How weird is Rudy Giuliani? Perhaps you have now seen a clip called “Rudy Giuliani in Drag Smooching Donald Trump” that, as of this writing, has garnered over a quarter- million hits on YouTube, been embedded as a video on countless other sites, and made TV’s “major leagues” by being broadcast by Jon Stewart, Keith Olberman, Chris Matthews and many others. It was written about by Garrison Keillor on Salon.com and discussed throughout the Blogosphere. A recent Associated Press story titled “Giuliani in a Dress: Will Voters Care?” described a clip in which Donald Trump “groped Giuliani and buried his head between the mayoral breasts.” “With conservative voters largely dominating presidential primaries,” the AP story continued, “some experts say the footage of Giuliani cavorting about in women’s wear could significantly damage his chances there and throughout the South.”
So where did such bizarre footage come from? This clip could be the visual hit to propel many an on-the-fence Red Stater to proclaim: “That’s the hero of 9/11? The tough guy crime fighter? Our Party’s best hope? No Way!” And so how did such damaging material make its way into the viral marketplace?
I know precisely the source of the footage, because my colleagues and I are the ones responsible for digging it up. The clip came from a documentary film I produced along with director Kevin Keating called Giuliani Time. It was in theaters last May and is now out on DVD. We like to think of the work as a serious and critical assessment not only of Rudy the man but also of his high-profile and popular policies regarding poverty, crime, welfare and the First Amendment. More than that, the doc puts these policies in the continuum of seismic shifts in American society as it moved from FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society to the Reaganism of the last decades.
But thanks to the uncontrollable workings of the Internet, I now fear that the most memorable clip from such a serious film will be of Rudy in drag, with the Donald’s face between his fake boobs.
At this point it’s probably unclear to most people how this clip actually has anything to do with a larger film. It’s actually part of a section about corporate welfare that features Ralph Nader, among others. I remember exactly how we acquired the footage. I was researching various raw videotapes at ABC News and was looking at tapes from the city’s Inner Circle Press Dinner in 2000. The annual event is similar to the White House Correspondent’s Dinner, as the City Hall press makes fun of the politicians and the politicians are supposed to make fun of the press or themselves. As I recall, Giuliani first did an asinine little skit where he was on the couch and his longtime friend Elliot Cuker was asking him questions. Then the room went dark and up on big video screens you could see the faintly projected image of Giuliani dressed as Marilyn Monroe, then Trump came a-knocking. This was part of a series of clips, another of which had Giuliani dressed as the Lion King.
This stuff was obviously too good to pass up. My colleague Sam Cullman and I discovered who had produced the videos for Rudy, and Sam got on the phone to convince the producers that we wanted to integrate the clips into our film—for no other reason than to show a light-hearted and funny side of Rudy, of course. Eventually it worked out and the high quality Betacam SP cassettes arrived from the production company in Florida. Soon after, a license was executed and we paid the company for the right to use the video in the documentary. It was all very casual, in our eyes. We were just trying to use a bit of lighter fare in a critical film about late 20th century urban policy. And so from that humdrum genesis is now born something that has propagated throughout the media ether and has gained a life of its own. To our despair as broke independent political filmmakers, the clip has also been pretty much severed from its source, especially when shown to millions and millions on television. Very rarely, if ever, is it introduced as “a clip from a feature documentary Giuliani Time that you can now buy on DVD!” Instead, it’s “Just take a look at this clip we found…” If even a fifth of the people that viewed the clip on Youtube bought the DVD, the film would be clear of the debt it has incurred in making it. But the Internet has cannibalized it and, while that’s the nature of the medium, people should still credit their sources.
Besides, the clip in and of itself doesn’t say much other than Rudy is a little too gung-ho when it comes to donning makeup and dresses and trying to be funny and chummy with his cheesy mogul pals. Personally, I don’t find it to be a strong indictment of Rudy, especially compared to our other criticisms in the film; but then again, I don’t live in a Red State.
The power of little-seen archival footage is well known. Emile de Antonio helped begin the archival-based essay film when, through deft editing, his critiques were created from archival material itself rather than talking heads and narration. Films like Point of Order, Year of the Pig and Millhouse: A White Comedy exposed contradiction and provoked outrage by finding and concentrating footage, creating narratives through comparison and contrast. Both Michael Moore and The Daily Show have successfully carried on the tradition. But editing and amalgamation of rarely seen material makes an infinitely greater impact when placed in context and backed by a strong thesis. This YouTube obviously doesn’t provide.
Most everyone that gets involved in social political filmmaking wants their hard work to “make a difference.” It’s a lofty and often pretentious ideal and the effect of documentary films on public opinion is open to debate. No doubt, viral videos are a part of our media environment and will be for the foreseeable future. Am I happy that this little clip could hurt Giuliani’s chances of running the country? Yes, of course. But I wish that it was something more serious about Giuliani’s history and policies that would endanger his run and that people would invest the time to watch our whole film; and I wish that all the books and films that people work so hard to put out there would change the world for the better. For now, I’ll keep dreaming about this as I figure out a way to get some money out of Google.