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Alex Gibney Speaks Up for “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer”

Alex Gibney Speaks Up for “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer” (photo)

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“This year was kind of a fluke and a freak,” Alex Gibney said of 2010, the first 11 months of which have seen the release of three of his documentaries — “Casino Jack and the United States of Money,” “My Trip to Al-Qaeda” and his portion of “Freakonomics” — and will usher in another this week with “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer,” an investigation into the New York governor whose triumphs as a public official were quickly erased by his private indiscretions. If that description of Gibney’s latest sounds vague when nearly every American could recount some of the most sordid details of Spitzer’s sex life by heart, it’s because “Client 9” unfurls a narrative that barely resembles the one laid out by the mass media in their rush to make a star out of prostitute Ashley Dupré and a goat out of the man some predicted would become “the first Jewish president” after building his reputation as a dogged attorney general who took on the powers on Wall Street.

It took considerably longer for Gibney to get Spitzer’s shocked allies, giddy enemies and the former governor himself to speak on the record, but as the Oscar-winning director of “Taxi to the Dark Side” admits, the two years Gibney spent after the scandal broke was in the best interest of the final product, allowing for the discovery of the real relationships Spitzer had with prostitutes (hint: it wasn’t necessarily with Dupré) and the time to piece together how financial titans such as AIG’s Hank Greenberg and Home Depot founder Ken Langone engineered Spitzer’s disgraceful ouster from government. (My full review of the film from the Toronto Film Fest is here.) Recently, Gibney sat down with me to discuss taking the side of the defense for a change, how “Client 9” reminds him of “The Big Sleep” and his friendly competition with “Inside Job” director [and “No End in Sight” collaborator] Charles Ferguson.

What originally got you interested in this?

This was one that was offered to me, ironically by my producers who had been approached by some hedge fund guys and I think they felt it was fun to do something about Spitzer’s downfall. My deal was after thinking about it for a week, it just seemed to be about a lot of things, but there wasn’t any particular theme. It seemed like such a rich story and a story that had a mystery at its heart, so I dug in and then to the hedge fund people, I said, “Look, I don’t want to be beholden to anybody on this story, so put the money in an account, give me total editorial control and I’ll do it.”

11042010_AlexGibney.jpgLike “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” this film is based on a book by Peter Elkind (“Rough Justice”). Do you and he have a collaborative relationship?

It was on this one. It was on “Enron” too, but they had written their book [already], so they helped me, they advised me – he and Bethany [McLean, the co-author], but on this one, I knew Peter had gone to school with Spitzer and I knew he had done some big profiles of him for Fortune magazine, so it seemed like if we had teamed up that we might get something done together. The deal was each one of us — and we had enjoyed working together on “Enron” — would do whatever we wanted to do in terms of the final result. He’d write his book the way he wanted. I’d do my film the way I wanted, but along the way, we’d help each other. Maybe we’d dig out different pieces of the puzzle. And that’s what ended up happening. Also for me, it was key because Peter was a key entrée into Spitzer himself.

This film appears to sympathize with Spitzer to some degree when many of your other films have been takedowns, like “Enron” or “Casino Jack.” Was it different approaching a film from the defense rather than the prosecution?

That’s a good way of putting it. In a funny way, I think I’m a little bit of both in this movie, but yeah, I am sympathetic to Spitzer. Generally speaking, the film is sympathetic to Spitzer. At the same time, I hope I was tough and one of the things that we did was to find out some uncomfortable things that he may have wished we hadn’t found out about the escort world and his role in it.

So it was a little bit of both, but it’s funny in this one. I think this one was a little different for a number of reasons and the key reason I think is I didn’t approach it like a prosecutor would approach. It wasn’t kind of a legal brief like “Taxi to the Dark Side” was. It was a story and I tried to understand the parameters of the story and in telling the story learn some things that I might not have heard otherwise. But it was all about telling the story.

11042010_AshleyDupre.jpgThere’s a lot of misdirection in the film, which I imagine might’ve reflected your own struggles to get at the truth. How much did being misled personally enter the actual structure of the film?

It’s a very perceptive question because I think the structure is all about that. It’s all about setting up the audience for one expectation and then undermining it. Or really, not trying to trick them, but basically saying this is what we think we know, because that’s very much the situation I was in as I approached the story. I would come across stuff and say, “oh, I think I know this – Ashley Dupre’s the person.” Turns out it wasn’t Ashley Dupré. When we first showed that guy Hubert Waldrop, the painter, you think well, what’s this painter doing? And then it’s revealed slowly but surely that he’s not a painter really…he’s a booker for one of the escort agencies.

Same thing – you think well, it’s obvious Spitzer just did something that was terrible, so what more is there to know? But in fact, there was a lot more to know, particularly in terms of how he was taken down. And Spitzer himself says, “I took myself down,” which is true, but he has to say that. From the standpoint of us as citizens, we have to wonder what other abuses of power were involved in the way he was taken down, which in my view, was utterly inappropriate. I thought about “The Big Sleep” a lot when I was making the movie. The deeper you get into the movie, the more at sea you are until you come to the end. And at the end of the day, it’s not so important who killed the chauffeur as the kind of mood and character of the people in the story.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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