It's hard to imagine a fall from grace that happened faster, and with more finality, than Eliot Spitzer's. Once nicknamed "The Sheriff of Wall Street" because, as New York state attorney general, he prosecuted some of America's biggest financial criminals, Spitzer was elected governor with a whopping 69 percent of the vote and seemed a contender for the nation's first Jewish president.
Then it was revealed that he had been patronizing expensive call girls, and Spitzer's public career was over almost overnight. But were the revelations of sexual misconduct the result of leaks to the press orchestrated by his many enemies? That's the provocative question at the heart of Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, opening Nov. 5.
The film by director Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys In the Room) operates on a number of levels: as a well-researched peek into the world of high end escort services, where the women are beautiful and often well- educated, and cost as much as $2,000 per hour; as an in-depth look at Spitzer's pre-scandal career, filled with arrogance, successful prosecutions and the ability to make plenty of enemies on Wall Street and in Albany; and an interesting speculation on whether or not Spitzer's crash and burn can be attributed not just to his own actions, but to the machinations of Wall Street big shots and a rogue Republican political operative.
It's all fascinating stuff, and fills the requirements of a well-balanced, total entertainment meal — the confluence of money, sex and power is hard to beat. And give Spitzer credit. He agreed to an on-camera interview, although he seems to alternate between thoroughly uncomfortable, unforthcoming or alarmingly non-introspective when attempting to answer some of the more embarrassing questions. Yet, like a mensch, he blames no one but himself for what happened.
Client 9 also contains one fascinating, newsworthy revelation: that Spitzer's favorite call gal wasn't Ashley Dupre, the aspiring singer who received all the ink during the scandal (Spitzer only hired her once), but a woman code-named "Angelina," whom the then-governor saw on numerous occasions, including out of town and out of the country. Because Angelina was willing to be interviewed but refused to be photographed, rather than the usual shoot-her-in-shadows-and-alter-her-voice template, Gibney decided to hire an actress to dramatize Angelina's responses. The decision works brilliantly, humanizing a key character in the Spitzer drama.
Two years after his downfall, Spitzer is slowly working his way back into the national media scene, thanks to his CNN talk show Parker Spitzer. That his downfall has humbled him to a certain extent, is obvious from his responses in Client 9. But whether he can successfully jump into the political arena again remains to be seen. In the meantime, we have this fascinating film to remind us of a potentially brilliant career cut short by one man's desires and hubris.
Disco and Atomic War
It's official. Revisionist historians have now shown that the end of the Cold War can be attributed to Finnish TV broadcasts of disco dancing, Dallas and the soft porn hit Emmanuelle. Don't believe it? Just check out the wily, well-researched and fabulously droll documentary Disco and Atomic War, opening Nov. 12 in New York, followed by a national release.
Director Jaak Kilmi's film sets out to record how Finnish TV, with its view of Western affluence and decadence, was beamed into the nearby Soviet client state of Estonia, where it not only went over big with the locals, but utterly freaked out the era's Stalinist commissars, who practically went into seizures trying to counter this "bourgeois propaganda" from the West.
Told in a wonderfully deadpan comic style, with archival clips, contemporary interviews and recreated sequences, Disco and Atomic War is a loving chronicle of the occasionally absurd aspects of the East vs. West struggle. Estonian TVs need a special converter to capture Finn broadcasts? No problem — a manufacturing-and-sales underground springs up practically overnight. Official Estonian TV tries to counter all the loving images of Western affluence by creating programs that show how wonderful the Soviet hegemony is? Oops, the shows are so terrible, they're mocked by Finn comedians, and are soon taken off the air. Think you can solve the problem of decadent Western propaganda by removing those converters and demanding the citizenry take down their rooftop antennas? Creativity wins out again — the locals build indoor antennas, including one model made of mercury from a thermometer that not only blanks out any other TV for three kilometers around, but could accidentally set off a nearby nuclear warhead.
And then there's the most bizarre countermove of them all, a proposal advanced (but never carried out) by the Estonian puppet president: Erect a metal net hundreds of feet high and miles long in the Gulf of Finland to block those nasty broadcasts.
To say this is history as farce states the obvious. But it's also a legitimate historical take, emphasizing that imagery — in this case the vision of freedom and affluence the Estonians were seeing every day on their TV sets — can go viral and change the world. Once people start wondering who killed JR, or if they can actually communicate with their cars, a la Knight Rider, any allegiance they might have had to tired Communist platitudes, planned economies and rigid bureaucracies is effectively over.