October 28, 2012
Some time back, I put out a call for your favorite political movies.
And with only about a week left in the presidential campaign between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney — as we divide into tribes and hoot menacingly at one another — it's obvious we need a break.
A political movie break from reality.
To recap. My faves are: "Idiocracy," set in a grim future in which intelligent people stop having children, allowing idiots to overpopulate America. The idiots amuse themselves with bad reality TV involving gratuitous violence and images of human buttocks. They elect a porn star, "President Camacho," to the White House, and insist on watering their crops with sports drinks because "it's got electrolytes." As endless film loops of buttocks play on their TV screens, their crops begin to wither and starvation looms. But it's funny.
"Ridicule" is a luscious French film about a prerevolutionary elitist culture so cynical that it mocks every good idea that could help families have better lives. We don't get to see the inevitable guillotine party, but history tells us that many cynical heads were lopped to lusty cheers.
And finally, a great political film that is still extremely fresh this election season. "Being There" is the story of a simple, childlike fellow of absolutely no accomplishment whatsoever, except he has one amazing talent: He's the "empty vessel" for the hopes and dreams of everyone who comes in contact with him. The media swoon and eat from his hand. He speaks in cliches, and the nation falls under his spell. Supremely powerful men groom him for the presidency. Some say it's pure fiction.
But enough about my choices. What of yours?
Reader Mark G. and many others just loved "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." The Frank Capra film involves a naive fellow installed in the U.S. Senate by a ruthless political boss. Smith, played by Jimmy Stewart, decides to stand up to the forces of darkness. And tough-talking reporters cheer him on. What's with the media and the politicians they love, anyway?
"It's a rare blend of innocence and unbridled cynicism," Mark G. writes.
So true. Of course, we'll need a remake for modern times. In "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Too," Smith is now president, facing a tough re-election campaign. One thing hasn't changed, though. Reporters still love the guy and protect him, even when he goes bonkers and accuses his opponent of giving cancer to half the women of Ohio.
Another classic beloved by readers is "Meet John Doe," a Depression-era Gary Cooper film about a gentle hobo who plays the harmonica. With tough economic times sapping the nation's common decency, cynical reporters cast the hobo as the face of a new, populist, middle-class political movement.
But the movement has secretly been co-opted by a master media manipulator who has lost influence and is desperate to pull the levers of federal power once again. Of course, another happy ending awaits.
In our 2012 remake of "Meet John Doe," the hobo would be recast as an investment banker. The harmonica is gone, but at least he has an Etch-A-Sketch. And Karl Rove plays the man behind the curtain who tries to co-opt the tea party. I don't know how that one ends yet.
Other suggestions include "Primary Colors," "The Manchurian Candidate," "Fahrenheit 451," "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "A Face in the Crowd" and "The Last Hurrah." The list goes on and on.
James M. is big on "The Candidate," starring Robert Redford.
"He asks his media consultant after he's won, 'What do we do now?'" James writes. "I imagine that scene also played out in Grant Park and amid Grecian columns."
A candidate standing amid Grecian columns, as if he's the lone embodiment of reason? Jim, Jim, Jim. No one would ever believe it.
"One of my favorite movies is 'The American President' with Michael Douglas and Annette Bening," Roberta W. writes. "One of the best lines in the movie was spoken by Douglas. 'I was so busy keeping my job I forgot to do my job.'"
Roberta, they all say that, eventually, but only to themselves.
"Consider 'Harrison Bergeron,' based on a short story by Kurt Vonnegut," William L. writes. "Probably much too liberal for your mindset, but I am sure you want to consider alternative viewpoints. The theme is the anti-intellectualism of American society and the rewards of mediocrity as opposed to the penalties of originality."
Thanks, William, but "Harrison Bergeron" is definitely not liberal. It's quite the opposite. The story, and the movies made of it, including "2081," involve the federal government intruding into every aspect of our lives to penalize anyone with talent, using federal power to make everyone "equal." It is illegal to be remarkable.
Great ballerinas must carry weights. Intellectuals must endure loud sounds blown into their ears every hour of the day so they can't think. It is a tax in the name of equality.
Bob. B. says we shouldn't be so serious.
"We need a pick-me-up," he says. "A movie of how governments are actually run. A movie about the president of a bankrupt country looking to borrow money. A movie not seen for generations.
"It's 'Duck Soup' with the Marx Brothers and the immortal line, 'Hail … Hail … Freedonia!'"
A comedy about a president of a bankrupt nation who keeps trying to borrow even more money?
Just tell me when to start laughing.
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