While hideous scandals and devastating tragedies have attended the Kennedy's long and ongoing tenure in Washington, the nation's respect and admiration for the family has likewise proven unshakable. Just as Americans have shown an abiding willingness to forgive the Kennedy brothers' most shameful indiscretions, so too does Peter Kunhardt's film, Teddy: In His Own Words, pardon their public misdeeds. A tender, nostalgic profile of the Camelot clan through the eyes of its youngest member, the documentary plays eerily like a premature eulogy.
With a thick head of hair and a thick Boston accent to match his eight older siblings, Edward Moore Kennedy grew up with an acute awareness of the lofty expectations that would accompany his adulthood. Early in his political career, he came to embody the family's glamour, iconography and more importantly, commitment to public service.
For over four decades, he has been the most visible and influential leader among liberal democrats. In an electric, pulpit-banging speech at the DNC midterm convention in 1978, Senator Kennedy sounded a spirited call for health reform:
As long as I'm a vote and as long as I have a voice in the U.S. senate, it's going to be for the democratic platform plan that provides decent quality health care north and south, east and west, for all Americans as a matter of right and not of privilege.
A stalwart crusader for civil rights, higher minimum wage, lower unemployment rates and health care reform, Ted Kennedy's forty-six year service as nine-time Massachusetts Senator is faithfully chronicled with a privileged library of photographs and painstakingly edited video footage. Kunhardt's HBO documentary, which premiers Monday, July 13 at 9:00PM, is a stirring visual and emotional experience.
To be sure, the film devotes more camera time to breezy, sun-soaked shots of Ted sailing on the cape than to probing the mysterious Chappaquiddick incident. It is a generous tribute. Just after Ted gave Caroline Kennedy away at her wedding, Jackie Kennedy wrote the following in a letter to her brother-in-law:
On you, the carefree youngest brother, fell a burden a hero would beg to be spared. Everyone is going to make it because you are always there with your love.
One of the most touching moments in the film comes when Senator Kennedy looks toward the camera, glassy-eyed, having just read the letter aloud. Choked-up, he says, "That's about as nice as you can get." The film too, in its gentle portrait of the controversial politician, is "about as nice as you can get."