It’s not political theater, even political amphitheater. It’s beyond political grandstanding, even though there are grandstands in the picture. It’s the political imagemaking equivalent of the chariot race in Ben Hur
: Air Force One taking off next to Daytona International Speedway during the Daytona 500.
And it was purely for show; GWB had already run a partial lap around the track in his motorcade before turning the gaggle of NASCAR drivers into colorful extras for his own photo op. [The composition is similar to the Thanksgiving turkey shoot in Iraq, where a 3-D environment wraps around Bush, as opposed to the less sophisticated made-from-people backdrop
.] I can’t wait for a similar shot from the Republican Convention, with corporate sponsors swarming around Bush in a visual cacophany of be-logoed gear.
Whatever your leanings, you have to be daft, numb and blind to not appreciate the near-sublime stagecraft of White House Productions’ Scott Sforza. [via NYT’s David Sanger
Update [via Slate’s Bryan Curtis
]: in 1969 Nixon tried to pull the same sports photo op to appeal to the same demographic by choppering into the Texas-Arkansas football game. The resulting photos
are positively primitive compared to Sforza’s handiwork. No DW Griffith, but it got the criticism-deflecting job done.
[via Gothamist] Jimmy Orr, the Choire Sicha to George Bush’s Nick Denton, has posted his new short film, Barney Cam II: Barney Reloaded, on his weblog, whitehouse.gov. Elizabeth Bumiller, the Times‘ specialist on the dependent film industry, gives it a glowing review and talks with Orr, who co-produced Barney II with Bob deServi. DeServi is best known for his work as the key grip on many of Scott Sforza’s productions, which are being shown on TV everywhere, all the time, on every channel.
Magic Hour? Scott Orr demonstrates his handheld video technique in
the making of Barney Cam II. Image: Paul Morse, whitehouse.gov
director Gus Van Sant, Orr prefers working with non-professional actors (although it doesn’t seem like he budgeted much time for rehearsals). He’s got a scrappy, run-and-gun style which constrasts sharply with Sforza’s theatrically staged fictions.
As these behind-the-scenes shots
reveal, Orr also scorns the debilitatingly large budgets favored by his White Housemates. His equipment package and crew are strictly barebones: a Sony VX-2000 (good, but not Combat Camera good), with a camera-mounted mic feeding into the XLR adapter (no sound guy) and using only available lighting. Of course, none of this is unexpected; compensating for a small package is a recurring theme on Orr’s site.
Also screening at whitehouse.gov:
Secretary Evans Reads “Cowboy Night Before Christmas”
[Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, FYI]
Mrs. Bush Reads “Angelina’s Christmas”
Ungrateful criticism of diServi and Sforza by their star actor
Bumiller’s first review of Scott Sforza and Bob diServi productions
Since before Elizabeth Bumiller came up with the term for the Times, I was a fan of Sforzian Backgrounds, the news-manipulating slogans created by Scott Sforza, a key member of the White House’s advance scenery and production team, for just about every public appearance of George W. Bush. [After giving up hope for a commentary track from Sforza himself, I wrote my own interpretive post for Bush’s trip to Africa last July.]
And yet this week in a rare press conference, when he was asked about one of his Sforzian Backgrounds, Bush said, ” The ‘Mission Accomplished’ sign, of course, was put up by the members of the USS Abraham Lincoln, saying that their mission was accomplished. I know it was attributed some how to some ingenious advance man from my staff — they weren’t that ingenious, by the way.”
Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall is rightly shocked, shocked, that Bush is trying to pin the background on the military. I hope the unsigned report in the Times is a placeholder for an impending Bumiller story. In the mean time, I’ll call George W. on his transparent lie: his advance men are ingenious. [And they were behind the banner.]
In her first report on White House stagecraft, Bumiller reported that these advance men spent days “embedded” on the Abraham Lincoln staging the speech. “Sforza and his aides choreographed every aspect of the event.”
Sforza positioned the audience/crew in the background according to their uniform color:bright turtlenecks on the fighter wing (a favorite Sforzian spot, by the way),
Army standard [thanks, Dan!]Navy service khakis in the front row. And to help them blend in with the troops, he put Bush’s Secret Service detail in Top Gun-style bomber jackets rather than their typical G-Man suits. Meanwhile, Bob deServi, the White House cinematographer, went the extra mile, turning the aircraft carrier around in order 1) to show a background of open sea and not the nearby San Diego skyline, and 2) to get the “magic hour” light just so on his boss’s face. The banner is instantly recognizable as Sforza’s–and the White House’s–ingenious vision.
The real question here is not who put up that banner, but why is Bush dishonestly and unfairly harshing on his loyal soldiers for it, both in the military and in the White House?
Related: Sforza’s version of Out of Africa
Whitehouse Stagecraft: Is this going to be on the DVD?