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What’s the Matter With Kansas?

by on January 22, 2011
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In one of the bonus features for “What’s the Matter with Kansas?,” the filmmakers reveal they didn’t tell their Wichita subjects this would be the film’s name. Turns out Thomas Frank wrote a revealing book by that name, and this is the adaptation — an attempt to figure out the radical change in Kansas politics.

The state used to lean more towards liberalism, but in the past few years, it has become more fundamentalist conservative. Director Joe Winston does an excellent job of letting everybody tell their own story without pushing his own agenda. There is no narrator, and nothing seems like it’s being exploitative. Even when the film visits a creationist museum, the ones controlling the scene are the people in the museum.

Everyone has their chance to talk as well. There are plenty of conservative members who express their opinions, as well as a lot of people who are upset about the way President George W. Bush’s economic plan worked out for them. Whatever agenda the movie has, it allows enough point of views that this really is a well-rounded discussion.

The blending of religion and politics is a fascinating subject for a movie — the way certain issues become more than just black and white, but good and evil. People can’t just respectfully disagree on an issue because a political question is now being seen through the eyes of a higher mission.

This movie was made a handful of years ago, before the Tea Party movement really grew in numbers. Due to the film’s respectful tone, this is a perfect building block for some great questions about the nature and polarizing effects of today’s politics. This strong inability to compromise on any issue and demonizing those who disagree with you is something that is hurting America.

The DVD has a lot of good extras on it. There is a spiffy Q&A with Frank, Winston and producer Laura Cohen, in which they go into detail about their technique on the film. The three of them also have a commentary track. There are also extended scenes that are worth watching, as well as deleted scenes. I wish that there was some short featurette looking back at the people who were interviewed.

Film: 4 Yaps

Extras: 3.5 Yaps

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