Deflating The Elephant

"Unbearable"

Deflating The Elephant Review


Deflating the Elephant is a sad disaster of a movie. In many ways, I hesitate to actually label it a "movie," except that a camera was obviously used to film people moving and speaking in front of it. In terms of content, the film disseminates valuable, important ideas, but those ideas are presented like the most boring and meandering ACLU seminar ever devised.

The DVD cover does well to exploit the appearances of Academy Award-winning actor and outspoken liberal activist Sean Penn and best-selling author and one of the world's foremost masters of language and argument, George Lakoff. To be fair, the cover doesn't lie: Penn and Lakoff do appear in the movie -- a lot. Lakoff sits in what looks like the old SNL Weekend Update set and talks for more than 10 minutes at a time. In between those insufferable sections, Penn delivers some poorly-written liberal bon mots with utmost conviction. And that's it -- that's the entire movie. In fact, Penn and Lakoff are the only two faces to appear in the film, save one brief cameo by writer/director Aldo Vidali, who asks Lakoff a question in a dialect no one can understand, and then promptly disappears.

In any form of discourse, he who frames the debate often controls the dialogue and therefore holds the most persuasive power. Lakoff has made a very successful career out of dissecting how the Conservative Machine has so successfully maintained control of the political discussion with subtle threats, biased smears, and skillful wordplay. The laudable goal of Deflating the Elephant is to feature Lakoff's masterful rhetorical analysis in an interesting and informative documentary feature. Vidali included the informative but forgot the interesting. He also seems to have forgotten how to make a movie, if he even knew to begin with.

So poorly mounted is the film that Lakoff is not merely the film's source of information, he is also its star. That might be acceptable were the film profiling his life and career in addition to his ideas, or even if he were utilized in a more natural and comfortable manner, such as in an interview. But Lakoff is a writer and theorist, not a performer. And in this movie he speaks not in shrewdly selected interview bites, but in long-winded rants filled with "um"s and awkward body language, in which the poor guy sits under harsh lighting and talks until he can't think of anything else to say. But when he runs out of enlightening information, the camera still rolls. Lakoff often looks off to the side, as if to ask the filmmakers, "Can I stop talking now?"

Like any film performer, Lakoff needs direction, and Vidali clearly is not in the position to give anyone direction. Consider Penn, winner of two Best Actor Oscars, who is made to look like a deer in the headlights by sitting in an uninteresting environment and reciting Vidali's own hideous writing directly into the camera. Similar to his treatment of Lakoff, Vidali doesn't care much about Penn's mistakes, like his audible gulping between long-winded speeches and his occasional verbal fumblings. I do not blame Penn -- he is human, and the advantage of film is that the scene can be done again and again until it's right. Other advantages of film are the use of music, or photography, or a wealth of incriminating material that can be used to bolster a documentary's argument and effectiveness. But Deflating the Elephant doesn't concern itself with the advantages of filmmaking; it appears to have been made over a lazy weekend by sub-film school level crew members.

This is not the message liberals need to communicate. More to the point, this is not the way they want this message communicated. Deflating the Elephant is a conservative's wet dream, to depict prominent progressive thinkers as boring rhetoricians who lose viewer interest after about 90 seconds of lame didacticism. Not many people will be able to finish this movie -- I barely got through it myself.

And aside from the horrible filmmaking drowning out the important message, is this film not, in the final analysis, completely irrelevant in the Age of Obama? The information will always be relevant, but in an era in which one brilliant man singlehandedly toppled the Republican Machine by finally making progressive ideas as fierce and exciting as they always should have been, a movie like this seems relentlessly tepid. I'd like to see a discussion between President Obama and Lakoff with Penn as the moderator, filmed as a concert movie by Martin Scorsese. Talk about Filmmaking Change We Can Believe In.

Aka Deflating the Elephant: Framed Messages Behind Conservative Dialogue.



Deflating The Elephant

Facts and Figures

Run time: 124 mins

In Theaters: Tuesday 19th May 2009

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 1 / 5

IMDB: 4.3 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Aldo Vidali

Producer: Aldo Vidali

Also starring:


Contactmusic


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