Alexandra Pelosi Makes Campaign Trail Doc
NEW YORK – From the moment she met John Kerry, filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi (search) knew she wouldn't be making "Journeys with John."
"She's going to lampoon all of us. She's going to have us all do stupid things," Kerry said more than a year ago when first approached by the camcorder-toting Pelosi. And Teresa Heinz Kerry (search) looked on as if a skunk had waddled across the room.
Pelosi's documentary "Journeys with George" (search) depicted a goofy but endearing George W. Bush in backstage moments during the 2000 presidential campaign.
Fortunately, Pelosi wasn't looking for the star of a sequel. She went back to the campaign trail more to expose a dysfunctional process than a particular candidate. The quickly edited film "Diary of a Political Tourist" (search) premieres Monday at 8 p.m. EDT/PDT on HBO.
The documentary opens nostalgically with Bush holding a barbecue for members of Congress on the White House lawn (Pelosi is the daughter of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (search)) and good-naturedly taunting Alexandra.
"How much money did you make off of me?" the president asks.
"I'm going to be a beneficiary of your tax cut," she replies.
By contrast, the man who's looking to replace him exposes virtually nothing in hours of filming. Kerry is always cautious, always conscious of the camera.
Whatever you think of his politics, Bush is a movie star, Pelosi said. Kerry isn't.
"I don't think if I spent six more months on his lap was he going to reveal any more than he did," she said. "He was who he was. I wasn't going to crack the code of understanding John Kerry."
It didn't happen during the depths of Kerry's campaign -- when Pelosi impudently asked, "Are you a dead man walking?" -- or its heights, when the filmmaker tried for weeks to land a one-on-one interview with the presumptive nominee.
When an audience was finally granted, Kerry surrounded himself with young aides and derailed the process by grabbing Pelosi's camera and turning it on her, just like Bush had four years earlier.
He asked her: "Are you a caricature of this whole process?"
Fair question. The relationship between candidates and the press seemed changed by the way Pelosi, then an NBC producer, fashioned her outtakes into "Journeys with George." This time, all the national television networks assigned young producers with lightweight cameras to each campaign. Candidates responded with forced frivolity and strictly disciplined good behavior.
"I never thought I saw one honest moment during the entire campaign," Pelosi said, "and some people blamed me."
The closest came when Pelosi filmed an ascendant Howard Dean (search) licking an ice cream cone and asked him what it felt like to be on the cover of Time and Newsweek the same week.
Dean paused to think. You could almost see the index cards shuffle in his brain for the politically prudent answer, until he realized the truth worked better than false modesty.
"Kind of fun," he said with a smile.
Wordlessly, the film sums up the final few months of 2003 neater than a long newspaper analysis. Dean was shown speaking to large, cheering crowds. Young fans gazed at him with rapture as Linda Ronstadt sang "It's so easy to fall in love" on the soundtrack.
Cut to a lonely Kerry walking on an empty street, the Eagles singing "Desperado" in the background.
After Kerry had clinched the nomination, Pelosi was at a rally where former President Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (search), turned out for the candidate.
"This is how you know you've arrived," narrator Pelosi said. "The Clintons arrive, and they want to talk about somebody other than themselves."
That line made mom wince.
As in most campaigns, the most fun came during pre-primary days, where candidates seek out Iowa and New Hampshire voters as if running for the school board. Joe Lieberman eats deep-fried Twinkies at the Iowa state fair, Bob Graham and his family sing his silly campaign song and Dick Gephardt imports Michael Bolton to sing for the old folks.
A group of young black women squeal as John Edwards walks by and flashes his smile. "He's pretty cute for a white guy," one says with a giggle.
"These guys were shameless, and the prize at the other end was world domination, leader of the free world," she said. "But to get there, you have to sit in the hog lot and feign interest in the hogs."
After those days, the public campaign is nothing more than a backdrop for television. Pelosi said she saw many disillusioned voters; one girl waited hours to see Edwards at a rally and was rewarded with a view of a TV cameraman's denim-clad butt.
This former television news producer believes the media undermine democracy.
"It's not John Kerry's fault that he's not a good television personality," she said. "It's television's fault that we expect them to be performers. But that's the age we live in."
"Diary of a Political Tourist" occasionally employs a mocking, sarcastic tone that dances of the edge of cruelty. At one point, Pelosi films a young boy at a Lieberman rally excitedly chanting, "We want Joe! We want Joe!"
"Joe who?" Pelosi asks him.
The boy stares back blankly.
The campaign media coverage and front-loaded nomination process, where the nominee was essentially known after only Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats had spoken, may indeed contribute to voter disillusionment. But does a film like "Diary of a Political Tourist" and the barbs of late-night comedians play a part, too?
Pelosi pleads innocent.
"I'm not the one who is eating fried Twinkies at the Iowa state fair," she said. "This is what these guys do, and I just thought people should see what they do."