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The Real American opens at Appleton cinema

By Kaitlin Palmer

The Joe McCarthy biopic <em>The Real American</em> premieres for limited viewing at Appleton East Cinema Oct. 12.

photo by Kaitlin Palmer
The Joe McCarthy biopic The Real American premieres for
limited viewing at Appleton East Cinema Oct. 12.

Running time: 95 minutes
Directed and Written By: Lutz Hachmeister

Recently released docu-drama, The Real American: Joe McCarthy, tells the compelling and revealing story of the infamous former Wisconsin senator Joe McCarthy and his impact on American politics.

The film opened Oct. 12 with low turn-out due to its less popular docu-drama style. A docu-drama is a traditional documentary with intermittent dramatic scenes based on the subject.

Of the moviegoers that did venture out to see it, the response to both the story and production quality was mostly positive.

"It's a good story and it's actual history so it's not just a movie, it's more than that," political science major and sophomore Breanna Everetts said.

"I didn't know all of that about McCarthy or about his wife," movie attendee Mary-Ann Van Leur said.

Director Lutz Hachmeister expertly utilizes both archival footage and dramatic reenactment to depict the life of Joseph McCarthy (John Sessions) from his childhood on a farm in Grand Chute, Wisc., to the height of his career as a Republican senator from 1947 to 1957.

Known for his intelligence and tenacity even at a young age, McCarthy grew up doing the dirty jobs on his family's farm, notably the job of hunting and killing the skunks that preyed on his mother's chickens.

In flashbacks, we see young Joseph out in a field intensely beating a skunk to death with a shovel.

This unpleasant task was a somewhat prophetic representation of what he would later go on to do in Washington.

McCarthy earned a degree in law from Marquette University and became the youngest circuit judge in state history at age 31.

He became a senator in 1947, but gained no immediate attention or distinction among his peers or by the media.

His fame started when he announced during a speech before the Republican Women's Club of Wheeling, W.Va. that he was in possession of a list of 205 names of communist spies that were currently working inside the State Department. This immediately evoked overwhelming attention from the media and government officials who demanded proof, which McCarthy never produced.

From this point on, McCarthy's "communist hunting" would consistently grab the attention of the media.

He even went so far as to coin the phrase "McCarthyism", a term he used to describe a person who was accused of being a communist and later found to actually be one.

As McCarthy continued to gain public recognition, his accusations of communist infiltration grew more and more incriminating until a committee was formed to investigate the charges.

Although he was rapidly gaining enemies, McCarthy treated his newfound attention with an attitude of gusto. Despite the gravity of his charges, he was more concerned about his recognition from the media, than actually ferreting out true communists.

"Media loves the spectacle and people like Joe McCarthy feed on the spectacle," senior lecturer of political science George Waller, said.

His accusations finally culminated in the infamous "Army—McCarthy Hearings", when McCarthy himself was taken to court and at last forced to answer for his own improper actions. McCarthy's house of lies finally fell apart, and took him down in the process.

"His political career ended much like his personal life did, with a sense of shame and embarrassment," Waller said.

This marked the end of his political notability and the start of a slow decline that drove him to drink himself to death. He died of acute hepatitis in May 1957 at the age of 48.

Although Hachmeister proves his skill in the realm of docu-drama, some of his production decisions caused confusion.

"The actors didn't look like the real people," Van Leur said.

"The casting was confusing because they would show clips of the actual people and then they would show a scene of the actor," Everetts said.

"It was kind of hard to follow at first."

The closest resemblance was British actor John Sessions, who looked and sounded remarkably like Senator McCarthy.

Because most of the cast was British, a few of their American accents sounded almost too perfect and lacked the flow of someone born and raised in Wisconsin or on the East Coast.

Another unmet expectation was the lack of information given about McCarthy's wife, Jean Kerr and their adopted daughter.

"I would have liked to see more background on her [Kerr] and her involvement in his life. How did what happened to him affect his wife and daughter?" Everetts said

Justine Waddell, who portrays Jean Kerr in the film, appears in several scenes, but her lack of lines leaves many questions about her and her daughter unanswered.

The docu-drama style of the film brings out the individual personalities of the characters, which are not present in the newsreels. The feature distinguishes a docu-drama from an ordinary documentary, allowing the audience to be drawn into the story.

The Real American: Joe McCarthy made the list of several official selections at independent film festivals like the World Film Festival, Denver Film Festival, Santa Cruz Film Festival and the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival.

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