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Condi vs. Hillary: The Next Great Presidential Race

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Twice As Good:
Condoleezza Rice and Her Path to Power
by Marcus Mabry
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
. "Courting Condi"

No one is likely to argue that the Bush Administration (2k-2008) is (soon to be "was") the most secretive one in modern times, which probably means since the republic was born. What are they hiding? Well, the Patriot Act and its justification of clandestine wiretapping, outing a secret agent as an act of political revenge, rendition for torture, to name a few things that keep a lot of what they do in the shadows. Of the powerful officials surrounding Bush, two figures could be considered the icons of secrecy, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, formerly head of the NSC. Both of them seem to like it just fine that they're public ciphers.

Of the two, the latter is the more intriguing if, for no other reason, one is to grasp how she got where she is. To fill in the many blanks, this "Musical-docu-tragi-comedy," as the producer-director calls it, (though with a whiff of the mockumentary about it), and a dramatized political documentary as I would, attempts to unveil some of the mystery that shrouds the woman who might be one of the major provokers of the Iraq war, if not the root cause. She's also a not-unnattractive woman physically, classical-music trained and asexual, as far as what's let out to the public.

And so, producer-director Sebastian Doggart, a democratic film operative if there ever was one, has devised a theatrical framework for an expose' of the slender dragon lady who tutors the president in foreign affairs. It figures. The 2000 pre-election debates with Al Gore told us all we needed to know about how much time or interest the Governor of Texas--and scion of a political family--spends reading books on geo-political issues and history. An obviously poor student who lacks the learning gene, he probably never had more knowledge or intellectual curiosity than, say... Sarah Palin? Bush and Palin would have understood each other quite well as they ditched class for a beer or some other waste of time.

Once elected (sort of, by the Supremes), someone had to help him sound like a president who could make momentous decisions, for better or worse. Was it Rice who he commissioned to fulfill the function of tutor?

A straight documentary exploring her influence--however replete with biographical factors such as intellectual inheritance, upbringing, revelations of her hawkish thinking and clues she might have dropped in Senate hearings and interviews--could be dry and academic to any but students of politics and history. Doggart wanted to reach a wider audience. After all, Michael Moore fans are still out there just waiting for more insight and revelation.

And so the writer-documentarian came up with Devin Ratray ("Home Alone 2: Lost in New York"), playing himself as an overweight, somewhat delusional guy who fatuously imagines he has enough musical talent as a singer and pianist to attract the lady whom he's had a crush on from the first time he saw a film clip of her. Thus was invented the popularizing vehicle for the pursuit of everything knowable about a superficially known government figure. How much of this is pure invention Doggart isn't saying.

The boys make it as light and sustainable as possible (Doggart plays himself as the director and stimulator-in-chief) while slipping in footage of their objective along with a historian-specialist to provide academic background. The plan of attack is to visit the places of Rice's life, starting in Birmingham, Alabama where she was born and grew up, thence to California where she attended Stanford and pursued a music career with a minor in ballet and nearly got married. Next New York and, finally, to Washington, D.C.

Devin, with camera crew recording the details, takes off on the odyssey fully understanding the odds against "winning her heart," but willing to give his all in the attempt. In Birmingham, they're greeted by Rice's childhood friend who takes them to the hospital room in which she was born. Devin steps into the plain room as though it were holy. "This is the genesis," he gasps reverentially. "This is where it started."

As they make their way around the country, interviews with Rice's early teachers and influences reveal a woman modifying her future around the talents she possessed and the opportunities given her, moving on from those she didn't possess. Doggart's work provides a rich background picture of the very private lady as she matures and emerges in political circles. It's a sly fiction/non-fiction construction that suggests the accessibility of the inaccessible and feeds us tragic political reality while diverting us with the clown act that is Devin's pursuit.

An interview with Rick Upchurch, the man who holds the twin trophies of being Rice's ex-fiance' and the 1975 NFL Rookie of the Year brings Devin the apprehension of being in the presence of a rival... until he hears the man say that she promised God she wouldn't have sex before marriage. Music to his ears. His loved one is still a virgin. When he learns that Rice called the Upchurch engagement off when Jimmy Carter offered her a post in the Department of Education, Devin doesn't dwell on what his inamorata's trading love for power means about the person he wants to live with. That part he ignores.

Among Doggart's continuing Devin-gate episodes is a focus group he hires to help prepare his suitor character for the grand moment, and then a small rock group to support his final streetside appeal in front of the White House and the State Department. All the while, clips and interpretations about the object of Devin's affections are building an edifice of truth about her complicity in world affairs.

Whatever side you're on, it should be admitted that this is a clever documentary construction--a theatrical ruse to keep us amused while building a case against a cold-minded holder of high office. Politically speaking, on the other hand, the interpretation that she's an incompetent, a liar, a war profiteer, a major backer of the efficacy of torture and a constitution-ignorer is sure to unleash torrents of anger and denial from republican hard-liners and the fifth of Americans who will miss Bush when he leaves office. Woe be to Doggart (and the writer of this review) for the tongue-lashing he's about to receive. As far as condemnation of him from ecumenicals and evangelists, he might as well start his hundred hail marys now.

Doggart is convincing us with her legacy of footage that Ms. Rice won more power and influence than her natural gifts warrant. We've seen much of the caustic, standoffish superiority and easily-aroused defensiveness during her appearances in Senate hearings and well-prepared press interviews. We've seen for ourselves the lady's way of counterattacking critics of her boss's failed decisions and, no wonder, since they were hers as well.

So, we shouldn't be surprised to learn that the Bush administration has tried to quietly prevent the American public from seeing this film--like any third world dictatorship. While the project was to be produced by and shown on the Discovery Channel, who is sent out to successfully shut it down but Karl Rove? Rice's knight in shining armor. Doggart may be commended for taking a loan in order to thwart such misuse of power in a democracy, and show us that even a sad wannabe on a "Demented Odyssey" may have second thoughts about where his passions should be directed.

May the effort to make this film prove to be profitable.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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