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By Ray Pride Pride@moviecitynews.com

Sundance Review: The World According To Dick Cheney, After Tiller

The first film I saw at Sundance 2013 was a bitter note, a reckless, infuriating piece of work for Showtime, The World According to Dick Cheney, a credulous, shallow, near-hagiography of the former vice president’s decades-long political scheming and proud lying. Built around four days of interviews, Cheney, in this incarnation—the filmmakers say they have the DVD extras to enhance the historical record where the film does not—is told from his perspective. The first hour, narrated by Dennis Haysbert (“24″) with all the gravitas of a quick day session, suggests that Cheney’s entire life was willed, as if a fated life narrative were unfolding before us. Cheney is decisive. Cheney rises above being thrown out of Yale and multiple drunk-driving arrests to become Cheney. Cheney was fated to be Cheney. That’s the level of background provided.

The film is fixed on the force of his crude personality and drive to power. The cut-rate melodramatic score is most pronounced during Cheney’s braggadocio about 9/11, and accompanied by a grab bag of archival footage, endorses his perspective, whether intentionally or not. The very fabric of the filmmaking seems to underline and endorse his every pronunciamento. Turning to wars, the film quickly becomes “Zero Dick Thirty.” Decisiveness! Forget the law! Forget treaties! Cheney is also reprehensible in its innocuousness: reverence toward an elected official turns into something beneath the sorry level of contemporary network news-gathering. While there are terse sound bites from journalists (all of whom are lit to look as geeky as possible), the key interview, done by the filmmakers, is on the level of David Gregory or Oprah, with as many follow-up questions as on a Sunday morning conventional wisdom show. (One? Two? I don’t think it goes higher than that.) It’s even weaker tea than when network interlocutors steep in the proximity of power or vast wealth. (Coincidentally, the film premiered at the same time Oprah’s suddenly visible cable channel offered Lance Armstrong and Oprah a chance to cry a river over the phony athlete’s lost endorsement tens of millions.) No mention of Cheney’s military record, no mention of the Halliburton financial deal that enriched him even into the vice-presidential mansion. All you’re left with is unique access. Four hours of my time to broker platitudes about a lifetime of being closed-off and controlling: what will you do for me, Showtime? We see the answer Cheney got to that question. His bright-eyed grimace when he offers smug, superior, dismissive, clunkily-formed, unfunny one-liners, is the failed film’s high point. Or, perhaps, its only point. Did I mention that Dick Cheney single-handedly saved America and we ought to be grateful for all his fateful acts? History awaits a skeptical portrait.

The next film, a documentary, made for a schizophrenic double feature: the tender, melancholy yet emphatic observational doc, Martha Shane and Lana Wilson’s After Tiller, which follows the work done by the last four doctors who perform third-trimester abortions in this country, all who knew or worked with murdered doctor George Tiller, who was gunned down in a Kansas church in 2009. In its quiet way, it’s an advocacy doc to uphold the law of the land: despite a crazy quilt of state regulations, what they do is legal under federal law. The providers discuss the implications of the acts they perform and the reasons several have continued far past retirement age in their calling. (It’s bracing to hear the word “terrorist” correctly applied to acts of intimidation that include murder and firebombing.)  The position of the filmmakers is never in doubt, but in detailing the daily choices, acts, and emotions, Shane and Wilson have made an assured, incisive humanistic nonfiction film to admire.

One Response to “Sundance Review: The World According To Dick Cheney, After Tiller”

  1. Sam E. says:

    I don’t find a film supports Dick Cheney’s worldview to be a valid artistic criticism. Whatever, you think of him the man does have a life story well worthy of a documentary and this review does very little to convey whether or not the documentary was worthy of that story. Also, I have to seriously wonder how often you’ve seen Mr. Gregory or if you just glibly assume that network news shows cater to the lowest common denominator.

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“You can’t make films about something the audience knows nothing about. The trick is getting the audience to tell their own stories in the story so that they know what will happen. And then, just before they get bored, you must surprise them and move the story in a new direction.”
~ Mogens Rukov

“In some parts of the world, for instance among intellectuals in Italy, you do still feel the need to defend entertainment – where there is still a commitment to a certain traditional left realist project, or the ideas of Brecht or Godard and so on. But in Great Britain and North America and many parts of Europe, no, I don’t think there is a need. The question is: is there such a thing as entertainment anymore? That’s what I am not sure about. Entertainment is very much posited upon an idea of escape. When I started thinking about entertainment people would say things like ‘It takes you out of yourself’, or ‘It takes your mind off things’. And of course people still have problems, but there was very much the sense then that most of life was hard but you had entertainment to take you away from it for a bit. While now, because of all sorts of changes, you can listen to music anywhere you go all the time – and even choose the music, not just accept the music that is there. That sense of a gap between a bad life and something to escape into has disappeared or is greatly diminished. I don’t know whether that is a good or a bad thing but it changes the nature of entertainment. In that sense I would no longer know what I would then be defending. That despising of the popular, that despising of what is enjoyable, may still be there, but it is not a discourse that has so much weight anymore.”
~ Critic-Academic Richard Dyer On “Entertainment”

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