The Austin Chronicle

Man From Plains

By Marjorie Baumgarten, September 13, 2007, 4:39pm, Picture in Picture

Thirty years ago, our nation was gently bemused by the words and actions of our one-term president, Jimmy Carter, as he spoke candidly about having lusted in his heart and challenged us to fight the oil embargo by lowering thermostats, donning sweaters in the cold and casual clothes instead of business suits in the heat of summer. Nowadays, as we confront the realities of blowjobs in the Oval Office, the defilement of congressional pages by our purportedly righteous officials, and the indisputability of global warming, the plainspoken man from Plains, Georgia, seems a lot more less naïve than we once made him out to be. Even his devout Christianity no longer seems out of step with the national sentiment but rather the guiding principles of a man who practices what he preaches instead of mouthing the anti-life religiosity of some (our present born-again Commander in Chief comes to mind).
Jonathan Demme, whose documentary career is turning out to be almost as interesting as his narrative films, has made Man From Plains about President Carter. Primarily, the film follows the president on this past winter’s book tour conducted on behalf of Carter’s 21st book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. The book proved highly controversial, mostly for the use of the word “apartheid” to describe the Israeli treatment of their Palestinian population. In addition to documenting the book tour, Demme also records the work the Nobel Peace Prize-winning former president performs for Habitat for Humanity, the Carter Center, and other organizations, as well as seeking out meetings with those who call choose to call him an anti-Semite and bigot. At the age of 81, Carter seems more vigorous than many people half his age. The film is a revealing portrait (which won three separate awards at the Venice Film Festival last week), and is greatly enhanced by the original music contributions of Austin treasure Alejandro Escovedo, whose background guitar work and arrangements help provide a connective through-line for the movie. Escovedo’s work as a rock & roller, orchestra conductor, and solo musician all coalesce in this project, and offer great promise for Demme’s next documentary project, which is reported to be a film about Escovedo that will be shot in Austin. Can’t wait.

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