Alan Chartock: I, Publius: Documentary 'Weiner' brilliantly depicts politics, scandal
GREAT BARRINGTON >> We have a political star living amongst us, none other than the brilliant and talented Jessica Provenz.
At one time she was a top staffer for Anthony Weiner, who sexted pictures of his private parts around under the name Carlos Danger. Now she has written of her adventures in New York Magazine.
Last weekend, Roselle and I saw the film "Weiner." We thought it was fabulous; Jessica had reservations. She thought that the movie skipped over too many important parts but I agreed with the Sundance Grand Jury Prize that the film received. I thought it was superb. Not only was it an incredible character study of the man/boy Weiner but it really showed what it takes to run a campaign. I would put this documentary up there with films like The Candidate starring Robert Redford.
Weiner is a very complicated man. He was like a great athlete who was so good that he thought he had to take on some additional weight or strokes (as in golf) to keep things even. Then he did something incredibly dumb and threw it all away.
One great clue about the guy's character is the fact that as parts one and two of the sexting scandal occurred, he allowed a filmmaker to run his cameras no matter what was going on; no matter how sensitive and demeaning things were. That included his relationship with his costar, his long-suffering wife, Huma Abedin. Abedin is a top aide to Hillary Clinton, who describes her as "her other daughter."
Look, America has had its share of people who strayed. Some stayed with their partners, others did not. But when you are in the limelight, running for mayor of New York City, why would you court the kind of danger that misbehavior brings? He didn't have an affair; he didn't pick on an intern for an assignation a la Bill Clinton. He just wrote dirty — and I mean really dirty — notes to people under an assumed name, Carlos Danger. Danger indeed.
Weiner never stopped. He never gave up. He had the sense that no matter how he had mucked things up, he still had it in his power to fix it and make it right. While wife Huma says almost nothing, her eyes tell all. After the first sexting scandal broke, Weiner actually succeeded in turning things around. He was leading in the polls. The more I watched him, the more I thought he would have made a great mayor; a lot better than the hapless Bill de Blasio.
I was particularly fascinated by the way in which Weiner handled his own anger. Some of the people who got on his case surely deserved a sock in the jaw for their conduct. Just as you thought he'd make things worse by throwing a punch, he didn't.
There seemed not to be a single television show that he wouldn't go on, no matter how embarrassed he was or should have been. At one point he gave the finger to the press corps. However, one gets the feeling that throughout the man's ordeal he knew exactly what he had done and what he continued to do.
You really don't get a chance to see the way politics works very often. Long after New York mayors have come and gone, this film will show the way it's done.
We loved "Slick Willy" so much that he left office as one of the most popular presidents in the history of his office and that was even after he sat in the well of the Senate having been impeached and on trial. He beat the odds; Weiner did not. I'm sure that if I knew Weiner I would not like him, but in this film I really felt for the guy. He did it to himself and in the end, he knew it.
Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.
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