DID YOU READ

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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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.