By Bill Stamets
Programmed by Roots and Culture Gallery


Friday, May 9, 2008

As the 2008 presidential campaign plods on, perhaps it’s time for a flashback to the dark days of late-20th-century campaigning.

Chicago documentarian, Bill Stamets brings out three campaign-trail treasures: primary, caucus, convention, and inauguration footage shot in ’88, ’92 and ’96. With a light touch reminiscent of Frederick Wiseman, these documents provide a look back at recently-forgotten political landscapes. In the first few minutes of these films, we get a distinct impression that the players rotate, but the political game stays the same. But after a half-hour of watching Stamets’s films, and recognizing politician after politician, it becomes clear that the faces of our political landscape really haven’t changed in twenty years: Al Gore, Bob Dole, Jesse Jackson, Ralph Nader, Hillary Clinton, Pat Buchannan. What really changes in this quadrennial game?

Armed with a Super-8 and later a Hi-8 camera, Stamets embeds with the press-corps using these amateur cameras to notice moments at the margins of the “real” reportage. In this day of incessant, round-the-clock audio and video coverage of all candidates, Stamets’s films have a strange sense of prescience to them. On one hand, they anticipate the intense coverage of unscripted moments with cell phones and miniature digital camcorders that cam make or break a candidate who slips even the tiniest bit. But more interestingly, they are situated in a historical moment when that type of equipment was available for those purposes, but before it became so common that politicians learned to fully protect themselves or manipulate it. The masterful charisma of Bill Clinton is striking in these films, as is a fleeting moment of what looks like boredom mixed with dread that crosses Jesse Jackson’s face in the midst of an Iowa meet’ n’ greet.

Bill Stamets is a Chicago-based writer, reviewer, photographer and filmmaker. He has pointed lenses at the presidential candidates, Mayor Harold Washington, the Comsky-Dahl anti-disco riot, and local neo-Nazis. He reviews films for the Chicago Sun-Times and New City, and teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Columbia College Chicago.

Iowa and its Presidents (Super 8, sound, 1988)
Presidential Appearances (Super 8, silent, 1988-1992)
Primary Visibility (DV, 1996)

Very Special Thanks to programmer, Alexander Stewart.

Filed under: film, video