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The Doc Option: Instead of “The Iron Lady” Watch “Tracking Down Maggie”

The Doc Option: Instead of "The Iron Lady" Watch "Tracking Down Maggie"

Is there any reason to see The Iron Ladythan to watch Meryl Streep knock another one out of the park? Was there any reason to watch the Bulls in the late ’80s other than to see Michael Jordan? I don’t know. I haven’t seen the new Margaret Thatcher biopic, and I don’t know anything about basketball. I do know docs, though, and so I have another Doc Option for you.

One criticism against “The Iron Lady” I’ve read is that it doesn’t offer any insight into who Thatcher is, nor does it apparently provide much analysis of her character during the focused time leading up to the Falklands War. Well, this week’s Doc Option isn’t going to take you into the mind and soul of Lady Thatcher any better than the dramatic version does. But at least Nick Broomfield’s 1994 goose chase, “Tracking Down Maggie,” is an awkwardly humorous lark.

Plus, it features the late Christopher Hitchens talking about his fantasies of Thatcher following a sexually tense bowing experience involving a spanking and “saucy” look.

Especially for its time, the made-for-Channel 4 “Tracking” comes off a bit like an early Michael Moore copycat. Broomfield trails Thatcher and her entourage during a UK and US book tour (for The Downing Years), attempting to confront the former Prime Minister at every chance. It’s like “Roger and Me” as a road movie, yet of course Broomfield has been around longer than Moore and is no follower. It only really occurred to me to make the comparison because if there’s any film “Tracking” reminded me of it’s Broomfield’s latest, “Sarah Palin: You Betcha!”

Like with the Palin film, here Broomfield is more pest than inquisitive documentarian. His initial point to find the real Thatcher gets lost in the settled efforts to merely get clear shots of the Iron Lady, during book signings, getting out of cars and giving speeches on aircraft carriers. His paparazzi tendencies are especially disappointing when he gets a taxis to follow her motorcade and when he shows up to a hair salon where she’s scheduled to get a wash and style. She ends up unable to get her perm and certainly he ends up even less likely to get his desired interview.

Broomfield knows what he’s doing, though. I think. Nobody could really believe that after so much mischief and meddling that they’d get access. And when the filmmaker turns his focus onto Thatcher’s son, Mark, and allegations about secret arms deals, tact goes completely out the window (it’s no surprise that the filmmaker says he received death threats while making the movie). Could Broomfield think that if he ever got near enough to Thatcher to ask for a comment on these tabloidish claims that she’d actually indulge him? An inappropriate scene at the Holocaust Memorial Museum implies he could.

Yet I’ve always had a soft spot for Broomfield (as I say in my “You Betcha!” review). This film doesn’t offer the kind of interesting and unbelievable characters we get from him in better-known docs like “Kurt & Courtney” and “Biggie and Tupac” and his two Aileen Wuornos films. It barely gives us anything of value regarding Thatcher outside of what her discarded toilet looks like repurposed as a decorative fixture, and numerous old ladies yelling “I won’t talk about Mrs. Thatcher! No! No! No!” before hanging up. That’s somewhat the conclusive point, and 17 years ago the harassment humor might have come off a lot funnier than it does today.

In any event it’s still worth a look, and it’s easy to watch via SnagFilms. Whether as a substitute or accompaniment to “The Iron Lady,” I hope you can enjoy it as one of the classic faux-naive adventures of Nick Broomfield and his trademark boom mic. Just don’t expect the film’s subtitle, “The Unofficial Biography of Margaret Thatcher,” to have any relevance whatsoever.

Follow Christopher Campbell on Twitter: @thefilmcynic
Follow Spout on Twitter: @Spout

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