If you want to watch the demise of a once-promising politician, “Weiner” is the documentary for you. And if you want to know how the heck we got to our present polarized polity, “The City of Conversation” might help you understand.
First Weiner. My impression was how devastatingly cringe-worthy, heartbreaking and tragic this documentary is, not just watching Anthony Weiner implode but the misery wrought upon those around him. Including-and especially-his incredible wife. To my mind, it’s also an indictment of the media that covered his rise and fall, far more gleefully at his fall than fairly about his rise.
Weiner was a Congressman who stood for all the right things (depending on which side of the aisle you stand on) and whose hubris, in sexting a photograph of his private parts to a twitter follower under the alias “Carlos Danger,” boggles the mind. (The irony of his real name is not lost.)
The scandal blew up, and he resigned from Congress in 2011 less than a month after it broke.
Then, in 2013, he decided to run for Mayor of New York City. He was betting that his indiscretions would matter less than the policies he stood for that would help him climb back up the political ladder. The documentary began as his “comeback” story.
But once again, he just couldn’t keep it in his pants. The 24-hour a day maw of journalism in the Internet age (and the traditional media) focused on the new sexting scandal, not his political positions. And of course it became a serious clown show, resulting in a devastating defeat.
At the center of all this is the extraordinary figure of his wife, Huma Abedin, whom he married in 2010. Weiner is Jewish, she is Muslim. She is one of Hillary Clinton longest serving advisors, and Bill Clinton even officiated their wedding. At age 20, she began working as an aide for Hillary and today she’s in the inside circle, as Vice Chair of Clinton’s Presidential campaign
She is not the typical “long-suffering wife” who “stands by her man” in the face of his flaws. She did have to endure the humiliating stance of loyal wife at a press conference when his second round of sexting was revealed, and some of the fallout affected her visibility with the Clinton campaign. But she is a political force in her own right.
The film is impossibly gripping and shares unprecedented access because filmmaker Josh Kriegman worked for Weiner when he first ran for mayor in 2005, later serving as his New York Chief of Staff. So the “comeback” story was the goal, but the sexting overwhelmed everything.
The movie is well worth your time and I encourage you to see it. It’s a tragic and cautionary tale about the breakdown of the political machine. Weiner is playing at The Landmark in West Los Angeles.
City of Conversation
Far less gripping, “The City of Conversation” also takes on the personal in the political and one family’s journey through time inside the Beltway.
The West Coast premiere of the play “The City of Conversation” is set in Georgetown and takes us through three generations of a political family, six presidential administrations and the divisions that drive them apart.
Hester (Christine Lahti), the matriarch, is trying to maintain the long-standing tradition (decades before our time) of bringing opposing sides together at the dining table to work out whatever couldn’t be taken care of on the floor of Congress. Fights in Congress were soothed over with martinis and steaks in private sessions where people talked to each other and tried to work out their differences.
Clearly those days are long over.
The play opens in the first part of the Reagan era (1970s), when liberal socialite Hester is throwing a dinner party to help convince a conservative Southern senator (David Selby) that Supreme Court nominees should not belong to country clubs that bar minorities. But this senator loves his country club and is hard to sway.
The trouble begins when her son Colin (Jason Ritter) comes home with his new fiancée Anna (Georgia King) who’s managed to convert him from a hippy Vietnam era protestor into one of that breed of hard-fighting young conservatives that Reagan inspired and whose legacy we are living with today.
As Anna probes Hester to understand “how it’s done” (Hester says, “I’ve seen that movie,” referencing the backstabbing “All About Eve”), the old order begins to crumble and Hester begins to lose both Colin and her influence.
In the next scene, Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork for the Supreme Court and his extreme conservatism become the breaking point. Now a grandmother, Hester pours her love into her grandson Ethan whom she cares for while his parents continue their political careers, but he’s the deal breaker. Either Hester gives up her ideals or she loses her grandson.
By Act 2, we’ve reached the night of Obama’s inauguration. Ethan is grownup and gay, and he confronts his long-lost grandmother to ask why she never fought to see him.
This play is not satisfying and the plotting feels heavy handed, more an excuse to air the playwright’s political ideas than a well-wrought drama. But it has moments, a beautiful set and worthy cast, although the acoustics in the balcony section could use an upgrade.
It’s onstage at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Arts in Beverly Hills.
Photo courtesy of Sundance Selects
Sarah A. Spitz spent her career as a producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica and produced freelance arts reports for NPR. She has also written features and reviews for various print and online publications.