Sunday, May 25, 2008

Reliving Recount, Thanks, HBO

Jonathan Chait has been a favorite writer over at The New Republic ever since he penned, Go Already!, explaining why she didn't have a chance after Texas and Ohio, and which I wrote about here (on my birthday - mid-March).

Now he engages in a discussion the producer and writer of Recount, airing tonight on HBO at 9 pm. (Subtitle is The future of the nation was hanging by a chad). Two radio segments over at NPR here, the second, longer (14 1/2 minutes) one is much better.

What a thing to remember on Memorial Day weekend....That fall saw the onset of my illness, and though bedridden, I vividly remember being riveted by the news, legal arguments and politics of those 36 days. I remember being grateful at least something of import and interest was on the cable news channels.

Here is Chait's best insight:
The recount was the moment when the Republican Party fully realized that, beneath the still-imposing edifice, the old institutions had rotted away and could be brought down with a few swift blows.

Yet the Democrats still believed in the power of the establishment and its ideals. This is a major theme of Recount. Al Gore and his lieutenants agonized about their reputation, their duty, and winning the approval of The New York Times, while Republicans saw the episode as a pure street fight. The Republicans were teeming with rage and paranoia, well-captured in the movie by the "Brooks Brothers Riot" and the bitter commentaries of GOP recount lawyer Ben Ginsburg. This was the political culture of the moment. Liberal editorial pages studiously urged both sides to fight fair, while conservative organs like the Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard printed deranged conspiracy theories and urged Bush to do whatever it took to win.

His one criticism of the film:
How did you not include the scene where John Bolton burst into a Tallahassee library and announced, "I'm with the Bush-Cheney team, and I'm here to stop the count!"? That always struck me as the most cinematic moment of the whole episode.
Here's Director Jay Roach's money quote:

Late in pre-production, Danny Strong and I went to Washington, D.C., and interviewed Brad Blakeman, a very charming, intelligent spinmeister in Florida depicted in the film. He was, by his own account, the man at least partly behind "Sore Loserman," "Surrender Gorethy," "The Gorinch Who Stole the Election," and other demonstration characters and stunts that appeared at rallies outside the Florida Supreme Court and outside counting centers throughout the 36 days of the recount...Blakemean also said he helped organize the edgier "Brooks Brothers Riot" from his roving RV office in Florida...this protest..succeeded in intimidating the canvassing board, who shut down the recount right after the protests, even though the board had approved the counting earlier.

Fascinatingly for me, Blakeman told us there was a very deliberate effort by the Republicans in Florida to "act more like Democrats," and to take a page out of the book written by the left-wing protestors in the '60s who used protests and street theater to inject turmoil and chaos into established political processes to make them look flawed, corrupt, or "preserve the victory," the Republicans this time had to preemptively take to the streets and make the recount seem messy, chaotic, and even dangerous to the country. The hope was to prevent the recount from flipping the victory to Gore, and if it did, to make the recount's results seem illegitimate.

Screenwriter Danny Strong cites A Lion in Winter as inspiration:
A strong argument against any sort of comic tone is that this film chronicles too important an event in American history for any levity. It is a reasonable argument, but ultimately I felt this approach would diminish the power of the film. My personal feeling is that comedy enriches drama. By creating a contrasting tone, drama becomes more fully realized because comedy gives the drama a deeper hole to be mined from. A great example of this is the film/play The Lion in Winter, by James Goldman. It is an historical drama documenting the power struggle between Henry II and his scheming sons for his throne. Brimming with wit, the film is one of the funniest movies I've ever seen, and by maintaining a witty tone, it makes the drama sing with raw emotion and intensity. This is what I was hoping to achieve with the Recount screenplay.
To read the full text of Roach and Strong's response, click here.

'til 9 pm, then.

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