Courting Condi

Remember that lumpy older brother bully who made life hell for Macaulay Culkin’s character in the holiday classic “Home Alone”? I didn’t think so. Former child actor Devin Ratray is hoping to reprise his bullying ways, or at least become a gadfly or find some newfound publicity. This time his attention is turned toward the current (and outgoing) Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “Courting Condi” is a new film by Brit Sebastian Doggart that depicts Ratray’s quest to get close to the Secretary to get her attention and declare his love for her. Fiction? Documentary? I haven’t seen it yet, but the trailer has made its way around the Internet and I guess that Doggart wants to do both: create a Michael Moore-style documentary and also imbue it with some snarky satire, because, well, it focuses on a woman who has apparently been part of the evil “vulcans” that took us into a fraudulent and costly war in Iraq, let’s see, approved of torture methods, ignored terrorist threats before 9/11, um, hold on, kowtowed to the hawks like Cheney and Rumsfield and let the henchmen call the shots, etc.

According to the film’s website, “Courting Condi” is “the first musical docu-tragi-comedy ever! Part Borat, part Fahrenheit 9/11, part Chicago  — the film follows a love-struck soul’s hilarious, emotionally engaging, and ultimately shocking quest to woo Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.”

Moreover, the film “tells the life story of one of our era’s most inspiring, enigmatic, and controversial figures. This film is both timely and a classic love story, punctuated by timeless songs. It is now ready for theatrical release, broadcast, and digital distribution.” You would think that both “timely” and “timeless” in the same sentence do not an Oscar winner make. Then again, it’s hard to figure out what the film’s purpose or plot is –besides the director’s asking Devin, a “portly musician” who is traveling across America, to compose “love disks”, or love songs that he hopes to present to Dr. Rice. You know, when she isn’t so busy flying off to world capitals. The website also displays some dubious or questionable honors, such as “Official Selection New Beijing International Film Festival 2009” and “Official Selection Havana Film Festival 2009” –two locales that probably wouldn’t mind watching a “satire” about Rice, but also two cities that aren’t exactly film capitals like Cannes, Berlin or Toronto either.

I’m all for satire, and I’m somewhat curious as to what’s in “Courting Condi”, especially as the main character Devin ends up meeting some figures that may or may not have some scores to settle with the Secretary of State, including some D-list cameos such as redheaded hothead and professional Republican gadfly cum pollster Frank Luntz, has-been “Rocky” composer and Oscar winner (32 years ago) Carol Connors and “cult comedian” Jim Norton (who?). Also, according to the trailer, there appears to be some contact Devin made with Rice’s friends in Palo Alto and the vicinity of Stanford University. I guess we’re supposed to be on the edge of our seats when Devin exclaims “There she is! There she is!”, and the possibility that Rice herself is driving right into view. Panic and hilarity probably ensue.

So I wonder why the Stanford Film Society (SFS, though probably less prestigious than the Cannes jury) decided to cancel the December 2 showing of “Courting Condi” last week after having booked it. When the SFS had announced the movie showing, SFS President Kerry Mahuron said:

I have seen the movie and am interested in showing it. However, as you are probably aware, Condoleezza Rice is a current faculty member of the Political Science Department at Stanford, and starting next February will be returning to the University as our Vice Provost. Showing a film that paints her in such a negative light is not only controversial, but also potentially inflammatory and a violation of Stanford policies. I have seen the movie and am interested in showing it. However, as you are probably aware, Condoleezza Rice is a current faculty member of the Political Science Department at Stanford, and starting next February will be returning to the University as our Vice Provost. Showing a film that paints her in such a negative light is not only controversial, but also potentially inflammatory and a violation of Stanford policies.

Sounds like the august SFS is bowing to pressure from Rice’s friends and supporters to can the film or else it’s engaging in a bit of censorship. If it had already booked it once, why suddenly pull it at the last minute? Even Mahuron had responded to this point before, arguing that “to prevent us from showing the film would violate our right to free speech”. What makes this especially odd is that the SFS had actually scheduled a virtual smorgasbord of events for the December 2 showing at the university’s Cubberly Auditorium, including a post-screening debate in which conservatives from the Hoover Institution were invited by e-mail, along with members from the Stanford Daily, Stanford College Republicans, the Stanford Conservative Society, Stanford Review, Stanford Amnesty and the Stanford Iraq Coalition. Yet Mahuron cancelled this because of “logistical reasons”. She then backpedaled on the idea of having a post-screening debate, asserting that “we are now convinced that any debate following the film would not be balanced, and that this event would not be a forum for open and bipartisan political discussion.” Finally, the San Jose Mercury reported that Mahuron, the person who organized the whole screening in the first place, now felt this: “Put simply, the film is bad.”

Ugh. Talk about lame. The director didn’t take this lying down, as he responded to the Mercury News story in his own ingratiating way, calling Rice “Stanford’s most sacred cow”: “Come on Stanford Film Society, step up! We all know Condoleezza Rice is an expert on Stalin, but do you really not have the cojones to not stand up to this blatant violation of free speech?” Doggart should be pissed because this isn’t the first time the film’s been thwarted. Early on, after a call from former Bush White House strategist (and Condi friend) Karl Rove, his original funders, Discovery Communications, were told that the film could damage “their good relations with the government”, forcing it to cancel funding. (The UK’s Channel 4 ultimately came in later.) Also, it was reported that State Department operatives raided the producers’ guesthouse in Washington in 2007 and planted a bug under a coffee table –all of which were documented on the Internet:

So what’s all the fuss about anyways? If the film is so bad or inconsequential, what’s wrong with showing it once and for all and figure that it probably won’t be all that memorable anyways? After eight years of public service and at the center of some of American foreign policy’s biggest and deadliest blunders, does Condi Rice (or her supporters) possibly have more to worry about in this innocuous movie? Also, for his part, why doesn’t Doggart just come clean and say that this is a satirical hit piece because he may have some kind of personal score to settle? His protestations to the SFS and whomever doesn’t want to show “Courting Condi” make it seem like we are all being deprived of some kind of Rosetta Stone, some epic work along the lines of “Lawrence of Arabia”, or even something of historical merit. Let’s see –yeah, it isn’t. I could probably tell you what Condi Rice truly thinks about all this: that we are in this country and the free speech to criticize is what this country’s all about, but try doing this in the countries where the film will be projected, Cuba and China. The people there aren’t expecting great art either; they want to see the Secretary of State (and the US) embarrassed too.

In fact, Condi Rice the Public Official has long been a vicious target of males who purport to be “artists” in their work. Several years ago Aaron McGruder did an arc in his comic strip “Boondocks” in which this premise was covered: that Rice’s evil ways and uptightness were due to the fact that she needs a man to settle down with. A few years back, on BET, the cartoon “Fridays”, an offshoot of the same-named 1995 movie with Ice Cube and Chris Tucker, did an uproarious send-up of Condi Rice hanging out “in da hood” for those moments when she wants to escape the hectic Washington DC life. Once again, she was demonized from everything from her split between her teeth to her expected disdain for poor Black folk. Was some
of
it misogynistic
or sexist? Yes.
Was it
deserved? Perhaps.
Was some of it misogynistic or sexist? Yes. Was it deserved? Perhaps. Is some of this self-serving? Isn’t this obvious?
I have not seen “Courting Condi” yet but I’m wondering if the attack on Rice is somehow more personal and, therefore, misplaced. It would be hard to imagine another recent reality-based documentary or program in which a Black woman is being stalked by approaching her friends and family, all under the disingenuous wraps of a “satire”, as if we are all supposed to divorce ourselves from the fact that we are all dealing with human beings here. Satire is satire; it helps us laugh at ourselves. But to claim that this is not anything less than a gentle nudge or humor, and then fan flames of moral outrage when things do not go your way –well, I’d say it says more about the finished product, a “musical docu-tragi-comedy”,  than about the preening sense that this is all about publicity anyways. With a Myspace and Facebook page already dedicated to the film, which will be finally released to the world next month, I’d say any publicity is always good publicity. And alas, one more plug —here’s the trailer:

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6 Comments »

Comment by section9
2008-12-09 11:43:19

There’s a whole subtext of impossibility to this enterprise because of the fact that Condi is gay. Doggart knows this, which adds the acid touch to his enterprise (Doggart is a gay director).

Doggart, however, interviews everyone who could ever had had a grudge against Rice, from Richard Ben Veniste, who she publicly embarrassed, to antiwar people. This was an agenda film, as most of the stuff produced about her has been, sad to say.

Still and all, there is no excuse for Stanford to give in to Condi’s buds on the Board because the film was embarrassing to her.

Comment by Sebastian
2008-12-09 15:45:43

Fascinated to hear from ’section9′ that I am a “gay director”. Is this wishful thinking, sir, after seeing me naked on the beach in the trailer? Sadly, my sensual fantasies have mostly directed at Dr Rice over the last three years of making this film. As for being an agenda film, we feature numerous Republican colleagues in the film — from Brent Scowcroft to Lawrence Wilkerson — as well as personal friends of her. If either section9 or indeed the author of this whole piece would care to view the actual film, rather than make judgments on delightful speculation, pls feel free to send your mailing address to shockedandawed@aol.com

Comment by section9
2008-12-10 12:07:46

First,

My conclusion that you are a gay director came from outtakes watching a Fort Lauderdale Film Festival (iirc) interview in which you stated that you preferred to go out on a date with men. If I misinterpreted your interview with the individual who was interviewing you to conclude that you were in fact, gay (not that that is an indictment, by the way), then I deeply apologize. The error was entirely mine.

Secondly, you have produced a deeply unfair agenda film, have done so under false pretenses (your hero never intended to marry Dr. Rice, and you know this-Michael Moore has used this same technique). You interviewed mostly people, such as Larry Wilkerson and Ben Veniste, who were people who had an axe to grind with Dr. Rice (Scowcroft is an exception, and his issues were primarily with how the President structured the national security structure of his Administration) personally, having lost the debate over the Iraq War during Rice’s tenure at the NSC. We could relitigate history here, but I suspect that history will be far kinder to her than you have been. People who lose policy fights have a way of being vindictive as hell. They also have a way of championing the cause of the party out of power.

Which is now the party in power, by the way. I strongly suspect that the enthusiasm of independent filmmakers to investigate Team Obama will be, how shall we say, somewhat limited. Where you stand depends upon where you sit.

And please, don’t berate me for having not seen your film yet. I don’t have to have seen the Director’s Cut of Farenheit 9/11 to know that Michael Moore has an agenda against George Bush and the War on Terror.

All that said, Stanford’s film society should have shown your film. Free speech is free speech. Rice is a deeply private woman (who may, in fact, be gay herself). But that does not entitle her, or her friends, to use pressure to silence criticism. I may disagree with your agenda of vilifying the Secretary, but I agree with your right to do so. Stanford should have, as well. Oh, and I will see your film.

(Comments wont nest below this level)
 
 
 
Comment by devin Ratray
2008-12-10 00:18:43

I too am fascinated! Not so much by web-reporters who give their lengthy opinions about films they have not seen (now THAT’S what I call responsible journalism); but by the fact that “section 9″ could tell that Mr. Doggart IS gay! Not by sexual preference, but because he is BRITISH! Well done, Section 9: You sniffed out another Foppish Limey! No hiding it, this time! As soon as we heard him pronounce “advertisement”, “ad-VERTIS-ment”, heard him call “Soccer”, “Futbol”, and call Football “A stupid game where only four or five Tossers touch the ball during the whole bloody match!” Ole’ Section 9 knew it was time to bust out the “GAY!” Label-tape. Kudos to you. And kudos to the diligent work ethics of who ever wrote this article. You’re so good, you don’t even HAVE to see the movie to know all about it! To know all about the twists and turns in it, how I was in it, to know even the deep, personal agenda’s Sebastian had to have to make a movie this subversive and unjust in the first place!
The fact is, neither of you two ya-hoo’s know a thing about Sebastian or the movie he’s made. Section 9, I can pretty much guarantee you’ve never slept with Sebastian. You don’t even know him. Why make claims about someone you know zero about? SmashGod, you’ve never seen the movie. Why are you even writing an article. Do you write about the food at restaurants you’ve never been to? And for your info: yes. A lot of people remember “Buzz” from Home Alone. Alot more people then will ever remember you. You would not have opened up your article with that question if you didn’t think people did remember. Of course, I was 13 years old, 5′11″ and 165 lbs. Not exactly what would be called “Lumpy”, by most people, but if your memory still needs to be jogged, Smashgod, I would be happy to “reprise (my) bullying ways” on your noggin in a locked room with no windows.

 
Comment by Kenneth West
2008-12-10 18:50:46

Great article and some interesting discussion going on here. I’ll surely catch the film when it finally makes it to the street…also good to hear some of the insiders giving their take in an open forum like this. It’s all good. Hey Sebastian where can I get a screener? Peace.

 
Comment by ZK
2009-02-05 17:14:23

Wow, lots of info.
But, you also need to include - her part in the South Ossetian/Georgian War during the summer of 2008

She delivered some really good instructions to the prez.Sakashvili just a week before the war started.

How does she have so much time on her hands. War here, war there, war - everywhere

 
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