Proud Canadian Judge Joel Pearce wishes you folks in the States would stop exchanging crappy political "documentaries" for cheap prescription drugs.
"Stop filming me. You're like a head cold."—George W. Bush
How on Earth this disc managed to fall in my lap—a liberal thinking, politically disinterested Canadian—is probably a discussion beyond the scope of this review. Even more odd is that it managed to get produced in the first place. The film itself is a personal video made by reporter Alexandra Pelosi [Ed. note: Daughter of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D, CA), currently leader of the Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives] while she traveled with President Bush (as part of his media corps) during his last campaign. My worry sitting down to watch Journeys With George was that it would be crammed to the brim with political content and Republican propaganda, neither of which interest me in the least. As it turns out, I didn't need to be worried about either of these things. There is virtually no political content in the film whatsoever, and most of the journalists in the media corps seem to be consistently cynical and sarcastic about the campaign itself.
Unfortunately, there are some other problems that prevent this from being what it was seemingly meant to be. In fact, I'm still not sure precisely what its intended purpose is. At times, it seems that Pelosi wants to give us an insider look at what it's like on the American political circuit. The real problem with this approach is that she really isn't a Bush insider at all, being a registered Democrat and generally antagonistic towards Bush throughout the campaign. We don't get enough information about what it's like to travel with the other journalists, other than the occasional clip of everyone whining as they stand in the snow and rain. The other thing that Journeys With George seems to want to be is a vicious look at the political system itself. Pelosi and her colleagues occasionally make some very valid and entertaining comments about the ironic world of politics, but in the end the whole film is just too fluffy and light to be considered a real skewering of the system. Some content would have been necessary in order to make any kind of important statement about the politics. Instead, Pelosi and Bush simply banter back and forth in a somewhat humorous fashion.
Often, Bush doesn't seem to come across as well as he thinks when he's in front of the cameras. This film gives us a chance to see what he's like behind the scenes. In all honesty, he doesn't seem to be much different. He fools around and jokes with his journalist team, but he often doesn't sound as clever as he seems to think he does. Sometimes he makes jokes that really don't make sense at all, or stumbles over his words until he finds the right ones. Mostly, he just comes across as an ordinary small town guy that has way too much fame and media attention for his own good. To be fair, though, I don't think that this film is a very good way to judge anything. The only decent quotation from Bush comes to us second hand in Pelosi's narration, which I think is a problem. Did Bush really say nothing worthwhile in the year that they were together, or did she simply leave those moments out? 79 minutes, while thankfully brief for the audience, is not a substantial amount of time to capture a year-long experience.
The biggest problem with the film is its director. Pelosi has an obnoxious, condescending narration style that bounces back and forth between sickeningly light and mildly sarcastic. Her filming technique is limited by the fact that she is traveling in a large group on bus and train, but the footage often looks quite lousy (with heads being cut off and such), and sounds even worse. A few times subtitles had to be employed so that we can understand what's being said. Some directors are able to do incredible work with just a camcorder and a year to make a footage, but this feels more like Uncle Frank's vacation video that gets hauled out during a family visit. The transfer of this footage is in keeping with the source. It doesn't look or sound great, but you can only expect so much from a camcorder source. As an interesting side note, there is a Spanish audio track, just in case you want to pretend that George Bush is Mexican.
I don't know who Journeys With George is meant for. Big fans of Bush will likely be offended by the comments made by the reporters behind his back throughout the campaign. Viewers interested in the political process will be equally disappointed, as the film has no real purpose and lacks sufficient content to be interesting. It is fluffy and cute, with some reasonably funny moments, so I guess it may appeal to shallow, mindless people who fancy themselves politically-minded. So, if you are shallow and like fluffy movies and want to learn more about the political system, check out this film and have a great time. If you love American politics and get a chance to see it for free, you may want to give it a watch. For the rest of us, the evening news has more compelling and entertaining political footage.
I rule the defendant guilty of wasting an interesting opportunity. Pelosi has permission to keep one copy of the video to show her family in the privacy of her own home, but I am confiscating her camcorder, just in case she is on the campaign with Bush again.
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