What is it about Davis Guggenheim that makes his movies stultifying and soporific?
Is it the subject matter? No one choosing to watch Al Gore talk for 100 minutes should have expected a result other than the sudden desire to go eye-gouging Oedipus on themselves. And that's before the ice caps begin to melt.
An Inconvenient Truth may not have the wild action of, say, Eat Pray Love, but it contains important content and was the guilt-inducing must-see of 2006. But how did Guggenheim manage to suck the wind out of a summit meeting between Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White? That truly takes a master's skill. It Might Get Loud was a great missed opportunity as a film, though the trio shone in the bonus features, thankfully devoid of the director's touch.
What could I have possibly expected from Waiting for "Superman?" It was much heralded, to be sure, but the ailments of our public school system in the hands of Davis Guggenheim? Now where's my copy of Burlesque?
Superman is mostly a yawner, with its plodding pace and droning voiceover making it difficult to focus on the crucial problem of our failing schools. However, there are two items worthy of further comment:
1 - Geoffrey Canada, education reformer, takes the role that Buck O'Neil had in Ken Burns' Baseball. Canada is the focal point, the man who takes us through his crushed idealism as a young teacher to his persistence of purpose that led him to create the Harlem Success Academy. His desire to test his theories in the crucible of the 97 block area most conducive to failure is heroic. It is worth getting to know this man, the superhero he himself waited for as a kid.
2 - The film spends much of its time bemoaning the fact that kids sent through the public school system learn early on, in some cases between fifth and seven grades, that they will not succeed and that there is no point in trying. So what do the best schools do, the Kipp Academies, the Harlem Success Academy, the Seed program in D.C.? They take these children, first graders, second graders, babies really, and have them sit in a gym or auditorium with hundreds of other kids and their families, hoping to hear their name called after its been picked from a box. Or they
have a numerical other in billiard ball form that will slide down a track and signal that one lucky tyke has been chosen to move on to a better future.
Most don't get picked, and we get to watch them cry or grow emotionally distant when they realize they're out of luck. What kind of fucking system can be so cruel? And this is perpetrated by the shining examples of the "kids first" schools. Sure it gives Guggenheim a solid ending to an otherwise sleep-inducing film, but it completely undermines the good work of the model educators the director has put forward.
Alex Gibney's 2009 documentary on the meteoric rise and straight vertical fall of former New York State Attorney General and Governor Eliot Spitzer, Client 9, is a mesmerizing account of how the worst people on Earth go about their daily business. The scum that rose to avenge themselves for Spitzer's assault on their criminality are given the chance to relate their experiences, hypocrisy free. Spitzer is front and center, not particularly sympathetic himself, but amidst the creeps that abound, he's the Dalai Lama.
Watching former New York State Senate President and Majority Leader Joe Bruno, twice convicted on felony fraud charges, rail against Spitzer's persecution and unfair treatment of his noble self, is jaw-dropping. You know the old joke, about the kid who killed his parents. "Have mercy, your Honor, I'm an orphan." That's Joe Bruno.
But he's an altar boy compared to the Wall Street powerhouses that were felled directly by Spitzer when he was a superhero lawman, or came a-crashing down after the klieg lights were focused on their dark of night thievery. The rat-faced "Hank" Greenberg,
former CEO of AIG is Exhibit A in the case against unfettered capitalism. A down and dirty bandit, ousted by his own board when the company's accountants wouldn't certify AIG's financial statement due to Greenberg's fraudulent transactions, "Hank" has the temerity to assert that Spitzer is to blame for the 2008 economic collapse. Why? You can guess - the troubles at AIG, that led to massive government bailouts of the company would never have occurred under Greenberg's watch. Of course, it may be true, as he may have directed AIG to other types of chicanery. Greenberg's ability to ignore his crookedness that pre-dated 2008 is psychopathic. Sure, I may have molested your kid, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't be principal of an elementary school!
Spitzer himself is a flawed mess. Clearly his appearance in the film was part of the massive rehabilitation movement that has resulted in his own show on CNN. Spitzer's comments on his life as hubris and Greek tragedy are a cop out, a way of taking the mundane nature of screwing hookers and elevating it to mythical status. Like the scuzzballs who surround him in the film, Spitzer has an over sized ego, one that results in the occasional third person reference. You hear that and you know you're dealing with a troubled man. His overblown sense of importance permeated his staff. One mentions that Spitzer was on a clear path to becoming the first Jewish President. What world do these people live in?
Look we all want money and we all want sex. What galls me about this motley crew of diseased minds is their unwillingness to look for these things within the confines of existing rules and realities. Was there not enough money to be made legitimately that "Hank" Greenberg had to commit crimes to pad his wealth? Is it not possible for an elected official to serve and not become a felon? Can it be that satisfaction in bed is not possible within a married life?
That's ultimately where I can't connect to these types. Spitzer's story is not about a man who didn't play by the rules he insisted others abide by, or whether his descent was a political hit. Those are interesting points, but not what I derived from Client 9. What I got was a genuine sadness that those who seem to have it all are dissatisfied with their lot and need to break free of societal constraints for more. That's sad.