December 11, 2015
As dramas go, the saga of Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane has elements that make for a compelling movie – well beyond the bounds of just politics.
All the better for Philadelphia filmmaker Sam Katz, who is planning a real-time documentary about the tale, titled the “Kane Mutiny.”
The still-evolving story is like a pileup of Pennsylvania politics, power and porn – impossible to look away from for too long, lest a new revelation pop up like a toadstool.
Riffing on a classic, “The Caine Mutiny,” the Kane story already features sex, power and continual tension, just for starters.
There’s also a network of connected white (mostly) men of privilege under pressure from Kane.
She’s an upstart disruptor – who is also a beautiful woman – at the center stage of an otherwise old boys club.
Then there are unending plot twists, including charges and countercharges of wrongdoing.
Plus leaks and counter leaks to media who are borderline obsessed with accounts of insider politics, and some dishy details.
Like a train wreck demanding gawkers, all of it is being played out at the highest levels of Pennsylvania government and its legal system, with an undeniable backstory of sexism, racism and misogyny graphically exposed.
And it is likely to keep right on oozing.
The title, of course, recalls the classic Oscar-nominated film, starring Humphrey Bogart, and Herman Wouk novel, the “The Caine Mutiny,” a story about a ship’s commander who may have been wrongly undercut by insubordinates – or who might be incompetent, traumatized or even unbalanced.
A degree of ambiguity about the motivations of certain characters is central to the original story – as well as the 2015 Keystone State version.
Consider, for instance, this movie quote from the ship’s leader. Replace “captain” with “attorney general,” and then “sailors on this ship’ with “lawyers in this office” and you’ll see:
“This is the captain speaking. Some misguided sailors on this ship still think they can pull a fast one on me. Well, they're very much mistaken. Since you've taken this course, the innocent will be punished with the guilty… I will not be made a fool of! Do you hear me?”
For now, though, the new and unfinished “Kane Mutiny” reads more like a bizarre reality show with no clear ending in sight, but that could change when Katz and collaborator Lisa DePaulo are done.
He remembers her early, unlikely success in winning office as attorney general, the first woman to do so, an ascent seemingly out of nowhere.
That was soon followed by “the wheels coming off her bus,” Katz says.
He adds she has faced “nothing but forks in the road, but she keeps seeming to choose the wrong one.”
In the process, though, Katz believes she’s exposing the “underbelly” of the “law enforcement, judicial and legal" systems in Pennsylvania.
And while Kane’s tactic of counter-attacking with more even more muck dug up from the state computer system that once served as the virtual locker room of the old boys network may seem bizarre, Katz says there is a chance her tactic may be successful.
“There’s a possibility – remote, but maybe – that she may have been right. They may have been out to get her” from the start, say Katz.
“There are a lot of actors in in the wind,” he observes.
He adds the state’s judicial system is “in tatters” due to her revelations, exposed as part of a review of the Jerry Sandusky case under her predecessor, Tom Corbett, the attorney general who went on to the governor's office.
Katz says “dysfunctional government” has also been exposed as part of the collateral damage during the Kane saga.
“The whole system is under a microscope. And the story is not over,” says a fascinated Katz.
All of which leads to the idea of a real-time documentary – with the ending still up in the air.
Enter DePaulo, a national magazine writer who lives now in metro New York, whose career took off as a staffer at Philadelphia magazine.
More recently, as a freelancer, she authored “The Dead Girl in Chuck Peruto’s Bathtub” for the magazine, which was also published as an e-book two years ago.
A large portion of that epic piece of reporting focuses on Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Willams, who carried out an investigation of Peruto – a prominent criminal defense attorney who was cleared in the accidental death of his girlfriend – that many saw as a vindictive use of the district attorney's powers.
Williams’ office currently employs three refugees from Kane’s office – Frank Fina, Patrick Blessington and Marc Costanzo. The three routinely got offensive emails – and in some cases sent them.
Pressured, Williams has moved the men out of supervisory slots, but refused calls to fire the trio.
DePaulo has signed on to conduct interviews and write the treatment for Katz’s documentary, which is in the seeking backers and in a development stage through his film company, History Making Productions.
A University of Pennsylvania graduate from Scranton, DePaulo has already begun working sources in the hometown she shares with Kane.
She says she’s fascinated by how Kane “blasted onto the scene” from the obscurity of upstate Pennsylvania to become “the bright shiny object” who got elected by running against the office she hoped to run, previously supervised by then-attorney general Corbett.
“I want to get a better sense of her. That’s what’s missing. Lost in some of this is what makes her tick,” says DePaulo.
While she says she has “no hope for how it ends” – Kane, already stripped of her law license, is under indictment for leaking information to the media, then lying about it and now faces attempts to remove her from office – DePaulo said she’d like to see more women involved in politics.
And she credits Kane for “opening a can of worms everyone knew about,” but previously did nothing about.
“Right or wrong, guilty or not, she opened the lid on misogyny in Pennsylvania politics. She popped the lid and she had the balls to do something about it,” DePaulo said.
She said the storytelling in a documentary comes from multiple interviews – “my strength” – that “lead to the truth.”
DePaulo also likes the fact that the end of the tale is yet to be written.
Kane’s spokesman, Chuck Ardo, responded on the attorney general’s behalf in reaction to the plans for a real-time documentary.
“The attorney general is looking forward to seeing a happy ending in which she is found innocent of the charges against her and given credit for exposing the problems with the Commonwealth’s judicial system,” Ardo said.