Wednesday, November 05, 2008

John McCain vs. John McCain

directed by Robert Greenwald, Brave New Films

In the realm of political shorts, filmmaker Robert Greenwald is one of Youtube's biggest success stories. After directing a number of documentaries including the 2004 film Outfoxed, he jumped on the viral video bandwagon just at the right moment. Two years ago, he started the online film production company Brave New Films. The company began producing films with a heavy liberal slant critiquing conservative outlets like Fox News. However, Brave New Films's popularity skyrocketed when they shifted their focus to John McCain.

Their series "The Real McCain" has garnered millions of views on Youtube and attracted the attention of many major media outlets (I actually first heard about it after seeing Greenwald on The Colbert Report). After the initial success of this video, Brave New Films produced a number of other anti-McCain films, including one that featured a clip of McCain's now infamous admission that he didn't know how many houses he owned. Some credit Greenwald's film for propelling this particular issue into the eyes of the mainstream media.

"John McCain vs. John McCain" isn't a very flashy production. It employs some of the simplest and cheesiest effects that Final Cut has to offer and the music, though probably intended to be ironic, is quite over the top. What is on display here is the editing job, which is pointed and effective. The premise of the film is to derail the "Straighttalk Express" by juxtaposing clips of McCain rescinding his words and contradicting himself. By the end, the film renames his campaign the "Doubletalk Express"; to drive his point across, Greenwald inserts numerous clips of McCain saying "straighttalk" in between his contradictions.

While the film provides an effective critique, I find its enormous success kind of surprising, given the fact that The Daily Show has been doing editing jobs like this for years. But perhaps its success can be attributed to the inherent accessibility of viral videos. Greenwald has said that the strength of the video is that when people watch it, they tend to send it to their friends or family members (there's even a feature on The Real McCain website that encourages viewers to share the films). I think the film's length also adds to its effectiveness. In the world of viral videos, the idea of "short films" becomes even more important, since online viewers tend to have short attention spans given all the other distractions the internet has to offer. A video must make its point clearly and quickly, and "John McCain vs. John McCain" does just that. Greenwald's Brave New Films is an interesting example of the way that political filmmakers are utilizing both the viral explosion and the short film form to reach a very large audience.

1 comment:

Ben said...

I've always been fascinated by the determination and prolific output of Greenwald, and his grasp of the viral possibilities of short video. I also respect him for being one of the louder critics on the front lines as far back as 2003-2004, when the going was a lot tougher. It's also interesting that you first saw him on Stephen Colbert, since I see Colbert's speech at the White House Correspondent's Association dinner in early 2006 as a kind of turning point (the court jester to Greenwald's sober documentarian). When I lived in Vermont, I remember people organized public showings of Greenwald's films and discussion groups, which seems to be an interesting possibility for these political short films, which can be produced quickly and provide a big impact (and be spread wide by YouTube).