“First of all,” Hillary Clinton tells a table full of women voters, “You never say anything that is interesting and they keep taking pictures of you and they keep recording you, and it goes on and on and on, in case you do something, I guess.” She’s wearing a headband and a gigantic gold brooch. And with that, the scene cuts to a TV interview with Gennifer Flowers: “He has wonderful lips,” she confides, “He’s a wonderful kisser.” Her makeup is perfect and her pink jacket is adorned with… a gigantic gold brooch. Ah yes, 1992. And more specifically, in Kevin Rafferty and James Ridgeway’s documentary Feed, the New Hampshire primary, which Paul Tsongas went on to win. The film—which is screening at Stranger Than Fiction on 8 May, to be followed by a Q&A with Rafferty—doesn’t clarify how all this strange history happened, but it does show how candidates and journalists do their work for TV cameras, in interviews and in the feeds leading to and from those interviews, and in footage shot by the filmmakers around the state.
Watching this grainy, noisy footage, you remember that back in the olden days, time elapsed between events and transmissions. Now, watching George H.W. Bush fiddle while waiting for an interview to begin, Bob Kerrey struggle to hear an off-site reporter, and Bill Clinton spin the Flowers scandal into a surprisingly good second place finish, you see realize that managing that time made all the difference. Both Clintons are already great at it, in 1992, and Pat Buchanan already looks out of date.
Even more compelling and more prescient than the film’s subject matter, however, is its storytelling. Assembling clip after clip, without intervening or framing interviews, it looks a little like another film about how TV shapes and distorts and reports news, Brett Morgen’s June 17, 1994. Even as it follows a chronology, Feed observes TV as a process, one that creates chronology and assembles ideology.