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By Bryan Newbury
November 7, 2006

In this midterm election season it is heartening to consider what country, and world, we might be looking at were it not for the 2000 Presidential Election. Watching The Party’s Over sustains those “what-ifs” while displaying just how we got to 2004. It is difficult to gauge just how apropos the filmmakers thought this title would be in 2004 and beyond, but judging from this fact-heavy documentary one is led to suspect that there is a bit of a wink behind it.

Philip Seymour Hoffman narrates the film and acts as tour guide to American politics circa 2000. It would be hard to imagine a better person for the role, as Hoffman admits he isn’t, or at least wasn’t, very politically engaged. This is a great benefit to the film. In today’s market there seems to be an echo of what the news media refers to as “balance.” For example, when someone does a film critical of Wal-Mart, the retort comes in the form of another film which is sympathetic to it. Leaving aside the facts, the reaction seems to be that one is equal to the other. Both sides are told, one from each slant.

Of the many documentaries of a political nature this reviewer has watched in the course of the last six years, none have exhibited less bias or more balance than The Party’s Over. It could serve as a companion volume to a number of films made in the aughts. It pairs well with the Moore Canon. Hoffman examines the issue of fear as control, much like Moore in Bowling for Columbine. Only Hoffman gets the quotes at a gun show from N.R.A. meetings. It would appear that the far right and far left in America understand precisely what kind of game is being played. The disconnect lies in the perceived culprits and solutions.

It would be comical if it wasn’t tragic. The gentlemen at the gun show feel the government is the bogeyman. W.T.O. protesters direct their ire at multinational corporations. Distilled to purest essence, these are the world views allowed by the American political system. Once you choose your side, try not to think about how the United States government and multinational corporations are really two sides of the same coin. Sort of like the two major parties. It works because it is Manichean and Trinitarian rolled into one glitzy show!

Back to The Party. This work is a joy to watch in large part because of its fairness. Hoffman’s personality rarely invades the subject and the viewer is treated to fact after fact after fact while peering in on both the Democratic and Republican Conventions of 2000, as well as The Green Party and the Shadow Convention in Los Angeles. While the delegates gather inside, the Philadelphia and Los Angeles Police Departments are having a go at kicking the shit out of protesters and enforcing free speech zones with rubber bullets. There is a humorous exchange with a Republican Congressman who states that these ne’er do wells have no point to make, and that it is sheer nonsense that a person suggest America’s a police state. He’s asked to look over his shoulder, where a platoon of riot police march down the avenue, ready to split malcontents like a road grader to gravel.

There is much to despair of, and the most sobering reflection could well be just how far backwards we’ve come as a nation in the past half decade. In 2000, the body politic was searching for some answers. Answers that neither major party wished to provide. They weren’t even going to go so far as to allow the questions. Hoffman navigates through some of these questions in a series of interviews with Senators, Representatives, entertainers, gun enthusiasts, anti-poverty activists, Willie Nelson and everyone’s favorite MIT professor among others. Though neither major party nominee went near the prison-industrial complex (other than to support it) or the real effects of welfare reform, people were very aware. Without a fitting screen presence for the weekly hate, our political discourse seemed rich by comparison. Beyond interviewing a large number of conservatives and liberals, The Party’s Over does a service to the audience by bringing a balance of ideas and highlighting the issues that The Republicrats would rather ignore. Sadly, it seems like a time capsule.

We see the one man that any sane nation would have put in the Oval Office as he runs against the odds. We also see much of Al Gore and George W. Bush.

No matter what one thinks of the Bush Administration, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Florida and Ohio aren’t the only places where democracy is threatened. The Democratic Party did its best to slander and marginalize Ralph Nader in 2000 and redoubled their efforts in 2004. No debates, suits over ballot access and a general disposition that belies the things Democrats are supposed to stand for do not sit well. Michael Moore’s analogy in the film is apt. When queried as to just why the working class and people of color stick with the Democratic Party, he likens it to a Dixie cup. If you’re on a raft and there’s a leak and the only thing you’ve got is a Dixie cup, you’re going to try and scoop the water out despite knowing that it is, in the end, pointless.

For those of us who summon the stomach to get to the polls this Tuesday with hopes of reform or positive change, this time capsule gives little source for enthusiasm. Were it not for the Democratic scare tactics of 2000 and 2004, Nader might have gained matching funds. At the very least, one could expect to see just one of the issues hit on in this film surface in a debate. Instead, voters will have the pleasure of retaining a corrupt Republican Congress awash in lucre arising from what Bill Maher correctly refers to as “open bribery” or voting them out in favor of a sure to be corrupt Democratic Congress awash in lucre from slightly different concerns. Anyone want a drink?

Top to bottom, this is one of the best political documentaries available. Hoffman is an observer, but not incapable of growth. Through the course of The Party’s Over his demeanor evolves as his knowledge increases. We really get the impression that he entered into the project honestly, and near the end when he shouts out in the middle of cross-shouting from demonstrators from both the Bush and Gore sides in Florida “Maybe this isn’t working!” it isn’t the shout of an activist or partisan; rather, it is one of an informed citizen.

This is the kind of work documentarians should aspire towards. While there is much for the leftist to enjoy, it is also a convenient party favor for those liberal friends who insist that bad Ralph Nader cost Gore the election and should generally leave everyone with that sense of fear and loathing that American campaigning so richly deserves. Hopefully Toby Jones will be there in 2008 to catch history falling through the cracks of our collective short attention span in such fashion.


Color, 82 minutes

Directors: Rebecca Chaiklin & Donovan Leitch

Review this film for yourself.

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