Client 9 Documentary Review Essays

Former New York Governor and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s in for an interesting few weeks. For one thing, his prime time CNN show, Parker Spitzer premiered last night to…interesting…reviews. For another, Alex Gibney’s documentary on his downfall — Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer — is being released in theaters soon, and is already available on-demand on some cable networks (like, naturally, Time-Warner Cable). Yet, one assertion — and the question of its validity — somehow keeps rising to the surface: Is the Black Socks Thing actually true?

The legend, according to a now-infamous New York Post piece, is that Eliot Spitzer likes to keep his black dress socks on while having sex with prostitutes. Skeezy Republican operative Roger Stone went to the FBI with a letter, the details of which were picked up by the New York Post — a paper of unimpeachable record, as we all know — like so:

Four months before a hooker scandal brought down Eliot Spitzer, controversial Republican operative Roger Stone tipped the FBI to the governor’s penchant for prostitutes…Yesterday, Stone refused to comment on the letter, but told The Post: “What kind of guy does it with his socks on?

It’s a tawdry detail of Spitzer’s story people can’t seem to get enough of. Spitzer himself has denied this tidbit of trivia in an interview with Big Think:

Do you mean that critiques of your policy bother you more than critiques of your private life?

Eliot Spitzer: Well, the critiques of my private life, to the extent that they are legitimate and justified, you got to just accept that and move on. You can’t try to deny reality sometimes. That’s part of maturing and growing up, and none of us is without flaws. Mine are very evident to the world. Very little in my life has ever been private.

Was it true about the socks?

Eliot Spitzer: No.

Video of that denial:

Spitzer also denies the “Black Socks” trivia in Client 9 to director Alex Gibney, as does [SPOILER ALERT] the prostitute who slept with Spitzer the most, which isn’t, as you should know, Post and Playboy cover girl Ashley Dupre. The prostitute, whose real name isn’t known, and whose interview with Gibney was transcribed and spoken by an actress Gibney hired, just comes straight out with it: No. Eliot Spitzer does not have sex with prostitutes with black socks on.

Naturally, Roger Stone — a longtime Spitzer enemy who’s violent voicemail to Eliot Spitzer’s father is played in the documentary (who is, at best, a muckracking dirtball) — took to another publication of ill-repute, bow-tied conservative clown Tucker Carlson’s The Daily Caller, to dispute the entirety of Client 9 as fiction, but mostly, to dispute any debunking of the Black Socks Myth:

In his largely fictionalized movie, Gibney utilizes an actress to assert that Spitzer never wore droopy black socks in his romps with prostitutes. Supposedly the actress is mouthing the denial of a call girl that Gibney declines to identify by her real name. That’s because Gibney has no source willing to put their name on this lie. Gibney is not a journalist or filmmaker; he’s a left-wing propagandist with the same disregard for facts as Oliver Stone. Spitzer’s black sock fetish was previously confirmed by The New York Post on April 24, 2008, when an FBI source confirmed the New York Democrat’s passion for knee-high hosiery, which he declined to remove while engaging in paid-for sex. Gibney ignored this fact in his well-made-but-false movie.

Forgetting the facts that

(A) Stone is still unhealthily obsessed with what’s on Eliot Spitzer’s legs when he’s having sex, or at least exponentially more so than your average New York Post reader,
(B) Stone is a longtime enemy of Spitzer’s,
(C) Stone was the one who sent the tip in to the FBI (which might explain why his Daily Caller piece doesn’t link to the Post piece)
(D) Stone is made to look the scum of the earth by Gibney, and rightfully so, and
(E) Lie-detector tests have proven easily fallible and still have yet to exist as admissible evidence in courts…

Stone blissfully ignores the logic inherent in why someone wouldn’t want to come out as a source on this story (as it incriminates the prostitute in question). The fact that others have come out speak mostly to the likelihood of their attempt at savoring the spotlight, much like Stone has done here.

The fact of the matter seems to be — from the side of the John, and his Pro — that Spitzer didn’t wear black socks while having sex with prostitutes. The only people saying otherwise support a case Roger Stone — Roger Stone! A former Nixon operative! — is trying to build to get his name out there more, regardless of the bullshit in it. Eliot Spitzer’s black socks represent more than just a ridiculous sexual fetish, they represent the desperate hunger for the spotlight, and the kinds of minutiae (true or otherwise) people like Roger Stone will obsess over in order to propagate and feed the mythological nature of their own bush league celebrity.

[fkamer@villagevoice.com]

In retelling the still-astonishing story of the political career of Eliot Spitzer, a shooting star whose spectacular crash might forever obscure his accomplishments, Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney has all the ingredients for a potboiler: greed, corruption, sex, power, overweening ambition and jaw-dropping hubris

But with "Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer" there also is this: Emerging from the shadows of previous media reporting to appear -- and in some cases sneer -- in front of Gibney's unblinking cameras are a host of characters that would make Dickens weep with joy.

You knew about opportunistic high-class hooker Ashley Dupre and perhaps those familiar with New York state politics its unimaginably corrupt Senate majority leader. But who knew about the giggly, almost naive madam who oversaw the Emperors Club; the sick-with-power Wall Street barons who the film suggests quietly engineered the governor's downfall; or an implausible dirty trickster, a self-styled James Bond operative who makes the Watergate burglars looks like sagacious spies?

The film is reminiscent of Marina Zenovich's Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, in which a documentarian takes a fresh look at what seems like an overly familiar news story only to surprise you with details and backstories that eluded reporters of the time.

If nothing else, the film, which clearly is sympathetic toward its protagonist, might quicken the ongoing rehabilitation of a political figure who, in retrospect, had astonishingly prescient notions about reforming America's largest financial institutions.

After its Toronto debut, it opens Nov. 5 in Los Angeles and New York before a national rollout. The film should enjoy long runs in specialty venues.

Gibney takes his time setting the scene and attempts no revolutionary techniques. This is a straightforward doc, mixing together new interviews with Spitzer, other talking heads, news footage, a few self-indulgent metaphorical shots -- a swimming shark to illustrate the predatory players who invade the mutual-funds business -- and a staged interview with an actress playing Spitzer's main prostitute playmate to protect the real woman's identity.

The film plays around with quick takes on Spitzer's psychological makeup and stories about playing Monopoly with his real-estate mogul dad. But the film really hits its stride when it zeroes in on Spitzer's years as New York's attorney general.

Dubbed "The Sheriff of Wall Street" by the media, Spitzer took on powerful interests and rampant corporate abuses. A fiery temperament fueled his drive to reform Wall Street, but his impetuous manner made powerful enemies who vowed revenge.

The film singles out two, who cheerfully appear before Gibney's cameras to gloat: Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, former chairman and CEO of the now-infamous AIG, and venture capitalist Ken Langone, the New York Stock Exchange board director who signed off on an outrageous pay package for its chairman and CEO, Richard Grasso.

Spitzer's biggest mistake might have been to personalize his battles with such individuals. The film strongly implies these men worked behind the scenes to bring Spitzer down.

How compelling are the film's arguments? Well, you wouldn't want to go to court with such circumstantial evidence. On the other hand, amid a war on terror, the FBI took an unprecedented interest in a lousy call-girl ring then watched (or orchestrated, some say) a steady leak of information regarding one particular client, the No. 9 in the title, which leaves little doubt that everything was not as it seemed.

Nothing Greenberg or Langone say persuades you they weren't involved. Each looks like he's dying to take the credit.

As does Roger Stone, who is the G. Gordon Liddy of this bizarre case. A Republican dirty trickster disdained even by many in his own party, Stone poses for beefcake photos, displays a tattoo on his back of his hero Nixon and hints at participation of swinging sex. He also was hired by New York republicans to go after Spitzer. The man is anything but credible in interviews, but he doesn't mind teasing suggestions he played some role in Spitzer's downfall.

Of course, the biggest role in this downfall is played by Spitzer. Most people in life would love to have as many friends as Spitzer has enemies. So if you're famous and wearing a target on your back, you might not want to patronize call girls in public hotels. What was he thinking?
Spitzer, who is precise in many recollections, offers only foggy generalizations to explain his hubris.

The fact remains that American politicians of all stripes never get laid low by lying to the public or taking questionable contributions. Only sex scandals do them in. Why is this? In passing, a former Spitzer aide muses that a French politician would treat such a scandal as a campaign asset. But this perhaps is a subject for another intriguing Gibney documentary.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Magnolia Pictures)
Production: Magnolia Pictures and A&E IndieFilms in association with Wider Film Projects and Jigsaw Prods.
Director-screenwriter: Alex Gibney
Producers: Alex Gibney, Maiken Baird, Jedd Wider, Todd Wider
Executive producers: Mollly Thompson, Robert DeBitette, Robert Sharenow, Mason Speed Sexton
Co-producers: Peter Elkind, Sam Black
Director of photography: Maryse Alberti
Music: Peter Nashel
Editor: Plummy Tucker
Rated R, 117 minutes
Sales: Roco Films International

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