Recent events in Congress have left journalists scrambling for metaphors. Circuses, carnivals, sideshows and clown cars were all called.
But no one has compared our legislative drama to cinema. And for good reason. Movies dare not put such things on screen unless they are making an overt farce.
On screen, politicians are generally portrayed by filmmakers as serious people, although there are serious compromises. (Or, given the progressive tendencies of most filmmakers, idealists start on the left and go corporate.) Nor is he a useless villain.
Interestingly, in the same way that filmmakers condescendingly mock politicians, Washington really like Hollywood. No matter how many pollsters dramatically oppose the film, whether they are liberals criticizing the commercialization of gun violence or conservatives denouncing the acceptance of LGBQT life, they secretly I’m not obsessed with
Not only have every politician since the Camelot days asked media moguls to contribute to their campaigns, they’ve stole the tricks of the industry and aspired to the style of its celebrities. and fake tan. Campaign rallies are controlled and camera ready. Applause lines are scripted, debates are rehearsed for his jokes, and public ‘outrages’ are carefully planned.
And when these people get to the office, most of them are looking forward to their next role as highly paid media commentators. It’s all showbiz and government service is just the last and biggest audition. That’s why professional performers in Hollywood tend to look at these awkward amateurs with smirks and more cynical eyes than ever before.
Filmmakers were more cautious than a century ago. The balance of power at the time was with Washington, and he didn’t really like this brand new industry, even though Washington didn’t fully understand it yet. Politicians knew how to work with railroad tycoons and oil tycoons. A bargain may be found, lodging may be reached, and grafting may be paid. But how did you deal with the person who made the movie?
Prejudice and prejudice also played a big part in that early troubled relationship. Most of the early film world was Jewish, and most of the moviegoers were recent immigrants. Conservative politicians and Christian lobby groups regularly denounced Hollywood’s “foreigners” and the dangerous effect their products had on “ignorant” minds. Enacted repression — in the guise of reform — seemed imminent.
Fearing government control, Hollywood finally enacted a self-regulatory censorship code in 1934. It was primarily aimed at banning the same things that offend people today—on-screen sex and violence—but it also quietly impeded political speech. Filmmakers were expressly forbidden from mocking religion or clergy, or implying that the judicial system was unfair. Occasionally, corrupt politicians were featured in dramas, but they were rare.
And it was risky.
For example, when Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” was submitted for censorship approval, the studio returned a finger-shaking note, stating, “The Senate will work long and tirelessly in the best interests of I reminded them that it consists of a group of honorable and honest citizens who are of the nation. ” Anything that suggests otherwise is very dangerous. Sure enough, after its 1939 release, senators accused the film of being communist. Joseph Kennedy, then ambassador to Britain, warned that it would offer solace to America’s enemies and advised the studio against its release in Europe.
Ultimately, the American public embraced the film and it became the second biggest hit of 1939, behind Gone with the Wind. (Who wasn’t so enthused? A world dictator who saw it as a tribute to the democracy it was meant to be.) Lobby a vengeful Congress to pass anti-studio trading regulations. .
So, with the exception of the fantastic farce The Great McGinty, which came out the following year, interest in Hollywood’s political narrative waned. There were too many risks — and they only increased after the country went to war, and anything that could be seen as critical of the democratic system was avoided.
But after the war, Hollywood started making movies about American politics again. Photographs like 1949’s “All the King’s Men” tell what would become a classic tale — a well-meaning young politician decides that ends justify means and seeks power. In “A Face in the Crowd,” released in 1957, a popular entertainer learns how to turn an overzealous audience into clueless lemmings. I also showed the dangers of television.
Ahead of its time — the downbeat ending turned audiences away — “A Face in the Crowd” was also prescient in its warnings about the influence of mass media. It was a subject gaining more traction as telegenic Jack Kennedy and his kin began to rise.
For example, the fictitious gubernatorial race in 1960s The Last Hurrah — a gruff old politician who finds himself pushed aside by a young, handsome TV newcomer — distills the Kennedy legend. Written, one generation gives way to another. And “Best Man,” written by his fierce JFK fanatic Gore Vidal, envisions the controversial party convention not as a war of ideas but as a war of smears, in which the candidates Compete to have the best blemish. (Do homosexual scandals trump communist scandals? In 1964, perhaps — barely.)
The Camelot era spurred a renewed interest in political cinema and political paranoia. In “Seven Days in May,” a right-wing general plots a coup. In “The Manchurian Candidate,” an intricate collusion between Chinese communists and American extremists acquiesces in putting puppets in the White House. Easy to follow was the basic political theory of “Advise & Consent”. This is an insider’s drama that delves into the back-and-forth battles that drive confirmation hearings.
But more often than not, Hollywood’s best political films have become about liberal idealists failing, shattered dreams, wasted potential and spectacular sell-outs.Robert Redford But think of the epic “candidate” who was an activist entering a campaign he was told he couldn’t win, and who promised freedom to say what he wanted.Until he and his advisors realize, perhaps, that he can Win—if he makes deals with people he once despised, trading political beliefs for meaningless soundbites.
Or “Bulworth,” starring and co-written by former ’72 McGovern president Warren Beatty. He plays a once diehard liberal senator who has spent years trading politics for realism and accepting corporate donations and demands. Now facing a genuine challenge from young populists and increasingly self-loathing of his own, Bulworth arranges his own assassination, but is shunned by drugs, rap music and his ties to young black activists. Determined to speak the plain truth, he regains his support and rediscovers his soul, only to be gunned down by an insurance executive.
Some filmmakers still see American politics as their calling, and democracy as a vibrant, if sometimes challenging, institution. Rod Lurie, who made “The Contender”, is one of them. Aaron Sorkin, creator of the TV show The West Wing, is one of them.
But when Hollywood thinks of Washington these days, it’s like something out of “Veep” — as a runaway train that gallops from crisis to crisis of personal exaggeration, bare transplants, and profits. Sudden stop for convenient appeasement of the group. Has the most noise, or the biggest wallet.
“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” was once criticized for being controversial and un-American. Now it looks sweet, painful, nostalgic and naive.
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