Movie Review: ‘Of By For,’ an Indictment of American Politics

July 5th, 2013

Christopher Kay

Dan Rather in the documentary “Of By For.”

There’s a double-edged bit in “Frances Ha” when somebody warns Greta Gerwig’s character about credit-card debt, and she replies: “I know that. I see documentaries.” Anyone who has seen a political documentary in the past five years, and possibly anyone who has lived through the past five years, may find Christopher Kay’s talking-heads lineup “Of By For” to be a dated news flash.

Mr. Kay’s commonplace contention is that there’s little difference between the two major parties that monopolize our country’s democratic system. A brief overture of man-on-the-street takes (some of which seem a bit guided by the questioning) gives way to political professionals and others offering diagnoses in visually numbing succession. These include Ralph Nader, Al Sharpton, Dan Rather, Newt Gingrich, Roger Stone and the felon-turned-pundit Jack Abramoff.

If the lineup is bipartisan, the analysis oscillates between apt and obvious, culminating inevitably in amen calls for popular action. Underdeveloped is the possibility that the savvy-sounding pick-your-poison view of two-party rule might ignore real historical differences. When indie music burbles during some of the interviews, the film itself comes to feel like a kind of golden-oldies soundtrack for Obama-era frustration.

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