Taylor's Campaign

The Boston Phoenix

DIRECTED BY: Richard Cohen

REVIEWED: 06-15-98

Few social problems touch on the ugly side of the American spirit like homelessness. "I would like not to have to see it," says one complacent Santa Monica resident in Richard Cohen's stirring and uneven documentary Taylor's Campaign. "I think if people don't earn their own living, they should starve. It's survival of the fittest." One such survivor is Ron Taylor, a teddy bear of a guy who endured the loss of job, home, and family in his slow drift to the street before bouncing back. In 1994, with a $50 campaign chest, Taylor ran for the Santa Monica City Council on the platform that homeless people have civil rights too.

The campaign, though, is at the periphery of Cohen's film, which employs rough video-vérité to capture the lives of the disenfranchised. Focusing on a personable handful, he reveals their humor, determination, fragility, and anger as they're shunted from one public place to another by rubber-glove-clad cops, or as haughty, heartless politicos pass ordinances against feeding them. Cohen's evenhandedness may be suspect -- surely not all those dismayed by the homeless presence are Dickensian villains -- and the film's structure, underlined by Martin Sheen's haphazard narration, is a bit shiftless. But this movie is a needed corrective for those of us who would rather not have to see such suffering, and a reminder that Taylor's campaign should also be our own.

--Peter Keough

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