Made virtually single-handedly by Marshall Curry, “Street Fight” concerns the 2002 re-election bid by Newark, N.J., Mayor Sharpe James and the challenge mounted by upstart city councilman Cory Booker. Docu is closed fist of a movie, and, although the fact it’s getting airtime on PBS July 5 which will preclude much chance of a theatrical release, it’s a hard, fast film that needs airing now, or at least before the Newark elections of 2006.
Auds may wonder while watching the film if what they are seeing is really an American city or the the report on an election in some far-off Banana Republic. Off-duty police in James’ entourage try several times to shut Curry down, manhandling him and his camera and virtually sneering at his claim of First Amendment freedom.
Even Rich McGrath, James’ late-in-the-game spokesperson, doesn’t seem to quite believe what’s going on. But intimidation appears to be business as usual in Newark, a city that, even during the booming ’90s, saw its economy in a tailspin. Curry’s courage in the face of police harassment and what seems a very real threat of something worse is amazing.
The ostensible subject of the movie is Booker, a charismatic, smoothly oratorical politician from the small but growing Barack Obama school of black activist vote-getter, whose main handicap seems to be his light complexion. James accuses Booker of being white or, worse, Jewish, and seems to be able to stir up a lot of antagonism toward his opponent by using the old canard that he isn’t black enough.
That Booker was a high school all-American football player, went to Stanford, then to Oxford where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and next graduated from Yale Law School, all seems to count against him — according to James, all this accomplishment makes Booker too white.
“Street Fight” is briskly edited, scored imaginatively by James Baxter and vastly entertaining; despite the depresssing things it says about America — there’s too much going on to get depressed. Even if you know the outcome, “Street Fight” will keep you on the edge of your seat.