Friday, November 18, 2016

One doc I don't think I'll be able to watch

Identifying the narrative films I need to see each year is pretty easy. Many of them come with advanced hype, or with actors, directors or screenwriters whose next project I'm anticipating.

It's a bit different with documentaries. I want to have a decent number of them on my year-end list as well, but I tend to learn about them more by positive word of mouth, which is an inexact science at best. And as I've discussed in the past, some documentaries are difficult to classify as legitimate, theatrical documentaries, the type I usually include in my rankings. Even really good documentaries often debut on platforms that remove them from consideration according to the criteria I use, to a greater extent than their fiction counterparts do.

But each year there are a good half-dozen of what I will call "zeitgeist documentaries," which are documentaries that are just so generally known and talked about that I consider them must-haves for my list.

One of those for 2016, for example, is Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg's Weiner, the account of the political downfall, attempted comeback, and second political downall of disgraced congressman Anthony Weiner.

In light of real-world events, though, I don't know how I'm going to be able to bring myself to watch it.

Certainly not by the middle of January, and possibly not ever.

You see, more than any other film that has come out or will come out in 2016, Weiner will be intrinsically linked to Hillary Clinton's surprise and still-shocking loss in the presidential election.

It's hard to say how much Weiner the man was directly responsible for that. But in a phone call to major donors last weekend, Clinton attributed her loss to the new investigation of her emails. The data told her team that that investigation played a major role in making up the minds of undecided voters in the final ten days of the campaign. It was an unrelated investigation of Anthony Weiner's laptop that gave FBI director James Comey the pretext he needed to cast a shadow of doubt over Clinton, at the worst time possible.

Weiner is, of course, the husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin, who is finally, wisely, tragically belatedly, cutting the guy loose. Her use of his polluted laptop provided the possibility that it contained damning emails in which U.S. security information was handled carelessly.

Anthony Weiner was supposed to be remembered as a joke. Now he will be remembered as a tragedy.

Weiner has always served as an embarrassment to Democrats from the first time his dick pics got him in trouble. But it was a funny sort of embarrassment, nothing that crushed our souls. We laughed him off as a disastrous politician, a disastrous human being, not a disastrous Democrat. Not a person who had the potential to play a role, however small, in bringing our democracy to its knees. We lapped up the jokes by talk show hosts and the clever puns related to his name, particularly clever in light of what he was accused of. We laughed at it in the moment and expected to always be able to look back on it and laugh.

Now that's all tainted.

And I argue that the context for watching the movie needs to be one of levity. I'm not watching Weiner in order to contemplate the unimaginable chain reaction stemming from one idiot politician so sex addicted that he can't stop sexting, sometimes to underage girls. I'm watching Weiner to gasp at a person's own self-destructiveness, and probably to keep going that good-time vibe of the talk show jokes and puns.

Now that Weiner has not only destroyed himself, but taken the rest of us down with him, I don't know that I can watch that happening on film. It's too damn depressing. I'm trying to escape from reality right now, not languish in its oppressive throes.

It's been a theme this fall, having to sacrifice future jokes that we thought we had in the bank. Think of anything ridiculous Donald Trump ever said or did during the campaign. Remember how much fun those were going to be to remember in a year or two? Wasn't that going to be great? Weren't we going to remember Alec Baldwin's Trump impersonations on Saturday Night Live with relish and joy? Once that orange fascist had been sent back permanently to his ivory tower, to lick his wounds?

Weiner is ruined, Trump's hilariously inept campaign is ruined, and frankly, our country feels ruined too.

Maybe when a new president is elected on November 3, 2020, a Democrat who promises to repudiate the hatred and awful policies of the previous four years, when it's clear we can pick up the pieces and go forward with a new majority coalition that will pave the way for a better world, maybe then I will consider watching this supposedly very good documentary.

Either that, or I'll just shrug and say "What the fuck" and watch it on my plane ride to America next month.

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