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Armchair Politics 

New DVD releases beyond Fahrenheit 9/11

It makes sense, doesn't it? Just as home entertainment outfits annually release a slew of horror flicks right before Halloween and a substantial number of holiday yarns in the weeks preceding Christmas, this year has witnessed a flood of political titles hitting DVD and video in the months prior to the November 2 election.

The fact that practically all of these films are documentaries isn't surprising; what's more notable is their extreme one-sided affiliation. An overwhelming majority of these movies lean far to the left, either espousing progressive values in general or, in some instances, directly setting their sights on the controversial president currently occupying the White House.

This dichotomy isn't entirely unexpected. As recently noted in the newsweeklies, while the right-wing has done an exemplary job of using Internet resources to their benefit (e.g., blogs, e-mail recipient lists), they still lag far behind when it comes to motion pictures. Even acknowledging Hollywood's liberal slant, the right's inability to tap into this huge opportunity for pushing their agenda can be verified by a trip to Amazon.com, the Internet's top site for DVD purchases. Searching for political pictures that have been released during the past four months (or are set to be released in the upcoming weeks before the election), my quest turned up 17 left-wing movies and only two right-wing films. And we're not simply talking about obscure flicks buried deep within the bowels of the Amazon site: A run-through last week of the 100 best-selling DVDs revealed that seven of the 17 made the cut.

The big question, of course, is whether these movies are being purchased by liberals who like to repeatedly witness the insidiousness of the present administration being exposed by intrepid moviemakers, or by undecided voters hoping to uncover some truths before they're forced to mark their ballots. Impossible to say, but either way, the choices are plentiful.

One of the new titles needs no introduction. Fahrenheit 9/11, the Gone With the Wind of political exposes, has been in the news since its Cannes premiere last spring; given its hefty box office and current best-seller status on DVD, it hardly needs another push in this space.

The title Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry should also be familiar to moviegoers since it opened in hundreds of theaters nationally (including two in Charlotte) on October 1. Yet it made its home debut a mere 18 days later, surely some kind of record for fastest theater-to-DVD turnaround -- and an obvious indicator that the main reason for this film's existence isn't to line the pockets of its producers but to allow American citizens access to the real John Kerry. On that front, the movie accomplishes its mission: Director George Butler makes it clear that Kerry is more honorable, more courageous and more decisive than the criminal currently occupying the White House, illustrating in detail how the soft-spoken Massachusetts intellectual went from being a Vietnam War hero to a morally conscientious protestor of the conflict. Voters who've been duped by those preposterous Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads concocted by weaselly John O'Neill (seen here in a vintage clip getting one-upped by Kerry on The Dick Cavett Show) may be interested to learn that Richard Nixon's office had formally tapped O'Neill to run a smear campaign against Kerry; indeed, the most sobering aspect of the film is its ability to subtly highlight all the uncanny -- and frightening -- parallels between then and now, in effect reinforcing the famous adage that those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.

Another documentary that played Charlotte -- and will be available on DVD October 26 -- is Control Room, the eye-opening documentary about Al-Jazeera, the Arab news network that's been tagged "Osama bin Laden's mouthpiece" by those in the Bush administration. Director Jehane Noujaim meticulously builds the case that the Arab station is no more jingoistic than our own FOX News Network in presenting its version of the Iraq war and that, in many instances, it's more honest and responsible in presenting what's really going on over there. By not editing its raw footage of the battles and the resultant American and Iraqi casualties (as opposed to the censorial policy of US news channels), the network serves as a frontline witness to the atrocities being committed in the name of democracy, and its employees are presented as conscientious journalists who understandably have a rooting interest in the future stability of the region. Noujaim's primary interview subjects -- US Press Officer Lt. Josh Rushing (whose candidness later landed him in hot water with his superiors) and Al-Jazeera reporter Hassan Ibrahim (formerly with the BBC) -- are both interesting and articulate, yet it's the words of one Al-Jazeera newsroom staffer that perhaps hint at the state of surrealism that prevents Bush from being unanimously denounced by this country as a war criminal: "The whole war actually is like an American movie. You know the end. You know who's the hero. You know the bad guys; they're going to die. But you still watch because you want to know how it's going to happen."

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