By Francine Taylor
November 17, 2005 - 3:11 PM PST
This isn't Ralph Nader - as if he were so far left. He had a conservative background with his father as a minister. Became a Senator. He stood for "real American values," or at least the ones we give lip service to, much more than any of the other candidates.
He said something in the film. Some people haven't picked up on it. But of all the things in the film, every time I watch it, you never hear an American politician utter these words. It's close to the end of his first term as a US Senator. The polls in South Dakota had shown that they were vastly pro-war, yet he was the staunch anti-war candidate. And yet he said, "You know. I have six years. I'm probably not going to win. I guess I'll make the best of it."
Here is an American politician saying, "I'm not going to compromise my beliefs just to win. I will stay the course." I think that is epic and monumental in the film. And yet he was re-elected to the Senate because the people in South Dakota - even though the vast majority of them probably disagreed with him on a lot of things - they knew that he had their best interest at heart and he always told them what he believed. He never wavered in his message to them. I think that's a great gift for a politician to give people. Truth and honesty.
Was there anyone you had hoped to interview that you weren't able to?
Yes. I have two stories for you. I interviewed Hunter Thompson. Actually, I shouldn't say interviewed. My goal for Hunter Thompson was to have him read short passages from his book, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72. In the grand tradition of an author's reading. We had set it up and he was very happy to do it, and his wife Anita had rehearsed with him for a couple of months. He had a broken leg and he wanted to wait a few months before we came up to Woody Creek, Colorado and he had these passages he'd rehearsed. McGovern had helped set the interview up because Hunter was an incredible recluse.
I went up there with the crew and he had to leave the house to get part of his cast shaved off. And here's the great irony. Here's this recluse who has people flocking just to be able to talk to him and he never would talk to anybody. We were left alone in his house, which was so strange. He came back an hour later and, unfortunately, he'd ingested so much crap, both booze and drugs, and he was wasted. He kind of turned on the film crew, turned on his wife, turned on me. They wanted us to stay the night and try again, but I felt like it was going to be the same. It was going to be a rerun the next day.
Like there was some part of him that couldn't or wouldn't do it?
Exactly. It had to be self-destructive. To Hunter, it was the game of getting him that was important to him. That was one that would have been from an aesthetic standpoint, not from a story standpoint. To have Hunter read some of the great lines like: "Of all the men who have run for President of the United States in the 20th century, only George McGovern truly understood what a monument America could be to the human race if we could have kept it out of the hands of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon." That's a great line.
He had dozens of them and I was going to punctuate things as connective tissue along the way.
Were you surprised, disappointed? How did you take it?
I was greatly disappointed from a personal standpoint because I was such a fan of his writing. From a filmmaker's standpoint, I was disappointed because I thought it would have been a real coup to have him do this. Nobody gets Hunter and we were there and the camera was rolling. We were ready to go. Just didn't happen.
In some ways, not surprising?
Not surprising at all. I knew it was going to be a task. I knew it was going to be difficult. I just didn't know it would be impossible. But I have footage of the time with Hunter.
Would you be able to use it or do you need permission? Especially now...
Yeah, well, he blew his brains out in the same chair we were interviewing him in. The same spot.
How long before he died?
It was about six months before he killed himself. You know, some people wanted me to use the footage in the film. Create this kind of secondary story in the film.
But it would really be another film.
It's another film and I found it to be a little sensationalist and salacious and I wanted the film to be more respectful to history. On the DVD? Who knows?
Who else did you miss an interview with besides Hunter?
Sir Michael Moore. Who cut his teeth on the McGovern campaign. Michael has written extensively about McGovern and the impact he's had on his life and I was given to his assistant. They agreed to do an interview and, all of sudden, he disappeared and wouldn't answer phone calls. It was around the time of Fahrenheit 9/11.
Think they got a little nervous?
You know, I don't know. After that film, ours is tame compared to it. I don't know what it was, but I know that I wrote an email to Michael and told him that he was full of shit.
You were pretty honest with him.
I had some long conversations with his assistant about how much they believed in the film and they thought it was great. Again, Michael almost owes a lot to McGovern because he is somebody who has carried the torch. So I was disappointed because Michael is a success story and he's somebody who is fighting the machine. And he learned the fight from George McGovern. A lot of people tell me Michael can be a lightening rod, but you know...
Maybe a little ego? Maybe he's used to being the...
The main guy? Maybe. I would just think that he would have enough sense to realize that in George McGovern's waning years [McGovern is 83], and this film is obviously very supportive of him. Has a very distinct point of view for a documentary.
How is it being on the other end, doing interviews for your documentary and then being interviewed?
Yeah, I don't mind talking. It's somewhat cathartic. It's kind of nice to go over it and a lot of times you're thinking, "Why did I do that?" That's why I like the Q&A's after the film. You get some great questions and now you're on the other side and you have to think about your choices.
You did pretty well with your own interviews.
I've never been associated with any project where the outpouring, the response was immediate. Gloria Steinhem. Warren Beatty doesn't do interviews! Everybody was enthusiastic. I was able to work with people who had been heroes to me. Dick Gregory, Gore Vidal. All of these people. It was one hundred percent positive coming out the gate and I only lost a few by the wayside.
How did you present the project to your potential subjects?
This is a way to chronicle the '72 campaign and at the same time draw some analogies to our current political state. The rise of the neo-conservative movement happened wholeheartedly after the '72 campaign. There was a very specific game plan as to how I chose my subjects. It wasn't just willy-nilly. I wanted it to be patchwork quilt of inside politicos, cultural and historical people, who talk about the times. People who just worked the streets.
The film really is more than politics. Very political, yes, but the idea of how it integrates with the culture...
It was a people's campaign. Some old pros, amateurs, some new pros, housewives. Kind of a combination of all these people. And I wanted the film to represent them all.
Was there anyone in particular that you connected with in the interviews, or particularly enjoyed talking to?
Dick Gregory. Dick was wild to interview. You would ask him a question, and he's such a philosopher. In almost a prophetic kind of way. It's like a person running down a road and then all of a sudden they just hit the center of the road and drive right into you. He was the least predictable of everybody. I've always wanted to make a film about Dick Gregory. I would still like to.
Is that something you might follow up on?
Yes. Someone is working on a film about him that has never finished. One of the writer/directors of Larry David's show, Curb Your Enthusiasm. I know that he shot some stuff.
But it doesn't mean there can't be another one. Did you need McGovern's participation to make this film?
Absolutely. Before I called anybody, I wanted to see if his commitment to doing it was there. Doing the film without McGovern would have been like doing Jaws without the shark. There's a biography being written about him, Come Home America, and George always jokes that he hopes the book comes out before he dies because he'd really like to see it.
He's together and he's healthy?
He's in great shape. He's got more energy than I do sometimes. All of us look up to him and you meet him...
You weren't disappointed?
This exceeded my expectations. He was as great if not greater than what I had believed in 1972, which is very hopeful, I guess. He thought the biggest irony was that I had worked so hard for him and couldn't vote.
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"I was a teenage phenom in the McGovern campaign."
"This exceeded my expectations."
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... has written plays and screenplays, fiction and poetry. She lives in Los Angeles.
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