Tanner on Tanner
A groundbreaking mini-series on its debut in the 1980s, "Tanner '88" mixed fiction and reality as it showed fictitious Democratic presidential candidate Jack Tanner (Murphy) meeting politicians Bob Dole and Ralph Nader. Treating Tanner as if he were a real candidate, the writers blurred the lines of fact and fiction. Now its digitized, sexy sequel, "Tanner on Tanner," offers political satire and comments on the decay of American independent film production, and puts Jack Tanner's daughter Alex (Nixon), still impassioned and free-spirited, at the center. A Greenwich Village film teacher and documentarian, she's finishing a documentary about her father's presidential campaign. The first scene begins as he arrives at her apartment the day before the film will premiere at a festival.
Even with her film still incomplete, Alex lets a sexy young student, Stuart, shoot footage of her, as Alex becomes the subject of a documentary-within-a-fictitious documentary. She probably promotes Stuart because he's sexy, rather than for his talents. Martin Scorsese cameos and says, "Everyone's making pictures."
As her movie appears on screen, Alex suddenly doubts its worth, and runs out of the theatre. Returning, she finds half the audience gone, and the rest indifferent. In a post-screening question-answer session, Alex, thinking her film a failure, cries, until a familiar voice rings out: Crying has no place in independent filmmaking. It's Robert Redford.
Steeling herself, Alex sets out to add urgency to her film, and gets access to the Democratic Convention - further mix fictitious and real people, while showing the hardships of independent filmmaking. Using a credit card to fund their film, the crew share a shabby motel room. Then, Stuart's candid late-night conversation with Alex in the room, lit only by flashlight, explains a tragedy but leaves Alex unsure if she's a widow or abandoned wife. Alex doesn't know Stuart is filming the filming; as he holds a flashlight to light his (fictitious) film, he lights the real film, further blurring boundaries.
Jack Tanner, so innocent and idealistic in Tanner 88 as he tried to get elected, is the product of filmmakers who, in Tanner on Tanner, are idealists pursuing the truths of film. Given the current political climate, they might wonder: What have all the ideals done for our country lately?
Gary Trudeau and Robert Altman
Cynthia Nixon, Michael Murphy, Pamela Reed, Matt Malloy and Ilana Levine
Gary Trudeau, Robert Altman, Tanner '88, fictitional Preside
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