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Parables and politics on the big screen

By Staff | Nov 30, 2016

Art imitates life and vice versa, but the mudslinging tactics, spouting ‘white power’ at the expense of minorities, and personal vendettas thrust into the election of the newest President of the United States upped the surge in hate rhetoric which have many observers believing they are watching a movie or a TV reality show. The tempest in a teapot transition team and early actions (ditching the press at Trump Tower only to encounter tweets from the would-be private Club 21 dinner) have young Millennials and certain celebrities pulling up stakes, sending out resumes, and heading for Canada.

The alliance that swept Trump into the Oval Office has a “Hunger Games” feel, considering the unusual blend of the urban elite, conservative right and the rural poor. However, the novice politician, billionaire developer, and famous for his “you’re fired” “Apprentice” reality series has been elected on a promise to change the status quo.

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams observed, “the mudslinging in the campaign has more to do with a breakdown in honor, respect and compassion in our society. We have become a culture driven by ‘reality TV’ and as a consequence we now have the ultimate reality TV show playing out before our eyes.”

Former Huntington resident Tiffany Johnson Bayley, who owns a jewelry business near Orlando, Florida, admitted, “Just when you think a person can’t stoop any lower … they prove otherwise. It’s downright shameful.”

That quote came before the troubling hate/alt-right rhetoric provoked hate crime assaults, vandalism, and one demonstration that turned to a riot. One Huntington resident worries so much about anti-feminist conduct that she’s visiting Toronto for job interviews and possible apartment lease signing.

Rolling Stone has named three films as depicting the real-life balancing turmoil: “Purge: Election Year” (not every debate needs two sides), “Green Room” (be wary of extremists), and “Zootopia” (exercise tolerance and compassion)

Hollywood’s political genre features classic dramas, vicious satires and crazy allegories. And this election has invoked worries about a resumption of Cold War anxieties, such as “Fail Safe,” or “Dr. Strangelove” (which ends with non-agreement and world-wide nuking).

Before detailing my film choices, I respectfully defer to Mayor Williams who selected “A Face in the Crowd” (1957), based on the “Arkansas Traveler” short story in which Andy Griffith plays a drifter discovered by a promoter who then rises to prominence through small market radio and eventually national television which exposes him to a thirst for greater power and influence.

I’m opting for “Network” (1976) starring Peter Finch as the ranting and prolific Howard Beale whose low-rated TV news program goes viral when he unleashes verbal madness that persuades supporters nationwide to shout out of their windows, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

This list of 2016 electoral conscience stirring accounts purposefully does not include any riveting historical accounts or documentaries (that discards Oliver Stone and Michael Moore efforts), opting instead to depict the change in Chief Executives by emphasizing satires, cynicism, idealism, or the balancing of power versus corruption.

The “ideal” would be Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939) in which Jimmy Stewart plays a wholesome, people pleasing everyman whom political bosses attempt to manipulate based on his trusting naivete. Capra re-spins the topic in 1941’s “Meet John Doe” starring Gary Cooper as a hired homeless man representing society’s unkindness to people in need.

On the opposite extreme, come films such as “Manchurian Candidate” (1962), “Keeper of the Flame,” (1943), “Citizen Kane” (1941), “Advise and Consent” (1962), and “Seven Days in May” (1964) postulate circumstances in which a candidate (or the a military leader) has loyalty to America’s enemies and seeks to secures, for instance, in “Manchurian” a communist influenced leader.

“All the King’s Men” (1949) depicts the power climb of Willie Stark from a rural county seat to governor. It’s a testament to compromises and lies to retain political power in an era where the pressure came from the “machine” not “lobbyists.” A satirical view of political bosses and their electioneering can be seen in “The Great McGinty” (1940) with Brian Donlevy in the title role.

“State of the Union” (1948) paired Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn in a Capra comedy where a female Republican newspaper executive (Angela Lansbury) gouges her lover as a dark horse presidential candidate knowing that she would be the power behind the man. Hepburn plays an estranged wife who reconciles to prevent muck from rising.

“The Best Man” (1964) features a ruthless Cliff Robertson and a principled Henry Fonda vying for their party’s nomination. At one point the current president (played by Lee Tracy) tells Robertson, “It’s not that I object to your being a bastard … it’s your being such a stupid bastard that I object to.”

“The Last Hurrah” (1958) stars Spencer Tracy in a no holds barred mayoral campaign where he must face rumors of graft, abuse of power, and other corruption.

“The Candidate” (1972) has Robert Redford running for governor as a designated opponent for a shoe-in incumbent. Redford is allowed to speak his mind and his old school values and truthfulness overshadows the incumbents constituents.

Looking at absurd analogies, “Wag the Dog” (1997) has strategist Robert DeNiro hiring a Hollywood producer to create a fake war to cover up the incumbent president’s flirtations with an underage girl. Sandra Bullock feminized the concept with “Our Brand is Crisis” (2015), as she attempts to spin a victory for a Latin American dictator. Want a screwball concept? Try Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” (1940) or the Marx Brothers in “Duck Soup” (1933).