Feature: Limited-Release Sarah Palin Film ‘The Undefeated’
CHICAGO – Spending nearly two hours with Sarah Palin, midday on a Saturday, is a questionable use of time at best, especially when not an admirer of the half term governor and defeated vice presidential candidate. Producer Stephen Bannon creates an irony with the title of the Palin documentary, “The Undefeated,” but supporters don’t seem to notice.
The screening room at the Gene Siskel Film Center was divided between the Tea Party member audience (or self proclaimed “Palinistas”) and members of the film press. The presentation was sponsored by the self-proclaimed “Kelly Truth Squad,” run by Chicago south sider William J. Kelly. I got the impression he wants to be a bombastic Fox News style pundit, but he came off more nervous and unfunny, especially as he kept repeating a comment that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was only giving him a permit for two hours of “truth.”
Next up was Stephen Bannon, producer and director of “The Undefeated,” and he actually came off as somewhat reasonable. He insisted that he did the documentary on his own, through his production company, and that no outside money – especially from Palin’s political action committee – was involved. He was a bit impatient at the Q&A afterward, not letting the Tea Party participants speechify without asking a question, even though he talked on and on to keep the questions to a minimum – an old politician’s trick. He was measured in his remarks, preferring to stay away from partisan issues and focusing on how Sarah Palin is truly a wondrous leader.
But in the actual documentary, he focused not on the media’s reporting of Palin (and let’s face it, for every Katie Couric “what do you read?” incident, Palin could appear on Fox News to say whatever she wants), but on what Hollywood figures and comedians say about her. What do they have to with politics or policy? It was just a way for Bannon to shock the faithful with the crass “us against them” stuff yet again.
Photo credit: Victory Film Group
And if you like documentaries about Alaskan policy wonking, then the first hour of “The Undefeated” is for you. Palin is uplifted by her life in Alaska, and she did go from mayor of Wasilla (”Landslide Win,” the film proclaims, which meant she won 600 of the town’s 1,000 votes) to the governor’s office, but the film isn’t convincing in why she would work on a national stage, simply by negotiating an oil pipeline. She has shown through her actions that she is highly partisan, I can’t imagine her reaching to the other side unless it was to gain more power.
Her rise to the national stage is slighted. Bannon’s film tries hard to convey that before the economic collapse of 2008, McCain/Palin was poised to take the White House (polls, so reliable). But once the collapse of the campaign occurs, the ramifications of the defeat are not explored. I know this is The Undefeated, but wouldn’t a more careful analysis on why the opposite defeat took place help the argument more? And her reasons for giving up her governorship is even more disingenuous. She didn’t want to distract the citizens of Alaska with the many ethic charges against her. My feeling is she didn’t want to distract herself from the mountains of cash she potentially could make selling Sarah Palin.
Sarah Palin is also a victim of the “lamestream” media, according to the documentary’s thesis, yet no media outlets are shown (just the comedians, and Palin is the equivalent of striking a vein of gold). This gets so tiresome given that there is a 24/7 news channel dedicated to bringing down a Democratic president. If you think it’s bad now, Sarah Palin, could you imagine if a whole cable news channel was against you? Her carefully coifed hair would un-poof.
Another serious flaw in the film was the use of fake footage to make points. Fat cats with big cigars represented Palin’s enemies. Money was being chopped, burned and thrown. Lions hunted their prey, to represent anyone who would boo-hoo poor, victimized Sarah Palin. It weakens the presentation when filmmakers have to mainly resort to such tactics, and allows the observation that the film is simply propaganda.
Photo credit: Victory Film Group
Sarah Palin is as much an image, manipulated, bought and paid for by several political movements (the Republicans, the Tea Party, her political action committee) whose fairness on women’s rights would fit in a thimble. During the Alaska wonk scenes, the Tea Party audience was sitting in mute silence. When the pundits (including the “lesbian” Tammy Bruce – Bannon’s description – and the conservative partisan bagman Andrew Brietbart) were simply telling the followers what they wanted to hear, the applause was deafening.
It was telling that the speech that Palin gives in the end of “The Undefeated,” full of empty platitudes and oft repeated talking points, did not synch up her mouth movements with the soundtrack. The words symbolically fell out of her in an ill timed manner, distracting and without rhythm. Still, the Palinistas applauded, and the resultant sound reminded me of one hand clapping.