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by Eric Kohn
July 9, 2011 3:10 AM
11 Comments
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REVIEW | How "The Undefeated" Makes the Case for President Palin, and Why It Fails

"The Undefeated."

In "The Undefeated," Stephen K. Bannon's hagiographic clip show about Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and vice president candidate assumes a larger-than-life presence.

In a running voiceover nabbed from the audiobook version of her best-seller "Going Rogue," Palin comments on her rise to prominence while largely staying out of the picture. Although technically an authorized account of Palin's multi-year blitz through several Alaskan offices before jumping ship for a more robust spot on the national stage, the movie relies on the testimony of various colleagues and passionate followers to embolden her legacy. For those wondering if Palin might pursue the White House come next year, "The Undefeated," at the very least, argues that she should try. But even as it makes the facile Palin-for-president case, fence-sitters will find themselves non-plussed and existing Palin haters won't budge.

Her diehard supporters are a different story. With greater confidence than skill, Bannon crafts an occasionally fascinating, frustrating and unabashedly propagandistic showcase that preaches to the choir and then runs it into the ground.

Whether portraying his subject as a bipartisan outsider willing to deviate from her party's path for the greater good, or an earnest woman of blue-collar origins who speaks for her people, Bannon's strategy is simple: In addition to a handful of secondary interviews to back up Palin's voiceover, he relies on a rapid-fire editing strategy that enthusiastically veers from one galvanizing Palin stump speech to the next.

Hilariously on-the-nose symbolism ties it all together. Discussion of media attack dogs, for example, leads to repeated cutaways of… attack dogs. When Palin talks about trimming Alaska's budget, money swirls down the toilet. Like her aggrandizing publicity attempts, the narrative format of "The Undefeated" is anything but subtle.

At first, Bannon shows some potential with this approach, a result of the formalistic assertions driving it. He revealed his logic in a recent Variety interview: "He calls his style 'kinetic,'" reported Ted Johnson, "heavy in quick cuts and imagery and, at certain points, to 'almost overwhelm the audience' in the density of material." (Behold the right-wing's very own Dziga Vertov, the influential Soviet documentarian whose 1920s work also re-edited news footage with ideological intentions to dizzying effect.)

For Bannon's purposes, the opening sequence gets the job done. As David Cebert's ominous score sets the tone, Bannon unleashes a speedy montage of Palin hatred from across the media spectrum, from celebrity indictments (Matt Damon, famously calling Palin's vice presidential nomination "a really bad Disney movie") to equally annoyed Facebook posters. As if the polemics weren't clear enough, Bannon then repeats them at an even faster pace before segueing into the serene credit sequence, which displays home video of a young Palin underscored by a soulful rendition of "The Minstrel Boy" (an Irish folk song that contains the telling line, "no chain shall sully thee"). Bannon could have just as easily played "I Will Survive."

From there, the movie dovetails into Palin's account of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, highlighting the impact it had on the upstart politician to continue her journey from city councilwoman to Wasilla mayor and beyond. (Both her personal life and public scandals like Troopergate go unmentioned.) With an informercial's ease, Bannon follows Palin's ascent to oil queen and her accumulation of enemies when she continued her platforms through a variety of offices (until she quit that racket in 2009, faced with multiple charges of ethics violations).

Smoothing over the hostility of its first few minutes, the movie positions Palin as an embodiment of the state's ideals. "Alaska is a land of extremes," an interviewee says, "Extreme climate, extreme resources and extreme people." It also tracks the evolution of her inner circle, particularly "the magnificent seven" -- a group of Palin devotees who resigned from the Department of Natural Resources after former Governor Frank Murkowski fired their boss for questioning the legality of the state's negotiations with oil companies. Palin takes charge, Alaska maintains control of its pipeline, and everyone's happy. Drill, baby, drill! (Nobody says that, but the sentiment is clear.)

Up until this point, it's a breezy ride. Compared to the combative style of discourse popularized by Fox News, Bannon takes one side and sticks with it. He's even, in his own lopsided way, an artful storyteller. "The Undefeated" adopts a chapter-based structure that moves swiftly through its initial hour or so, if an audience were to take its glowing portrait as gospel (the cinematic response arrives soon enough courtesy of Nick Broomfield, who's putting the finishing touches on an anti-Palin documentary now).

Nevertheless, the story eventually sags. Bannon's zombielike interviewees speak against a familiar white backdrop often used in -- you guessed it -- campaign commercials. More grating than a Ross Perot pie chart, "The Undefeated" flatlines after an hour of empty back-patting and no dramatic edge. Bannon actively avoids any of Palin's setbacks, downplaying the entire 2008 presidential campaign to a few minutes of screen time.

With no footage of Palin in action, Bannon focuses on her abstract dimension, including a coda titled "Children of the Revolution" that places her in line with the values of Ronald Reagan. Interview subjects, all Palin supporters and friends, offer ecstatic praise and lambast the naysayers with meaningless platitudes. (Conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart on Palin hatred: "Men no longer have a sense of chivalry.")

Although Bannon repeatedly blows air kisses, "The Undefeated" operates under epic pretenses. It begins with a quote from the New Testament ("every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit"; St. Matthew 7:17) and closes with a line by Thomas Paine: "If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace." Viewed together, those bookends imply that Palin's heroism has both Biblical and messianic qualities. Bannon obviously wants these absolutes to make the movie accessible to viewers with varying degrees of intellectual capacity. Only others with similar feelings of affection for this super soccer mom will want to join in.

"The Undefeated" does succeed in forming the pre-eminent audiovisual representation of Palin's self-satisfied mythmaking. Bannon has joined the orgiastic attempts to make the world view Palin's current inaction as an agent of change. Appropriately, it could use the same humility lesson that Palin deserves: At an hour and 57 minutes, Bannon's clip show needs its wings clipped.

criticWIRE grade: C

HOW WILL IT PLAY? Made on the cheap and clearly aimed at Palin admirers, "The Undefeated" is set to play at AMC Theaters in major cities bound to support it, including Dallas and Detroit. It will do good business for many weeks, if not months.

11 Comments

  • Steve Mennie | July 17, 2011 2:57 AMReply

    ....Huh??

  • aldol | July 10, 2011 1:24 AMReply

    www.ThePalination.com

    WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 2009

    BEST OF SARAH (NOV 25,2009)
    "DEDICATED TO ALL PATRIOTS WHO SHARE MY LOVE OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. AND PARTICULARLY TO OUR WOMEN AND MEN IN UNIFORM,PAST AND PRESENT---GOD BLESS THE FIGHT FOR FREEDOM"
    -From the Foreward to Going Rogue by Sarah Palin
    ********************************************************************************************************************************
    COMMENTS FROM THE SARAH-BLOGOSHERE:

    Dr. Aldo Laghi (Amazon's Going Rogue Customer Forum)
    "A year ago or so I worried myself sick about the future of this country after observing ACORN in action, seeing the fraud in Chicago, learning of the background of Obama and of his acolytes.
    I have to admit that at the time I expressed concern to the fact that Obama's election machine was pervasive, well funded and, most of all, totally unconcerned with the legality and the ethics of its own actions.

    In fact, at the time, I saw some parallels between Lenin's and Obama's approaches to intimidation and control of communications in general: media as well as personal.
    As early as the end of February 2009 though, I realized how stupid ( yes stupid) and arrogant Obama and all his cohorts were.
    Lenin was certainly not stupid or arrogant instead.
    At that point then, I relaxed and predicted (in one of my rare blogs) that Obama, Reid and Pelosi were the best thing that could happen to the GOP.

    Mind you, this was last February, when the GOP had been dismissed as an almost irrelevant force in American politics. Now of course it is a lot easier to make such an assertion.
    Now you can observe that, just about every week, Obama, Reid and Pelosi shoot themselves in the foot, sometimes more than once in a week.

    What else do we need? The "arrogance of corruption" of the Democrats has come to the attention of that part of the American public who provide added value to the economy, and that had till now ignored what happened in Washington, as if Washington had been none of their concern.
    Now though, these very people realize that a larger and larger portion of the population sucks the life out of the economy, with laws and regulations that impede the conduct of effective business practices, with a tort system that is designed to enrich the very profession that our not -so-beloved politicians, for the most part, come from.
    What you see now is that people are fed up and this anger will carry on, well beyond unseating the buffoons from the seats of power. It will mean that a line-item-veto bill will be passed into law, and, as a consequence of such line-item-veto, ACLU, ACORN, Affirmative Action etc...will be re-dimensioned or un-funded altogether, corruption will be practically eradicated and governments, at all levels, will shrink.

    In fact the spending largess of our elected representatives in Washington right now will, doubtlessly, help the conservative cause. It will help it in at least two ways:
    one, because it feeds the anger and the worry
    the other, because it will mean that unnecessary spending will have to be dramatically cut in future years. This will lead to cuts in bull..t programs and meaningless agencies and, eventually, to smaller governments altogether.
    Already people were angry in November 2008 and they voted for Change. well the change that Obama advertised last year is quite different from The Change he is implementing this year.
    Therefore the anger that was there in 2008 is still here, and is stronger yet.

    AGAIN, THANK-YOU BARAUK OBAMA FOR GIVING US SARAH PALIN.
    I think that Sarah Palin will carry the women vote and that alone will assure her victory."

  • Sally | July 9, 2011 8:53 AMReply

    Wow, the Palinbots are sure protective of the Queen Bee. Have any of you read anything about her from the people who worked with her? She was NOT 'an effective CEO' by any means. She had to hire a City Manager for tiny Wasilla because she can't handle details. She left Wasilla and Alaska in debt. "Honest?" Really? She lied about the ethics charges (which found her guilty of abuse of power) she never told McCAin that Bristol was pregnant until after she accepted. She never told her family about running for VP at all...she had someone else break the news to the girls. Come on, this woman is about as honest as a poison ivy plant. And good luck with the film...I'm sure the 'bots will buy it; the rest of us are a bit more discerning in how we spend our cash and our time.
    And for the OBama haters above...he is doing a good job...how would Bush have done without a complicit Congress his first six years? Let's see, maybe we would never have tanked the economy with his two wars. Hmmm?

  • WriterDude | July 9, 2011 7:47 AMReply

    As for "Undefeated," yes it is heavy handed and redundant and could have been better. Much better. I'll give the reviewer credit for pointing out those flaws because they are appropriate points for discussion. But, to claim that the film was lacking because it didn't provide balance by pointing out Palin's negatives? Give me a break. Why should the filmmakers point out her negatives? If the producers of "Undefeated" need to provide balance, why doesn't the same apply to Michael Moore, whose one-sided misleading drivel is passed off as earnest filmmaking? Of yeah, "Undefeated" doesn't bash Palin so it can't be any good. The Palin haters already know everything there is to know about her, at least that's what they claim. Of course, most of them want to tell us how to live our lives as well, but that's another story. Then again, you have to ask yourself, why are these folks so vehemently against Palin if she doesn't stand a chance of becoming president?

  • Sharon Jefferson | July 9, 2011 7:22 AMReply

    A movie about Barack Obama would be a combination of "Being There" and "Idiocracy" with some of the "Matrix" and the Keystone Kops thrown in.

  • Mike B. | July 9, 2011 5:24 AMReply

    1) The review doesn't mention Obama one single time. Are some of us a little defensive?

    2) You can support Palin while doubting the quality of a biographical film made about her. Kohn makes it clear that this one is unsubtle and refuses to address anything that might not be flattering--and this isn't supposed to be a campaign ad, it's supposed to be a documentary. She's a polarizing figure and you can't credibly avoid making that point.

    3) Sorry, I've held my tongue for two list items: we've been seeing her on a regular basis for almost three years, and she simply is not fit for national office. A majority of voters agreed in '08 and continue to agree in polls, and many of the Republicans who worked with her in Alaska and on the McCain campaign agree as well. She is mean, dishonest, and some combination of unintelligent and/or unschooled. The fact that she continues to be mentioned as a Presidential candidate is a disgrace to America's Republicans. The fact that she will never get there is a credit to America's Democrats and independents.

  • happymullah | July 9, 2011 5:00 AMReply

    A movie about Obama?

    It's already here and we're watching everyday. It shows an empty suit with a pretentious demeanor who can only talk well with a teleprompter. I would have thought I was watching a comedy movie until I realized that this movie is about a disaster that is unfolding in front of our eyes, the storyline of which is the inevitable meltdown of our economy.

  • thomas young | July 9, 2011 4:52 AMReply

    I am a supporter of Sarah Palin. But don't call me a "diehard supporter". Just because I prefer a politician that I agree with for her strong beliefs of limited government and states' rights does not make me into a "diehard" person.

    I am a libertarian / independent voter who also supports gay marriage and the tenet of separation of church and state. I also despise Bush for his ill-conceived adventures of war and nation-building. That said, I support Sarah Palin because of her beliefs I stated above which in my view are most important for our country AND that she is the only one who's been consistent in her beliefs as well as she is absolutely HONEST. She was also an excellent CEO as her emails have revealed.

    Let's face it. After 3 years of intense dirt-digging by her enemies in the left wing media/intelligentsia culminating in the release of 24,000 pages of her emails and what have we found? Nothing.

    Conclusion: Sarah Palin is squeaky clean!

  • Mary | July 9, 2011 4:24 AMReply

    Yes, another liberal put down article. Can't wait for Obama's movie of stellar accomplishments...

  • Brandt Hardin | July 9, 2011 3:26 AMReply

    This film is simply another publicity stunt to make Palin what she really wants…. not the presidency, but cold hard CASH. Palin is for $ale and is making it rich on your dime with every book, speaking engagement, and movie ticket that markets her image and sells her looks (it’s certainly not her choice of words which got her this far.) Just watch her rolling in the money with an indecent proposal on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/06/ecstasy-of-sarah-palin_15.html

  • MicMac | July 9, 2011 2:48 AMReply

    The same group promoting "The Undefeated" - Creative Response Concepts - is the same group behind Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

    No coincidence there.