Judge Michael Rubino thought about running for president, but then reconsidered after listening to that Alice Cooper song.
Our review of Feed, published August 1st, 2006, is also available.
A Comedy About Running For President
Just in time for the 2008 Presidential elections, Feed provides a raw, unglamorous look back at the 1992 Presidential Primary in New Hampshire. It's a surprising, oftentimes subtle documentary that follows some of the major candidates as they try to win the nomination of their respective parties.
Facts of the Case
Color bars appear on screen and the faint, distorted voice of President George H. W. Bush can be heard amidst the snow. Soon, the sound clears up and the picture chimes in, but the President is just sitting there…Welcome to the world of Feed, a documentary designed to show politicians at their most vulnerable: when they're not on the air. They twiddle their thumbs, blow their noses, and talk about stupid stuff (Surprise! They're just like the rest of us).
The film is book-ended with the incumbent President Bush (only Herbert Walker Bush makes an appearance in this movie) as he prepares for a television address. He jokingly reminds the film crew that "this isn't Dana Carvey, this is the real thing." Directors Kevin Rafferty (The Atomic Cafe) and James Ridgeway quickly introduce many of the recurring characters, which include Pat Buchanan, Paul Tsongas, Jerry Brown, and Bill Clinton. About half of the film's footage was taken from television feeds that broadcast to studios before the candidate actually goes on the air. So while the personality waits for the broadcast to begin, they are forced to just sit there, testing their microphones, touching up their make-up, and practicing their lines.
When the film isn't showing us hijacked video feeds, it's out on the campaign trail, documenting stump speeches and press events. The chronology of the New Hampshire primary advances along with the film, and the occasional newscast is thrown in to keep us up-to-date on what's happening in the polls.
The film was originally released back in October of 1992, a month before the Presidential election.
On occasion, the average couch potato may catch a glimpse of a news feed screw-up. Like a televised car chase or a someone getting hurt during a live infomercial, it's a fantastic and uplifting moment during the otherwise mundane and orderly television viewing experience. These kinds of glimpses remind us how fake even the news can be—and how real politicians are, too. Feed is an overdose of TV mess-ups that amount to a unique and hilarious documentary.
On the very basic level, Feed is like watching a Presidential blooper real on America's Funniest Home Videos. There is a base satisfaction involved with seeing people who wish to lead the country twiddle their thumbs in front of a camera. It's a situation that would provoke the same mind-numbing response from almost anyone, but seeing men who are usually charismatic and calculated go through it is just way more fun to watch.
Beyond the surface-level humor of, say, Governor Bill Clinton suddenly hacking up some throat-gunk before going on the air, Feed places the audience in the position of a voyeur. At times, I couldn't help but feel uncomfortable watching these people just sit there, quietly waiting. Just the way the movie begins, with the feed of President Bush breaking in through the snow and color bars, felt like a free-loader catching an image while watching scrambled Cinemax. Of course, instead of Cinemax, the voyeur finds a time capsule of early-90's politics. Watching candidates like Jerry Brown and President George Bush through this lens dehumanizes them. As they stare in to space, awaiting their cues, you can't help but wonder what's going on in their heads; and yet every small gesture or twitch that they make feels so significant that it can feel like torture.
An entire movie of these awkward moments would be unbearable, so they are merely interspersed between various other aspects of the political campaigns. It's not clear how the filmmakers acquired these parts of the film (if I had to guess from the change in film quality, I'd say they shot it themselves) but it helps to flesh out the story of the New Hampshire Primary. One scene has Pat Buchanan being interviewed on the set of a TV talk show, which is located in a hallway under a stairwell next to some Coke machines. The audience would never see that on television, and instead might believe that the show actually took place in a large studio with a live audience and an actual budget. Another scene finds Paul Tsongas being upstaged at his own press event by the arrival of Sam Donaldon, who got there a little late. And I had a sense of deja-vu watching extensive scenes of Hillary Clinton out meeting and greeting on the campaign trail. With YouTube and 24-hour cable news channels, a film like this wouldn't be that interesting today, but seeing all this footage from back in '92 is a nice reminder that the system of elections is very much the same as it ever was.
The progression of a story, and the ideas encapsulated in the images presented by Rafferty and Ridgeway, is done without any sort of narrative or obvious intervention by the filmmakers. What I mean is, they are able to make a statement about the the theatrical chaos of politics without standing in front of a camera and ranting, or confronting people on the street a la Michael Moore (Sicko). The movie also seems to do a good job at remaining fairly balanced, giving plenty of awkward face time to both Republican and Democratic candidates—the filmmakers even caught a little of Ross Perot, to boot! The film is hardly alienating, but rather invites everyone to see the strange underbelly of modern American political campaigns.
From a technical standpoint, the movie is about as good as it needs to be. It essentially looks like you are watching a videotape from 1992, and I don't know if the movie would be as effective if it were cleaned up and polished for DVD. Again, it retains that gritty voyeuristic aura about it because of the grain, the fuzz, and the sound problems. So while I ultimately have to write that the movie has poor video and sound quality, that certainly isn't a bad thing.
The video and sound quality may be excusable, but the complete lack of special features is not. This is the kind of movie that would greatly benefit from some director's commentary or deleted scenes. I would love to hear what Rafferty and Ridgeway had to say about their experience putting these clips together, and exactly how they got their hands on these "feeds." They also had to have more footage than what was in the movie, and it would be interesting to see what they decided to leave out. This is the first time Feed has been released on DVD, and it's no coincidence that it is coming out around the time of the next Presidential Primary; so why not give it a little more pizzaz? Even the menu is bare-boned: the "Play Movie," chapters, and "other trailers" buttons are all one a single menu.
Unlike a lot of political documentaries, Feed isn't immediately trying to convince you of anything; rather, it is appeals to both the cynics and the politicos. If you like politics and campaigns, you'll enjoy seeing some pretty funny behind-the-scenes instances from a bygone era of campaigning. Or, if you think all politicians are self-interested fake-o's, then you'll probably get a kick out of this as well. Feed is also a great relic of the early-90s, right down to the quality of the video.
The major downside to this release is the complete lack of special features. Considering that it took this long for this movie to get released on DVD, don't hold out for any sort of double-dip.
GUILTY of being a documentary that finally makes a point without shoving it down your throat.
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