Wednesday, November 4, 2009

By the People

I was a little disappointed with the documentary "By the People" which premiered on HBO last night. Although the film did manage to capture some of the behind the scenes flavor of the Obama campaign, it did not show much going on behind the scenes that those of us who followed the campaign closely were not already aware of. Anyone who listened to David Plouffe's numerous videos last year already got an inside view of the campaign's strategies while the campaign was going on. There really wasn't much that was hidden from public view. Another problem with the film, and this is not the filmmakers' fault, was that as characters in a drama, David Plouffe and David Axelrod come across as so low key that they almost drain away the campaign's inherent excitement every time they appear on screen. These are brilliant guys, of course, but they don't exactly light up the room when they walk in. The documentary "The War Room," about the 1992 Clinton campaign, did a better job keeping the excitement going, mainly because the characters of James Carville and George Stephanopolous are a lot more dynamic to watch. Barack Obama, as a behind the scenes character, also comes across as somewhat cool and aloof, and of course more tired than he appears in public. The biggest revelation came from the speech just before election day in which he announced his grandmother's death, where we can now see that a big tear was streaming down his cheek. But in general the candidate's calm manner makes it harder to understand what it was about his campaign that inspired so many people. To do that, the film probably would have needed to include longer excerpts from Obama's speeches, and would also have had to convey a better sense of how refreshing and new his message of hope and inclusiveness sounded, and how strongly it contrasted with the more old-fashioned styles of the Clinton and McCain campaigns.

The main value of the film was its focus on some of the middle-level campaign workers. These are of course the unsung heroes of the campaign, and their commitment and passion shone through. They are the living proof of the Obama campaign's power.

(photo from US News)

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