need to keep myself occupied. So herewith, a few posts continuing the day’s theme ...

TV: Soldiers Pay

David O. Russell made this documentary to accompany a planned special edition DVD of his Desert Storm drama THREE KINGS. When Warner Brothers balked, IFC stepped in, scheduling the film for the night before the election.

Russell bites off more than he can chew in 35 minutes. There are two potentially compelling storylines: revisiting the Iraqi-American actors who appeared in THREE KINGS, and reconstructing the theft of Saddam Hussein’s money by U.S. soldiers in a real-life echo of the earlier film’s plot. Both get short shrift so that Russell has room for an unfocused critique of the war. Much as I hate to agree with The Man, Warners was right to drop this movie and let Russell screen it on its own.

DVD: Secret Honor (1984)

Philip Baker Hall’s searing performance in this one-man show about Richard M. Nixon gave him an underground fame long before Paul Thomas Anderson made him one of our premier character actors. Robert Altman brought it to the screen in an ultra-low-budget 16mm production crewed by grad students. Criterion’s DVD gives new life to what critic Michael Wilmington calls “perhaps the least seen and appreciated of all the great American films of the 1980s.”

Nixon, fueled by Chivas Regal and bitterness in the wake of his resignation, rants into a tape recorder about his life. His ravings about the corruption of the system – you mean rich people try to influence politics? – aren’t as interesting as his attacks on Eisenhower and that “whoremonger” Henry Kissinger. Nixon may have been vilified by the left and disowned by everyone on the right except Gov. Schwarzenegger. But he remains a figure of Shakespearean depths, and Hall makes the most of it.

The extras include 81 minutes of archival footage. All of Tricky Dick’s greatest hits are here: the ‘Checkers’ speech, his farewell to the White House staff. Seeing the genuine article only adds to the impact of Hall’s performance.