Even as a CNN political talk show host, the specter of scandal haunts Eliot Spitzer. Oscar winning Alex Gibney seized the moment to document the fallen governor who many believe might have been president. At the movie's premier last week, the filmmaker addressed a screening room at the Tribeca Grand Hotel packed with a who's who of documentary filmmakers, Barbara Kopple, Chris Hegedus, D. A. Pennebaker, Albert Maysles, Kate Davis, as well as writers Erica Jong and others mesmerized by the epic dimension of the Spitzer story. Mostly people wanted to know how Gibney got his interview subjects to talk, and were surprised to learn how very eager they were to do so, especially such enemies as Joe Bruno and AIG's Hank Greenberg. When Gibney unspooled this work-in-progress at the Tribeca Film Festival last spring, Client 9 was a working title. He was just releasing Casino Jack, about Jack Abramoff. I caught up with him in the offices of Magnolia Pictures.
Weinreich: You are showing an untitled Spitzer documentary. Is there a connection between questions raised about government, politics, and money in Jack's story with Eliot Spitzer?
Gibney: The Spitzer story is more complicated. Unlike Casino Jack, there's no easy prescriptive answer to Eliot Spitzer, but I was interested in him as a character, in his rise and his fall. He is one of the few who understands the political economy, the wicked games that are played in the financial community, and he knew how to get tough. The SEC wasn't doing it. I admire him.
After the scandal happened, everybody was talking about it; still is, because it cuts very deep. How do we choose our public officials? What do we need them for? What about relations between men and women? How do we parse that? Spitzer is not the only powerful man who was unfaithful to his wife, but it was a spectacular moment because the way he presented himself he was so unlikely a character a candidate for using prostitutes. He prosecuted people for having done the same.
There's no doubt that his enemies were gleeful. That's part of the film, the political blood sport. And a lot of the people who went after him, as with Clinton, were guilty of the same or similar crimes. Eliot Spitzer didn't corner the market on hypocrisy.
At last week's after event at Kastel at Trump Soho, partiers munched on lamb chops and fois gras canapés, and mused on another unlikely star of the movie: the now 26 year old Cecile (CeCe) Suwal, former Madam of the Emporers Club, an active if unaware participant in bringing the former governor down. Giggling, rolling her eyes through her interview, she becomes the movie's unlikely co-star-and comic relief. You simply cannot make a character like this up!
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