Wholly Cinema blog post by Ross Munro
As we approach the Nov. 8 day of American political reckoning that is the Carnival of Freaks known as the US election, here’s a couple of little-seen but classic movies you’d be wise to stuff your cinematic ballot box with.
Narrowing down all the possible movie titles down to only two (like the bad hombre and nasty woman running for the highest office in the Land of the Free), I was able to come up with a couple of scorchingly acerbic and biting titles worthy of your voters X: Michael Ritchie’s “The Candidate” and Tim Robbin’s “Bob Roberts”.
The first to enter the booth is…
“Bob Roberts” (1992)
Tim Robbins pulls the Orson Welles hat trick (writer/director/star) in this hilarious yet acidic mockumentary uncannily presages the ominous rise of shallow celebrity blow-hards infiltrating the popular political landscape as it follows the US political race between right-wing spouting , guitar playing ultra rich candidate Bob Roberts vs leftist opponent Brickley Paiste (Gore Vidal in an amazing feat of casting).
Riffing on the “ridiculous” notion of how a white male rich and entitled elitist could actually ingratiate themselves into the symbol of a populist grass roots candidate, Robbins plays Roberts with all the expected smugness and mock sincerity that probably seemed like fictionalized fancy back when the movie came out back in 1992 but which has, much to the horror of popular culture, only become too frighteningly real.
For some reason this amazing prescient Molotov cocktail of a satire is seldomly screened and, to my knowledge, doesn’t exist in a current bluray dvd (Criterion Collection are you listening…?).
If any movie deserved a theatrical re-release it’s the unsung “Bob Roberts” which would make for a great double bill with our second movie of note, “The Candidate”…
“The Candidate” (1972)
If indeed Bob Roberts was the falsely shiny outside skin of the delicious looking apple of American Politics then Michael Ritchie’s slyly devastating look at the US election machine is definitely the rotting flesh found below the apple’s surface.
More of an insider’s peek into the gradual piece meal erosion of one man’s personal ethics (the film’s screenwriter Jeremy Larner, a former speechwriter for Eugene McCarthy, went on to win an Original Screenplay Oscar), the film features the All American boy Robert Redford as the Kennedy-esque leftist lawyer pressured into running for office only to face the gruesome truth that the more his ideals get torn and twisted in the wood chipper of the American political race, the more he gains in voter popularity.
Getting a real authenticity of performance- not just from the woefully underrated comedic subtlety of Redford but also by the amazing character actor Peter Boyle as his campaign manager- “The Candidate” spins a sharp, sophisticated documentary-like realism as the viewer watches Redford’s “everyman” fall down the rabbit hole of compromised beliefs.
The film’s director, Michael Ritchie, went on afterwards to make a few more slyly hilarious chronicles of American society including “Smile”, “Semi-Tough” and arguably one of the best movies of the 1970’s “The Bad News Bears”- whose politically incorrect allegory of kid’s little league baseball as storing house for America’s post-Watergate’s cynicism and authority bashing led by Walter Mathau’s cantankerous drunkard of a coach could never get green-lit by a studio today.
So let’s all Make America (and every other country) Great Again by doing whatever it takes to see two quintessential cinematic frontrunners- “Bob Roberts” and “The Candidate”.
Viva La Cinema!