Lost in the Movies: Countdown to the Election

Countdown to the Election

The selected photo may seem a bit idealistic for the tone of the current campaign and the cynicism that greets all these political seasons. But it's part and parcel of what I'll be examining in the next two and half weeks: the highs and lows, the idealism and corruption, the ideology and pragmatism, of what we call American politics. I've been promising this series, in anticipation of the pretty momentous date of November 4, for a few weeks now. Sorry for the delay, but though I hoped to begin a few days ago, the extra time has allowed me to plan a pretty tight package here: I've timed my Netflix to arrive perfectly in order to fulfill a series which will take us right up to Election Day, sometimes with two movies a day.

We'll begin with a movie which opened this afternoon, which I will see tonight, and which I will write about tomorrow. I speak, of course, of W., Oliver Stone's eagerly awaited biopic of the man who has been in White House for the past 8 years - and still is right now. It's the latter fact that's so astonishing to me - current events as instant history, and makes me excited to see the movie. Stone has a tendency to get carried away, stylistically, thematically, you name it. But along with this comes a certain ambition lacking in most filmmakers: who else would tackle, in fictional form, a national story still unfolding as the film hits theaters? Of the many disappointing facts that greet us when we look over the American cinema of the past decade, one of the most disappointing is that so few filmmakers made films about the times we live in. I'm not speaking of ham-handed message movies, as there were a few of those (and by most reports, they weren't very good) but of movies which - indirectly, perhaps - tackled the zeitgeist. So leave it to Stone to go all the way. Initially I expected the movie to be terrible, eagerly awaiting it nonetheless for its sheer audacity and the surrealism of seeing Cheney, Rice, et al played onscreen as if they were historical figures. But the Parallax View-styled trailer piqued my interest and I see that Roger Ebert has given it 4 stars. I eagerly await tonight's screening.

But that's only the kickoff to the series, and what comes next will follow a certain thematic ebb and flow. First comes electoral and D.C. politics - narrative films (with a doc or two thrown in) detailing the process of how our politicians come to power and what they do when they get there. We'll follow Kennedy from the campaign trail to funeral train, watch Mr. Smith take on Washington (and ask if he still can) and play persecute-the-female politician in a pre-Palin, pre-Hillary-as-President era. We'll use the gender card as a segue into the culture wars, asking who is that Bill Ayers guy anyway, mirroring the current implosion of the conservative movement with the rise of one of its founders, and of course take another look at the kingpin of culture wars in 00s America, Mr. Michael Moore (I had hoped to include An American Carol in this examination, but unfortunately it was such a big flop that's it's already left theaters - which sadly means that, given the near-nonexistence of right-leaning docs and political fiction on Netflix, the Limbaugh wing of American politics will be neglected in this seres; I mean that "sadly" seriously).

From here things get a little more au courant, as we pivot from Moore to the 2004 election he hoped to influence and the administration whose rule said election instead perpetuated. The rest of the series will be colored by Bush but will focus mostly on the issues that have come to the forefront during his rule. Domestically this means the tragic ineptitude of Katrina, the growing - and largely ignored - environmental and health care crises, and the now-impossible-to-ignore financial catastrophe. Abroad, we come face to face with the myriad challenges of our time: the bizarro world of North Korea, the heinous genocide of Darfur, and the advent of Islamic terrorism (and the use of torture as a response). And, of course, the Iraq war. The war has faded mightily as a campaign issue but it remains the defining issue of our times. We'll see how the mess was created, look at it from an Iraqi perspective, and survey the entire war operation - from 9/11 to the surge - with the help of "Frontline," the great series which I'll be using three other times as well, to look at Cheney, the financial meltdown, and the presidents-in-waiting Obama and McCain.

Yes, finally, on the eve of one of the most important days in recent American history, we will look at the two candidates who stand at the threshold. I hope you will enjoy this series and that we can get a lively back and forth going in the comments section - based as much on the topics at hand as the particular movie under discussion. I will be using many of these films to discuss their subjects as much as the formal and structural ways they deal with them; this is still a movie blog but for the moment, politics will be our focus: the good, the bad, the ugly, and yes, on occasion, the idealistic too.


T.S. said...

Wow, this sounds like it's going to be an excellent series. I'll be looking forward to your installments as they roll in.

Graham said...

I'm excited.

I imagine Meet John Doe didn't make the cut? That's one I would be very interested in seeing you take a look at - much more interesting than Mr. Smith, if you ask me. But since it suggests a congruence between folksy, little guy, Mr. Smith-style politics and fascism, nowhere near as popular

Joel Bocko said...

Graham, unfortunately there are way too many films that didn't make the cut. I haven't seen Meet John Doe actually and since there are only a few fiction films in the lot, I limited it to one Capra, going with the obvious one which I also haven't seen in a long time. I suspect some spillover from the political series will be infused into the following months (for example The Parallax View didn't really fit in, but I've been wanting to revisit that one for a while).

Search This Blog