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‘The Soprano State’ and the world of political documentary films

steinbergalanj021610_optBY ALAN J. STEINBERG

We live in an era of ever changing political media. "Political media" are productions in support of a particular issue viewpoint or a political candidate.

When I first became an active player in political campaigns three decades ago, political media consisted primarily of direct mail and radio communications. Political television advertising was still in its infancy. In statewide races, you would see a smattering of thirty second television commercial spots near the end of a campaign. The negative aspects of these commercials were relatively muted as compared with those of today.

In this era, we are overwhelmed with a panoply of political media of remarkable sophistication, including the latest in websites and highly refined email campaigns. The effectiveness of political documentary films, a relatively recent genre, is based upon the ability to first attract a viewing audience and then hold its interest for as long as an hour and one half.

In terms of this test, I have little doubt that the movie, "The Soprano State, Part One" will achieve remarkable box office and artistic success, perhaps an Oscar award as well. The movie was based upon the book, "The Soprano State," authored by journalists Bob Ingle and Sandy McClure and published in 2008. I was honored to be invited to its world premiere last Monday evening, October 18, 2010, at the Ziegfeld Theatre in Manhattan, and I left with the feeling that I will watch this movie again and again.

The most noteworthy political documentary film of this era has been Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth." While that film was replete with factual errors, it did succeed in stimulating interest in the climate change issue. I have not seen the recently released film, "Waiting for Superman," which focuses on the alleged failures of the American education system. From what I have read, however, "Waiting for Superman," directed also by "An Inconvenient Truth" director Davis Guggenheim, has the potential of skyrocketing the national stature of Michelle Rhee, the soon to be departed Chancellor of the District of Columbia public school system. On a greater macro level, Superman may also deepen the widening rift within the Democratic Party between public employee unions and liberal reformers.

I believe that "The Soprano State" will attract a wider audience than either "An Inconvenient Truth" or "Waiting for Superman" for two reasons.

The first is the colorful nature of the subject: New Jersey political corruption. The widespread and diversified nature of political corruption in New Jersey hardly is a source of pride for Garden State residents. Yet there is no doubt that Americans both within and outside New Jersey are intrigued by the character of the corrupt actors and the nature of their crimes. The landmark HBO television series, "The Sopranos," attracted millions of loyal television viewers throughout the nation over the past decade, and their memories of this fictional series will serve to whet their appetites to see the non-fictional real life New Jersey characters and actual events.

The second reason for the film's success will be its deserved hero, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Even before he was elected Governor in November, 2009, Chris Christie had established himself as the finest U.S. Attorney in the history of New Jersey. His success in combating corruption far exceeded that of any previous law enforcement official in the Garden State. Not since New York's Thomas E. Dewey had any prosecutor in the Northeastern United States attracted such national attention.

As Governor, Christie's fiscal and education initiatives, together with his uniquely straightforward style, have resulted in his becoming the subject of speculation as a possible Presidential nominee. The Governor has made it abundantly clear that he will not be a Republican candidate for President or Vice President in 2012. Yet Christie is young enough to be a candidate at some future point, and "The Soprano State, Part One" will doubtless attract viewers eager to learn more about New Jersey's remarkable Governor.

The film artistically is first rate. The scenes are pieced together brilliantly, and the interviews with key New Jersey governmental and political figures reveal vividly the unique aspects of New Jersey's culture of corruption. Character actor Tony Darrow, known for his role in the HBO "Sopranos" is ideal as the narrator of the film.

Yet there were two aspects of the film that viewers at the Monday night premiere, including myself, found puzzling.

The first was the disparity between the book and the movie in the way former U.S. Senator Robert Torricelli is portrayed. In the book, Ingle and McClure focus on allegations of Torricelli misconduct during his tenure as U.S. Senator. Yet no mention of these allegations is made in the movie. On the contrary, Torricelli is actually interviewed in the film regarding the reasons for New Jersey's culture of corruption. In this regard, he comes across in the movie as a virtual ethical sage, while the Torricelli of the book is an alleged ethical transgressor.

The second aspect is with regard to former state Senator and Assembly Speaker Joe Doria (D-Hudson). In the July, 2009 Corruption Thursday arrests, Doria's home was raided; yet he was never charged with any crime or ethical violation. The film makes mention of the raid and implies that Doria was guilty of something not disclosed. This appears to be an unjust depiction, especially when virtually every other subject of criticism in the movie, i.e. Sharpe James, Wayne Bryant, Jim Treffinger, Charles Kushner, et.als. was actually convicted of some crime. It does not seem fair to mention the uncharged Doria in the same context.

Withal, this movie is an artistic triumph and a film that will serve to increase citizen awareness and hopefully condemnation of the culture of corruption that has thrived in New Jersey for too long. Special kudos must be given to Steve Kalafer, the principal producer of this film. Kalafer is one of the finest, most civic motivated citizens of New Jersey I have met in my three decades in government and politics. In producing this film, he again contributed to the betterment of the quality of life in the Garden State.

So I do recommend that you see this movie. Do not be surprised if this film receives an Oscar for Best Documentary Film at the 2011 Oscars.

Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and seven federally recognized Indian nations. Under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman, he served as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.


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Comments (2)
2 Thursday, 21 October 2010 23:28
Mr. Green
Coming from someone who worked for Treffinger.
1 Thursday, 21 October 2010 18:56
You piqued my interest..I cant wait to watch this movie now!

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