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The news came down on Sunday that Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York State who resigned in 2008 amid allegations of soliciting prostitutes, would be re-entering the political arena and running for the office of New York City comptroller. The question is whether Spitzer can rehabilitate his public image enough to win the voters' favor and get elected.
Advocacy documentary has a way of seeping into the public consciousness.
One such avenue to image rehab may well be Alex Gibney's 2010 documentary Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer. The film -- a Producers Guild and Directors Guild nominee -- tracks the trajectory of a scandal-ridden politician, including the usual beats of ascent, disgrace, and contrition. But it also makes the very compelling case that Spitzer's downfall came in part because he made himself a target of the financial industry for his hawkish regulatory policies while Attorney General and later Governor of New York.
Armed with the hindsight of the 2008 financial collapse, Gibney's film makes the case that Spitzer was looking to be a more vigilant watchdog for the financial industry than Wall Street wanted. If you're talking about first steps on the road to image rehabilitation, painting Spitzer as a progressive crusader who flew too close to the sun certainly beats escort-service patron.
Of course, when talking about the breadth of influence that a film might have in the public realm, particularly a documentary film, you have to keep in mind that, relatively speaking, the majority of your voting base won’t have seen the film in question, unless it’s a huge box-office smash (which docs almost never are, Client 9 included).
But advocacy documentary has a way of seeping into the public consciousness anyway, and advocacy docs are what Gibney does best, from Taxi to the Dark Side (torture) to No End In Sight (the Iraq War) to Mea Maxima Culpa (the sex scandals in the Catholic Church) to this year’s We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, Gibney's films not only touch on hot-button issues, but they help put human faces on abstract social/political concepts. Whether his intentions are political or simply informational, Gibney's work has shown itself to be influential. If the Spitzer campaign for comptroller is smart, they'll start sending out the Client 9 Netflix streaming link.
Previously: One for Me / One for Them: Steve Carell