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By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 14, 1992


Kevin Rafferty;
James Ridgeway
Not rated

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In this heady political season, even the most arcane information about campaigns is valued. And that's what "Feed," Kevin Rafferty and James Ridgeway's documentary about the New Hampshire primary, supplies. The film, which Rafferty and Ridgeway have called "a comedy about running for president," presents us primarily with the candidates in their unguarded moments, as captured through the network feed -- the in-house footage that comes through to stations just before the politicians go on the air.

In a sense this is dirty pool; it shows the candidates at the instant when they are at their most vulnerable, when they are being rigged with microphones, or testing sound levels or waiting, with nothing to do, to go on the air. Nearly everyone looks impossibly dorky at such moments, and certainly the candidates and their helpers do not disappoint. Among other things we get to see Jerry Brown fiddle obsessively with his tie ("It's still off to the side, isn't it? Can't we straighten that?") and squirt nasal spray up his nose. We also get to see George Bush before a presidential address inform the crew that "this isn't Dana Carvey, this is the real thing"; and Bill Clinton have his nose powdered or grotesquely clear his throat; and a Clinton campaign worker claim that his candidate will beat Paul Tsongas because Tsongas "wears a pocket protector"; and Brown's otherworldly campaign manager, Jacques Barzaghi, explain the campaign in terms of a giant, multi-course dinner.

One of the most illuminating segments features an appearance by Sam Donaldson, who's identified as a "Famous National News Correspondent," and who disrupts a Tsongas rally by simply showing up -- only to have the candidate teasingly describe him as "charismatic, made-up, overpaid, sarcastic, hair-blown, red-tied." The indelible impression this encounter leaves is that, by far, Donaldson is the more famous of the two men, and the playful exchange may have had more truth in it, and more real jealousy, than either man may have realized at the time.

By now, the New Hampshire primary may seem like ancient history. A lot of old stories are resurrected, like the revelations about Gennifer Flowers, who at her press conference had to face such sleazy questions as "Did Governor Clinton use a condom?" There's also the Buchanan surge and the appearances by such mostly forgotten candidates as Sens. Tom Harkin and Bob Kerrey (who displays a greater degree of humor and aplomb than most in these situations).

The filmmakers are a little disingenuous about the footage they put before us. The illusion they create is that we're seeing the unedited raw footage when in fact the snippets have been carefully ordered to stress their view, which is that everyone involved in politics -- politicians, staff and the press -- is devoted entirely to his own self-interest.

The true descent into madness occurs, though, when Arnold Schwarzenegger makes a campaign appearance to "pump up the votes for George Bush."

"We don't have to talk about the Democratic candidates, do we?" he says. "They all look like a bunch of girlie-men."

This incident elevates the film, and the campaign, to its proper level, the realm of the surreal. Whatever else Rafferty (whose films include "Atomic Cafe") and Ridgeway (the Washington correspondent for the Village Voice) reveal in this microscopic view of the presidential race, they show that, beyond all else, the process is sheer madness. As we watch this funny, trenchant analysis of the backstage moments, our only thought is that there must be, there has to be, a better way.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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