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Robert Lloyd Review-O-Rama: 'Campaign,' 'Two Fat Ladies'

July 29, 2008 |  1:38 pm

“Campaign” (KCET, 10 tonight). After “Election Day,” this look at a city council race in Kawasaki, Kanagawa prefecture, Japan, is the second electorally themed “P.O.V.” presentation to air in a month. The propinquity of our current presidential death match may have something to do with this, but the subject holds an honored place in the history of documentary filmmaking: The 1960 “Primary,” in which John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey compete for the Democratic nomination in Wisconsin, was practically ground zero for “direct cinema” (American “cinema verité” in loose terms); Richard Leacock, Albert Maysles and D.A. Pennebaker all worked on it. Fundamentally a comedy, though a bit of black one, “Campaign” follows the fortunes of party-picked candidate Kazuhiko Yamauchi, a 40-year-old coin and stamp dealer with no perceptible political ideas but a vague ambition to be prime minister, the way one might want to be a movie star or a famous novelist without ever learning to act or wanting to write. Shot over a frenzied 12 days, which seem to encompass the entirety of the highly ritualized campaign, it has the makings of a Preston Sturges, Frank Tashlin or Billy Wilder movie -- though as a leading man Yamauchi is not quite as lovable or redeemable a schnook as Eddie Bracken or Jerry Lewis or Jack Lemmon would have been. Criticized both from above and below for his bowing, his handshake, his eye contact, his very substance, it's only with his skeptical wife -- a modern woman who is advised to refer to herself not as a “wife” but a “housewife” -- or his old university friends that Yamauchi becomes remotely a person. (Director Kazuhiro Soda was also a school friend.) It is, of course, only a partial look at the process, and some of it looks funny just for being, you know, foreign -- but it takes no stretch of the imagination to see how mad our own elections might look from abroad or from here.

"Two Fat Ladies" (on DVD) after the jump:

"Two Fat Ladies” (Acorn Media DVD). This delightful cooking show, which ran in Britain from 1996 to 1998 and became popular here on the Food Network (America being only part of what was a worldwide Gen2_2 phenomenon), is at last served up on domestic DVD. Unlikely even at the time, unfashionably large and unfashionably old stars Clarissa Dickson-Wright (about 50) and Jennifer Paterson (around 70) have still less to do with current TV cookery, with its urgency and noise, its rock-star chefs, their flare-ups and meltdowns. (Dickson-Wright and Paterson never address each other or refer to themselves as “chef.”) Oddly, the modern show with which theirs has most in common is Gordon Ramsay's “Kitchen Nightmares” (the British version), for its travelogue aspects; celebration of regionalism; its uncomplicated though not un-complex dishes; and overemphatic disdain for vegetarians. There is also, as in “Nightmares,” a narrative of riding to the rescue -– though in this case, it is only that people need to be fed. “To the kitchen” was as much of a catch-phrase as they mustered as they traveled the U.K. by motorcycle and sidecar, cooking for priests, singers, Boy Scouts, farm workers, aristocrats, and men who clean up after elephants. There was nothing nouvelle about their cuisine: They cooked not to challenge the palate but to satisfy cravings: To steal a phrase from Eliot, their food mixed memory and desire. The show is all bound up with history and tradition -– the church, the village fair, the manor house, the family farm, the undeveloped countryside, where one might gather mushrooms as one may, and with the women's own lives, which sound increasingly exotic as the stories pile up. (Paterson, who died of lung cancer amid the third series -– she usually finished a show with a cigarette -- is remembered in a sweet accompanying documentary; she was the life of many parties and often bursts into song in the show.) They are full of wit and facts (that Catherine the Great nearly died of eating too many artichokes on her wedding day is something I know now that I did not know yesterday), and their food is full of butter and lard and cream. Of a Danish prune and apple cake, Dickson-Wright says, “Just in case you think it sounds healthy, don't be put off by that -- it's very good.”

-- Robert Lloyd