In 'Feed,' amusing state of our politics

January 11, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

If you are not utterly sick of politics, "Feed," which opens today at the Charles, is an amusing if overlong (even at 75 minutes!) look at the grotesque festival of backslapping and grandstanding by which we elect our presidents.

It's an examination of the New Hampshire primary way back in February of last year, but it's far from the usual Theodore White election-as-race model that dominates journalistic convention; instead, it's a tapestry of amusing, grotesque, edgy intimacies that is less interested in policy differences between candidates than the grubby sameness of trying to get unimpressed and media-jaded working-class New Hampshirites to pull levers or at least shake hands (a terrible woman refuses to shake Bob Kerry's).

"Feed" is fundamentally a phenomenon of editing. With seeming effortlessness, co-directors Kevin Rafferty and James Ridgeway slide among outtakes and satellite feeds to assemble an almost pointillistic portrait of the New Hampshire madness. The idea is to avoid the "official" journalistic images and focus instead on the culls -- the down time between sound bites -- that in many ways are far more revealing.

A recurring motif is that cascade of dreadfully awkward seconds as the candidate stands there, all wired up, with a hopeful if increasingly fragile and desperate smile on his face, waiting for the cameras to cut to him and some perfumed anchorman or correspondent to lob questions his way. The damned smile keeps slipping off in a little fit of nerves, almost like a blob of mercury squirting across the floor! Nobody looks good under these circumstances but surely Tom Harkins looks the worst, like a guy at a Sadie Hawkins dance who's gone untapped the whole night.

Anyone who's ever given a speech that died will squirm with empathy at a sequence where Jerry Brown addresses a high school chemistry class and begins by evoking Marshall McLuhan to a response of utter deadness. "How many of you have heard of Marshall McLuhan?" he persists; not a single hand goes up and you realize that Jerry is dead meat.

It's no surprise that Bill Clinton emerges as the most dynamic of the Democrats; whatever your politics, you've got to admire the way this guy just keeps plunging ahead, no matter how thick the mud.

What I enjoyed most about the film was its evenhanded nastiness: It follows Alice Longworth Roosevelt's dictate, "If you have nothing nice to say about anyone, come sit by me," as it merrily deplores them all, the long and the short and the tall, finding them equally inane and preposterous. It's a wonderful coda to an almost endless year.

FILM REVIEW

"Feed."

Directed by James Ridgeway and Kevin Rafferty.

Released by Original Cinema.

Unrated.

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