In case you missed it, XfinityTV.com held a chat today with Alex Gibney, director of Client 9, the documentary about the rise and fall of former New York governor Eliot Spitzer. You can watch the film right now on Xfinity On Demand. Gibney also gave us Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Casino Jack and the United States of Money and Taxi to the Dark Side, and Client 9 is on the short list of docs being considered for Academy Award nominations.
Here are some of the highlights of the conversation.
What grabbed your interest in the Spitzer story enough to make a documentary about it?
The scandal grabbed me right away – the sheriff going down in a prostitution scandal. and the timing. I wasn’t quite sure what interested me about it. bbut I knew it was rich material.
How did you get all these people to cooperate, especially Eliot Spitzer?
His enemies cooperated first. They wanted to dance on his grave. It took a long time to get Spitzer to agree to talk. But I worked with Peter Elkind of Fortune Magazine and together we convinced him that we were honest were going to do the story anyway and he should give us his point of view.
What was Spitzer’s involvement in with the prostitutes – and why? Do you think it goes beyond sex?
It’s hard to know. I think he made a personal calculation – he wanted the sex but not emotional involvement of an affair that would threaten his marriage. BUT, why he thought that as gov of NY he could do this – that remains a mystery.
In days like these when the media is crazed to get any scoop on anyone with any kind of fame, why do people think they will get away with these sorts of escapades?
I don’t think they think about it. Fact is: how much of sex is about thinking? But it’s hard to know why Spitzer – with all his high-powered enemies – thought he could get away with this.
What’s the world of escorts like? Who are these girls? Did you hear stories of other famous, powerful men using them?
It was very different from what I would have assumed. there is a lot of illusion. But the women are very well paid and often have other jobs – artists, singers, teachers, athletes. the men – rich and powerful and often the kind of guy who couldn’t get the cheerleader in high school to pay attention to him – seem to like the high-end escort world for the “girlfriend experience,” paying for “dates” that create the illusion that it’s not about the sex or the money even though it is.
Mr. Gibney… could you really take this guy seriously? He threw around ideals/values/morals throughout his tenure as Governor and then shows that he is as hypocritical and fake as they come. How could he really be taken seriously?
Well, hypocrisy is a tough one. I agree that what he did was highly hypocritical. Outrageous. At the same time, I think there is something to what jimmy siegel says in the film: if you compare his private failing to his public good, the public good triumphs. that may not be his wifes view but that’s none of our business. I think he can be taken seriously as an analyst of the unfairness of our public economy. At the same time, it’s fair to wonder about his character.
Why do you think there are so many stories of politicians with love lives on the side? Particularly when they are supposed to be moral leaders, doing the right things for their communities and constituents?
That’s at the heart of the film and I don’t think there’s a good answer to it. Powerful men sometimes think they are above the law. And what kissinger said: power is the ultimate aphrodisiac. I think we should wonder about the issue of our politicians being moral leaders. They should be leaders but not necessarily examples. Jefferson had slaves. Should we throw out the constitution? It’s a tough one that we continue to work to resolve.