Quick: What did Sarah Palin say yesterday?
Palin, whose failed vice presidential bid in 2008 resulted in one of the most lucrative and attention-getting careers as a gadfly, has gone oddly silent of late. She seems more seen than heard, stealing thunder at other Republicans’ candidacy announcements or teasingly leading the press on a goose chase along the Eastern Seaboard.
(Mike Lynaugh\Corbis/Courtesy Victory Film Group) - ”The Undefeated,” a documentary about Sarah Palin, is now on pay-per-view.
It’s Palin-as-projection who stars in “The Undefeated,” Stephen K. Bannon’s fawning, oddly bloodless portrait, which never opened in Washington. Instead, it made a brief midsummer tour through theaters in primary states before landing unceremoniously on pay-per-view Thursday. Now, at their convenience, and at a mere $5 a pop, viewers can see for themselves what audiences largely rejected at the multiplex: a tendentious, poorly made infomercial that reduces one of the most charismatic political and media figures of her age to little more than a talking point for far less telegenic talking heads. Love her or hate her, Sarah Palin deserves better.
After a melodramatic prologue, in which Bannon cuts together the most vicious, sexist attacks on Palin during her campaign alongside John McCain, the filmmaker embarks on his larger agenda: setting the record straight about Palin’s remarkable political career — imbuing it with near-spiritual meaning by way of biblical quotes promiscuously strewn amongst the film’s intertitles — and stoking the populist fires for a Palin presidential run in 2012.
So anyone looking for a new and revealing glimpse of Palin — who surely has won as many fans for her reality-TV show and rock-star-like bus tours as her policy positions — will be sorely disappointed by “The Undefeated,” which at least gratifyingly dispenses with fake-candid domestic scenes and tearful reminiscences of hardscrabble early days. Bannon instead starts with Palin’s political awakening, during the Exxon Valdez oil spill, when she first considered channeling her outrage into running for office. She did, becoming mayor of Wasilla in 1996 and governor of Alaska 10 years later.
Bannon doesn’t pretend to be a neutral observer of Palin’s ascent — he’s made documentaries about such conservative touchstones as Ronald Reagan, illegal immigration and the tea party movement. But even if “The Undefeated” isn’t balanced, it provides a valuable service in illuminating Palin’s record during this time, when she genuinely earned that “maverick” title by bucking GOP cronyism, socking it to Big Oil and embarking on projects that, more often than not, enjoyed bipartisan support.
It’s a compelling story — maybe even a shocking one to Palin’s liberal detractors — but it’s too often obscured by the polarized opinions Palin inspired during the 2008 campaign. But it’s related in “The Undefeated” by a series of Palin’s colleagues and staffers from the time, their windy, repetitive tutorials on oil and gas negotiations and legislative sausage-making leavened only by an occasional archival photograph of a meeting or a clip of Palin giving a speech. (“The Undefeated” is un-narrated, although Bannon borrows prodigiously from Palin’s reading of her book “Going Rogue.”)