Sunday, September 06, 2015

TANNER '88 (1988) - Robert Altman

Altman skewers the political campaign process nearly as well as he does Hollywood (The Player) and the military (M*A*S*H) in this 11 episode made-for-HBO series. It's a treat to see his trademark roving, zooming camera style and densely overlapping dialogue tracks applied to an '80s era video format (what is that? Beta? Beta SP?). It makes this earliest of mockumentaries feel even more doc-like than his 35mm versions done in a similar style. Michael Murphy is great as the blank slate faux Gary Hart candidate Tanner, but it's the side characters I kept coming back for. Matt Malloy, as the campaign videographer with a tendency to hit "record" during extremely private moments. The tireless workhouse Pamela Reed as his seen-it-all campaign manager. Ilana Levine as Reed's ditzy, too-kindhearted-for-politics intern who eventually explodes during a "get out the vote" telephone blitz. I think I may have developed a heavy '80s crush on Levine's "Andrea Spinelli" during the course of those six hours. Is that weird?

If you're an Altman loyalist or a Reagan-era political junkie, Tanner '88 is essential viewing. If not, you may want give one episode a whirl before committing to the full 11. Altman won an Emmy for "The Boiler Room" episode set during the Democratic National Convention with Harry Anderson (Night Court) as a "super-delegate strategist." Most would probably say that's the best place to dip in. But the episode that gets my strongest vote is the one called "The Girlfriend Factor." Tanner gets accosted by a robot at an electronics convention asking him if he's ever smoked marijuana or used crack cocaine, which is hilarious. He then visits an inner city Detroit project to "hear" its real-life angry residents, which turns very sobering very fast. In that one episode, we see the two extremes of what Tanner '88 does best-- mixing the real and the fake-- and what Altman did like no other-- seguing seamlessly between humor and tragedy.

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