Saturday, November 21, 2020

Fascinating and heartening

Rent it here
Being a nerd, I spent my Friday night watching a documentary about the 1960 Wisconsin Primary. As a film, I appreciated it. The action feels spontaneous and authentic. You're just there in the car with Humphrey or the hotel room with Kennedy, watching history unfold minute-by-minute. I can see why Oscar-winning directors like Scorcese, Redford and Pollack championed its preservation.

As an American, I found it downright inspiring. Here were two Senators, crisscrossing Wisconsin in April, vying for votes. And guess what: they never derided one another. After the Trump-era's nauseating nicknames (Crooked Hillary, Sleepy Joe Biden, Low Energy Jeb, Pocahontas ...), this left me giddy. As Trump recedes, I hope we can go back to the future.

Hubert Humphrey concentrates his efforts on the farmers, who are just naturally less effusive and so his events have less juice than JFK's. But they're listening, and they care about what Humphrey is saying. Kennedy is a rock star in the metropolitan and ethnic areas. It's especially touching to see the men trade places: No one seems to know/care about Humphrey in the city and factory workers shake Kennedy's hand without even looking at him. You can practically see their "Yeah, whatever" thought bubbles. There is a beautiful humility in these moments as Kennedy and Humphrey asked apathetic citizens for their votes.

I noticed things in ways the filmmakers couldn't have intended because in real time, they didn't have the benefit of hindsight.

•  While Humphrey tends to be filmed straight on, it's spooky how many shots are framed over JFK's shoulder so that we see the back of his head. As Lee Harvey Oswald did.

•  On election night, Kennedy is almost as interested in Nixon's Wisconsin vote total in the Republican primary as he is in his own. He was already thinking ahead to the general, and knew he'd have more trouble with Nixon than Humphrey. (He beat Humphrey in the Wisconsin primary, but lost the state to Nixon in November.)

•  Jackie was not yet JACKIE. She was just some politician's wife, an appendage of her husband. She waded through a waiting crowd and ... nothing. He followed her by a few seconds and was greeted by cheers and pandemonium. There's a lovely shot of her clasping and reclasping her white gloved hands behind her back, betraying her nervousness as she spoke Polish to the largely immigrant crowd. I wanted to say, "Girl, calm down! You're thisclose to being an icon!"