Monday, December 15, 2014

Movie with Abe: Citizen Koch

Citizen Koch
Directed by Carl Deal and Tia Lessin
Released June 6, 2014

It’s always important to pronounce the title of a film to have some clue about its content. I thought for a moment when I heard about this film that I had already seen it, but I was thinking of “Koch,” last year’s documentary about former New York City Mayor Ed Koch (sounds like “kotch”). This film, which is a finalist for the Oscar for Best Documentary this year, refers to the Koch brothers (pronounced “coke”), billionaires who are seen by the filmmakers to have exerted undue monetary and political influence in the campaigns of certain conservative politicians and legislation. It’s a catchy title but it’s not actually the most accurate descriptor.

This is a very good film, and there’s no denying the effectiveness of the title, which juxtaposes the notion of an average American with the recognizable name of brothers who belong distinctly to the “one percent.” But this film isn’t really about them. It begins as an apparent indictment of the Tea Party, demonstrating the way in which the ultra-conservative party rose to power. It shifts midway through to show how campaign contributions have been changed in a problematic and worrisome way so that those with money can give as much as they want without much accountability to advocacy organizations which in turn support those running for office and trying to pass new laws. The film is consistently interesting, to be sure, but its title doesn’t quite capture the themes it addresses.

Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, becomes a central figure in this film and its demonstration both of the influence of the Tea Party and the way in which politicians are backed by those seeking to see their interests fulfilled. Walker ignites fury in his constituents when he changes his views after being elected and seeks to essentially disband unions, and a recall is even initiated. One of the film’s two focuses is highlighted by the interviews with those Republicans who say that they’re voting for the first time – and they can’t believe that they’re voting for a Democrat. Hearing Republicans respond to criticism that they’re voting against Republicans only underlines the fact that there seems to be a crucial difference between the Republican Party and the Tea Party.

This examination of what’s happening in American politics today is laced with reflective humor and a true feeling of inevitability in terms of the changes in the way elections and lawmaking work. Though this film does double duty and doesn’t stick to just one agenda, it’s a worthwhile and extremely educational documentary. It’s sure to become increasingly relevant as Walker is solidified as a strong contender for the next presidential election, and questions of financial backing come up, as do his own political allegiances.


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