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"Sarah Palin: You Betcha!" is a Valuable Documentary About the Price of Talk

by Christopher Campbell
September 30, 2011 5:05 AM
10 Comments
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I don't enjoy trying to defend Nick Broomfield. His documentary style is an acquired taste, and I don't always know how to put my finger on what I like about him. What I do know is that people should never go into his films expecting something other than a Nick Broomfield film. Otherwise you're one of the millions disappointed with "Kurt & Courtney" and "Biggie & Tupac." And you'll be disappointed with his latest, "Sarah Palin: You Betcha!" (co-directed with longtime collaborator Joan Churchill), which returns him to his trademark form of first-person investigative cinema after a couple brilliant ventures into more reenacted realities. At times he is more obnoxiously bumptious here, unfortunately more comparable to Michael Moore than usual, but like Moore's main problem it's the size of the subject that hurts him the most here. Veering towards the worst of "stalk-umentary" awkwardness (I now see that Churchill also worked on "Tell Them Who You Are," which is interesting), the doc occasionally made me embarrassed for both Broomfield and my own fandom of him. From my capsule review at Movies.com:

However, I can’t really recommend the film to anyone who doesn’t already like the filmmaker and onscreen character of Nick Broomfield (Kurt & Courtney; Biggie and Tupac). Even then he’s obviously pursuing the impossible here, though I believe he has a better chance getting the cooperation of Palin than he did Courtney Love. Ultimately it’s a decent look at the price of talking, in more ways than one, but it doesn’t have an ending let alone any final point.


I tend to concentrate on what documentaries are doing rather than what they're superficially about, and so that "price of talking" theme running through "SPYB!" has stuck with me since seeing the film at the Toronto International Film Festival more than the initial feeling I had of, "well, I've really learned nothing about Palin from this movie, so it's pointless." Since he first put himself in front of the camera more than twenty years ago, Broomfield's works have been primarily about the filmmaking process and the difficulty of getting anything conclusive out of the controversial subjects he tackles. There's nothing wrong with this meta sort of reflexive investigation or experiment-based documentary if done right (see "Roger and Me," "GasLand," "Super Size Me" and "Paul Williams: Still Alive" for great examples since Broomfield began his first-person style). And when his brand of filmmaking becomes problematic, whether with his ethically debatable on-camera pay-offs or his complicated relationships with his subjects (see his two films on Aileen Wuornos), is when it's at its most interesting.

Nothing in "SPYB!" is more revealing or fascinating about the mode, or even about Broomfield's specific shtick or personality within it, than what we've seen in his past efforts. However, some of those problematic practices he's known for do take noteworthy turns. At one point he films himself on the phone with a representative for Levi Johnston in an attempt to get an interview, and the fee is outrageous and hardly something only Broomfield would face as a filmmaker or journalist. We meet people who will talk, many of whom have already faced negative effects of doing so prior to speaking about Palin here, and on the other side we see how Broomfield pays a price of his own by talking to these people (and possibly by making a doc like this at all). It becomes clear the impossibility of not just getting the cooperation of Palin directly but of making a fair and balanced film about her. No matter what, certain viewers (and especially those who won't view it) will see "SPYB!" as a hit piece, a negative portrait. But the "you're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't" conundrum of reaching out to this or that side of a story is key in many documentaries, only to a heightened, more noticeable degree here.

There is something of value here, you betcha. Just perhaps not what most of you will be looking for.


"Sarah Palin: You Betcha!" is now playing in NYC and LA.

Recommended If You Like: Nick Broomfield's films between 1988 and 2003; "Roger and Me"; "The Daily Show"


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10 Comments

  • Viper11 | October 1, 2011 9:58 AMReply

    Re: AJ,

    I commend youfor your honesty in suggesting the problem is not Palin, or for that matter, Broomfield, but each one of us because we ALL at times harbor irrational dislike of those we never met; we ALL wallow at times in the muck of rumor, infect others by spreading defamatory stories, and at rock bottom, act in shameful ways.

    I'm noFreudian but he was on to something when he suggested the things we find contemptible in others are those aspects of our own personality we find
    unacceptable..

    Somebody wrote a book called "What you think about me is none of my business".

    With the exception of juries, that just might be true.

  • Viper11 | October 1, 2011 9:50 AMReply

    Re: Gene:

    If you haven't as yet, see "Take Shelter" when it lands at a theater near you.

    You'll see what's going on inside the thought-tormented minds of people who
    create blogs like "Palin's Dirty Little Secret" and those who find it creditable.

    The link to the trailer:

    http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/sony/takeshelter/

  • Viper11 | October 1, 2011 4:32 AMReply

    Re: Brandt Hardin:

    What a hoot! You are giddy over "unbiased coverage of Palin", you haven't seen the film, and you use your comment to hawk your biased blog with the same jarring sound as the street dentists of Jaipur.

  • AJSteele | October 1, 2011 3:08 AMReply

    Making a film that "exposes" Sarah Palin for excessive text messaging, not being a real basketball star, trying weed and gossip about a one night stand is really embarrassing -to Nick Broomfield. Broomfield has to carry the load of hate in his heart everyday. Actually uncovering a monumental issue of substance is what a true documentary is about.

    All this desire by some in the public to mock others based on rumours and individual flaws is a discrace. People act like they are looking for "laughs" when in fact non of the Palin subject matter is really funny, it's about hurting and damaging someone because they don't like them. The culture is swimming in this and it's time to take a look in the mirror before you cast a stone, myself included.

  • KCF | October 1, 2011 2:37 AMReply

    @Kentuckian: Nick Broomfield didn't write a book about Palin. Why do Palin's supporters always seem so angry, misguided and misinformed?

    I don't see how Broomfield can influence American politics. It's not like he's produced something shocking, or is revealing anything people don't already know about the former governor.

  • Kentuckian | September 30, 2011 9:44 AMReply

    Broomfield is a far-left liberal socialist, who loves Obama and hates Sarah Palin. His book is a political piece of lies, and gossip. Another hit piece on Gov. Palin. The only dummies who believe his crap is the liberals,who all want to destroy Gov. Palins credibility, for political reasons. Gov. Palins 24,000 e-mails debunks Broomfields gossip-mentory. We don,t need a British guy trying to influence American politics. Gov. Palin is the most vetted politician in American history. Obama was never vetted, and his failure as a leader of this country is the result.

  • Brandt Hardin | September 30, 2011 8:36 AMReply

    Whataya know? Some unbiased coverage of Palin! I hope this guy has us in for some real laughs! In the meantime, you can get a real juicy look at some parts of her you won’t see in the film on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/06/ecstasy-of-sarah-palin_15.html

  • gene | September 30, 2011 6:07 AMReply

    Went to your link Brianna
    So are you off your meds?

  • gene | September 30, 2011 6:05 AMReply

    Ok we get it. It's a dud and exercise in trying to trash someone who doesn't deserve it.
    I love his rationalization that peopl;e are somehow afraid of the reprucssions of saying negative things about Ms Palin.
    If that were true the entire left wing media would be in jail! "Ya Betcha!"

  • Brianna Johnson | September 30, 2011 6:00 AMReply

    Thank you Sarah Palin.
    http://PalinsDirtyLittleSecret.blogspot.com/

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