The Battles of Tim Eyman
Available on DVD, here
If you're Tim Eyman, you'll definitely love Paul Fraser's documentary.
If you're one of the battalion of state journalists, pols, talk hosts, bureaucrats, politicos, activists, or just random citizens walking around Greenlake who appear in it, you may really like this doc.
If you're just incredibly, troublingly wonky about state politics you could like this doc.
But we were suspicious when the twitchy NW Republican blog wrote, "You just know this makes the moonbats seethe inside."
It was for us-- not so much seething... as dozing. (We love to seethe, as you know).
We're sure Fraser thinks his very long (110 mins) is fair and balanced; but we're guessing he fell under Eyman's spell, and though there are dissenting voices, the movie is framed by Eyman, and his minions, Mike and Jack Fagan.
Fraser has taken the smooth-toothed fakir from Mukilteo at the value of his face, which so many over the years, have thoroughly discounted. As for time on camera, no one gets as much as Eyman as he spins smirks, tap dances, lectures, gloats, condescends, and smiles in that annoying way he has which signals he's very satisfied with... himself.
It's a hagiography of Tim Eyman.
That said, there was some interesting footage (especially if you are that wonky wonk) of notorious Eyman press conferences. Like the one with Seattle Timesman, David Postman, red in the face, asking Eyman if he's duping the press to help himself get more signatures in the final days of his demogogic, anti-gay rights Referendum 65. Tim had summoned the press corps and major media to Olympia and, dressed as Darth Vader, and waving a light saber, he appeared empty-handed which infuriated all concerned.
The film showed that confrontation, which was good fun, but never addressed the opportunistic nature of his butting into that issue which was so far outside his usual anti-tax realm.
There's great footage of Sen. Adam Klein, interrupting an Eyman presser yelling, "Where's the fat?" and Tim motor-mouthing nervously, and looking like he has a turd in his mouth.
We loved watching P-I reporter Neil Modie dogging Tim so close, it seems like he was inspecting Tim's armpit. He follows him through doorways, pushes his way into Eyman's elevator, and when Tim and entourage jump back out to avoid Modie's avid questioning, Modie jumps back out too.
There's lots of David Goldstein who made his name with his initiative declaring Tim a horse's ass, (which has proven true over time) and has been dining out on it ever since. Goldy holds forth smartly and reads the initiative for the camera and smokes a cigar doing a poor Churchill mimic. There are dutiful pics of a horse from behind (which looks uncannily like stealth Republican Sen. Tim Sheldon if you look closely).
Sen. Pam Roach is nearly as much of a media whore as Eyman, so she's there filling frames as much as possible with her perm, right-wing tut-tuts, and tongue-jabs.
There's an obnoxious celebratory press conference held after some bills were defeated that would've mitigated initiatives and referenda. Pam ceremoniously throws copies of the bills one at a time into a garbage can while Eyman tosses in a bouquet of funeral lilies after each -- except he has only one bunch of lilies so he has to dig it out of the garbage over and over. Terse former talk host Mike Siegel, the snarling Sen. Don Benton, Evergreen Freedom Foundation's bloodless Bob Williams, and the aforementioned Sen. Sheldon look on and join in the hilarity -- you can imagine just how fun it was. The gloating is unsufferable, the humor and bravado are trumped-up.
Talk host Michael Medved is the big name in the movie, and he doesn't say much of import, but as the other talk hosts who appear, he says it very well. Intense Medved producer Jeremy Steiner (the pride of Hill'n'dale College) did a cameo as did a pre-op Dori Monson who was very reasonable, and acting like the suburban voice of reason that he isn't. BJ Shea, on The Buzz at the time, is funny, and glib but not terribly well informed -- good guy but not a news talker.
Such room temperature talking heads, such as former AP reporter Dave Ammons, State Auditor Brian Sonntag, county councilman Larry Gossett, Supreme court justice Jim Johnson who used to write Eyman's intiatives, though nice enough and informed were given way too much droning time.
We got really sick of not only Eyman, but of Mike Fagan's mug, and the very sound of his voice.
The film portrays Tim as a brave activist fighting the system for the people in order to "make a difference." Just as Tim would have written it.
There is no note of his defeats, except in a few words of several of his critics, but no "documentation" like the mass of how Tim is a noble citizen fighting the onerous tax burden, the hateful media, and the craven politicians who are constantly trying to kill him.
Only passing mention of Eyman's famous lying to the public, his supporters, and the media about profiting from his initiatives -- a major event that nearly sunk him.
There's no mention that the anti-gay rights referendum, R-65, never got on the ballot.
There's no mention of the wacky investment banker Michael Dunmire without whose bank-rolling this faux populist could never have operated for the last 5 or 6 years.
Those are astounding omissions, and don't bode well for the credibility of the film.
That Eyman's initiatives have so often been struck down by the courts is passed off by Medved and others as some kind of anti-Eyman conspiracy, not that they might be have been fairly judged unconstitutional.
Fraser needs an editor. This film should be one hour instead of two. Too scattered, no sense of the chronology of these "battles." Too much slow-mo of Tim Eyman walking down marbled halls with dramatic symphonics. Flags flying, dramatic music, and landscape shots --all conspire to water down any semblance of narrative arc.
Filmmaker Paul Fraser read a book by Noam Chomsky and says it changed forever the way he views media. Fraser said he wasn't into politics until reading the book and getting interested in Tim Eyman.
If a documentarian is to have credibility, he must have a porcelain eye and an ear for bullshit. Falling for a subject's siren song is not good. Tim Eyman is a sweet-talking man, and many have been seduced. If Fraser isn't a stealth partisan, then he was bamboozled.
We hope Fraser's next project will be more limited in scope and with a fuller understanding of historical context, and a more skeptical ear.