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Docurama presents
Last Man Standing: Politics, Texas Style (2004)

"You gotta have some Elvis to get elected." 
- Molly Ivins, doyenne of the Texas press corps, on what it takes in the Lone Star State

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: January 27, 2005

Stars: Patrick Rose, Rick Green
Other Stars: George W. Bush, Rick Perry, Tony Sanchez, Henry Cisneros, Ann Richards, Molly Ivins, Paul Burka, Paul Begala 
Director: Paul Stekler

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:26m:44s
Release Date: January 25, 2005
UPC: 767685967638
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B+B+B D-

DVD Review

These days in American politics, the stars at night are big and bright (clap clap clap clap) deep in the heart of Texas. The gubernatorial administration of George W. Bush is the template for his Presidency, and even though he's not the Speaker, Representative Tom De Lay is widely acknowledged as the most powerful member of the House. There's been a sea change in Texas politics since the previous President from that state was elected; LBJ might not recognize the ascendancy of the Republican Party in the South. Even if you're not in league with them on the issues, you've got to admire the efficiency and effectiveness of the Texas Republican political organization.

Given the demographic makeup of the state—a large and growing Hispanic population, a significant number of African-American voters—the hypothesis is that Texas is a political bellwether for the nation, a notion that gets put to the test in this documentary. Last Man Standing focuses principally on a race in the November 2002 election for a seat in the Texas legislature, with Rick Green, the 31-year-old Republican two-term incumbent, facing off against Patrick Rose, his Democratic challenger—Rose is 24, a recent graduate of Princeton, and making his first bid for public office. Filmmaker Paul Stekler situates the race in a broader context, suggesting that it could serve as an indicator of future political trends; I'm not so sure that the evidence supports that, but it's still a good solid look at some old-time retail politicking, Texas style.

In truth, in the 2002 election in Texas, the Republicans gave the Democrats a good old-fashioned ass-whuppin'. President Bush's successor as Governor, Rick Perry, marched to re-election, and former state Attorney General John Cornyn easily succeeded Phil Gramm in the U.S. Senate, holding the seat for the Republican majority. And so the problems that Rick Green faces aren't about ideology, but about personality and performance. (A Republican incumbent in Texas losing to a political neophyte is like a Democratic incumbent on the Upper West Side losing to a Republican.) Green is a product of the Republican apparatus—he's a motivational speaker, describes himself as raised on Rush Limbaugh, gets a testimonial from Charlton Heston, and loves to talk about how the Democrats love socialism. In this respect, this doesn't really distinguish him from many Republican candidates across the country. But Green has got some problems: he used his office for an appearance in an infomercial for a dietary supplement, and there are icky stories surfacing during the campaign about him going to bat for some unsavory characters who do a substantial amount of business with his law firm.

As you might expect, the challenger Rose pounces on the sleaze factor. The documentary is at its best when it's tailing the two candidates, sort of a 21st-century Texas version of Primary far down the ballot, with the two men shaking lots of hands, kissing lots of babies, eating lots of catfish dinners, going after one another in debate after debate. Stekler is less successful in painting the broader picture, and we just get glimpses of the sadly ineffectual campaign of Tony Sanchez, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate who poured millions of his own money into a futile effort, and of Ron Kirk, the Democrats' African-American Senatorial nominee, who, one observer says, is to politics what Kenny G is to jazz. And unquestionably the most frightening thing in the movie are Janine Turner's collagen-enhanced lips; she appears at a Republican rally, but might want to rethink her party affiliation, because in a candid moment she would have to admit that there should be no cap on the damages she could receive in a malpractice suit against her plastic surgeon.

The tension on election night is on par with what you'd find during Game 7 of the World Series, and the best images in the movie are from just hours before: Green and Rose in the parking lot outside the voting site, working the voters one at a time. Stekler suggests that this seat might sway the party balance in the Texas legislature, and Karl Rove makes a brief, late appearance preaching the virtues of political opportunism; but it's a reminder about Tip O'Neill's truism that all politics is local, and an affirmation of the lessons we learned in school about how a single vote can make a difference.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The film was shot on high-end video, and hence is a little contrasty; it looks perfectly serviceable here.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Stekler drops in a little too much voice-over, and there's a certain amount of ambient noise from the shoot. It's all clear enough, though.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. information about PBS and P.O.V.
Extras Review: A very brief (less than one minute) interview with Stekler is appended to the end of the film; you'll also find URLs for PBS, and some brief information on P.O.V., the documentary series of which this is an installment. And one quick FYI: the running time listed on the back of the case is off by a good thirty minutes.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

This documentary may not achieve its lofty ambitions of having one small local race serve as a proxy for the larger political scene, but it's a sharp look at how the personal hasn't been drained from our politics, even in our huge nation in this age of information.


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