Andrew Breitbart, Orson Bean, Dick Armey, Michelle Bachmann
(Rocky Mountain; US theatrical: 17 May 2013 (Limited release); 2013)
There’s a fine line between genius and insanity. There’s an even finer one between revolutionary and terrorist. Sitting somewhere in between these various definitions is the late political pundit and media crusader Andrew Breitbart. Adopted by the so-called “Tea Party” as their primary advocate against big, intrusive government, the former firebrand and current source of sacrosanct documentary treatment by Andrew Marcus sure knew how to stir things up. His goal? Bring more transparency and accuracy - and as a result, truth - to the clearly left-leaning liberal press machine that kept conservatives down for decades. Sadly, like the film featuring his often insightful diatribes, his ‘assertion equals fact’ foundation grows tiresome and very one sided.
The title doesn’t really tell you about Marcus’s modus. The intention here is not to bury Breitbart, but to portray him as the caped crusader for a cause few except Fox News will take up. The Left, both as an idea and as a persona, is consistently condemned as wrongheaded and anti-American, montages highlighting the hate they feel for those in Breitbart’s camp. Without a clearer eye, without any critique whatsoever, the viewer is left with the notion that nothing the man says or said…NOTHING...is reproachable, worthy of further discussion, or capable of being countermanded. Perhaps it’s a necessary position, given that Breitbart is often painted in a similar fashion from the media, but a compelling documentary it doesn’t make.
No, this is a love letter, a lament for a dead patriot who pulled up alongside the constant blather of boring political speech and inserted his F-bomb laden corrections into a debate that was conspiratorially plotted against him. There’s no doubt the man was intelligent. Numerous times throughout the film you can see where his loud, loutish bravado is actually exposing a well thought out and considered opinion. He also has a point about the one sided structure of the media. Of course, he doesn’t consider the continuing commercialization of the news as a factor, nor does he explain how using a single example of a single situation in a singular circumstance (as with his expose - ? - on ACORN) can suddenly define an entire enterprise.
Indeed, by holding Breitbart up as the gold standard - and he very may well have been - the documentary attempts to legitimize everything else his cause stands for. After all, why would anyone follow someone flawed, who may actually be overreaching in his assessments about the current state of partisan politics? The answer, of course, is that no man is fallible, just as no argument is without refutation. But Hating Breitbart wants to have its neo-con cakes and keep them away from the rational as well. By following the man around for two years, by gaining the kind of access that causes journalism to lose sight of the subject, Marcus becomes his biggest fan. He fetishizes Breitbart, essaying a passionate display of propaganda that would make Third World despots smile.
Naturally, you may question this critics politics as part of your reaction to such harsh words, but a movie like this demands such a reply. In the past, when Breibart was mixing it up with Bill Maher as part of a panel on his HBO series Real Time, or plying his particular trade across this great unwashed media landscape known as the Internet, yours truly has found him engaging if irritating, the biggest problem being something we in the trade call the “Oh? Really?” Factor. Just like Oliver Stone’s overly complicated theory about the assassination of JFK, Breitbart’s fears about the government, and its sitting African American leader, have a requisite amount of viability. Then he goes overboard, and all you can think is…
Besides, Marcus’ movie isn’t out to alter the enemy. This is preaching to the converted time amplified by the latest in insular PR promotion. Breitbart wanted to craft a people’s movement. What he got instead was a grassroots gang that utilize intimidation and blind allegiance where a bit more thought might help. Should we be concerned about the government trampling on our civil rights? Absolutely. Should an ACORN employee caught on camera doctoring applications to support prostitution be prosecuted? Yes. But when it was later revealed (in the courts, not this film) that “citizen journalist” James O’Keefe edited the footage to infer crimes that were never really committed, does Marcus or anyone else comment? Nope. As with most smear campaigns, the damage done initially cannot be retracted later.
Still, you have to give Hating Breitbard credit. No other film on the subject would be as slavishly non-objective as this one. As a tool to bring more membership into the Tea Party fold (complete with a PG-13 version to keep the F-bombs from fretting the soccer moms) it is without parallel. As an attempt to paint a thorough and in-depth look at who Breitbart was and how he came into prominence, it’s lacking. In fact, it’s hard to imagine the motives behind this project as being nothing short of a preparation for future political campaigns. Had Breitbart not died suddenly (a fact given cursory consideration by some last minute onscreen text), one could easily see him showboating the movie around the country, sitting down for sold out Q&As which, while perceptive, will also just incite.
Sure, the inherent racism and homophobia on display will make a 2013 mindset bristle, but something like Hating Breitbart doesn’t exist in our contemporary cultural zeitgeist. Instead, it follows its own antiquated notions of power being innate in the people. While our Constitution may have been founded on such a principle, said precept has long been abused and overthrown by politicians who only now how to serve self, not their constituency. Had he stayed within this obvious violation of the public trust, Andrew Breitbart would be more than a Conservative champion. Thanks to this film, that’s all he’ll ever be.