Is the 2012 campaign making your eyes glaze over?
Maybe it’s time to take a movie break and watch a Hollywood version of democracy in action. From the recent Will Ferrell comedy The Campaign to the classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, political films can entertain and may even inspire.
Movie buffs and politicians have their favorites. Here is a sampling:
Scott Frisch is chair of political science at California State University, Channel Islands and teaches the interdisciplinary course, Politics and Film.
His pick: A Face in the Crowd, unrated; 1957; starring Andy Griffith.
A folk singing drifter, Lonesome Rhodes, rises from prison to fame and influence as the folksy host of a popular TV show, eventually guiding a senator’s presidential campaign.
A Face in the Crowd’ is a powerful examination of the potential of the mass media, television in particular, to influence public opinion. Although it was made in 1957, it is just as powerful today. The film does a masterful job showing how selling a political candidate can be as easy as selling vitamin pills. It cautions the audience to think critically about the potential danger of charismatic politicians appealing to the prejudices of people and the ease with which demagogues can use the mass media to manipulate ordinary people. Andy Griffith’s performance is outstanding. Anyone who only knows him through his TV persona will be interested in seeing the much darker character that he portrays in this film.
Tony Strickland is a congressional candidate in California.
His pick: Charlie Wilson’s War, R; 2007; starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Based on the true story of the Democratic Texas congressman whose efforts to support Afghan resistance in their war against the Red Army, help lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The film gives a good flavor for what it’s like in a legislative body. But beyond that, it demonstrates how one person, when driven on a particular issue, can make a difference. Through hard work, persistence and determination, the congressman made a huge impact on this country and the world. The movie is inspiring and well-done.
Laura Bouza of Los Angeles is a documentary filmmaker.
Her pick: Citizen Ruth, R; 1996; starring Laura Dern.
Ruth Stoops, a pregnant, unemployed addict, becomes the pawn of both anti-abortion and abortion rights activists. Citizen Ruth’ attempts to create a dialogue around its central issues rather than take sides. A good political film will get audiences to question their assumptions and beliefs on a particular issue. Citizen Ruth’ does this by reminding us that many issues are not simply black and white. The film encourages us to ask questions and to consider other perspectives, circumstances, and considerations.
Eric Garcia is a novelist, screenwriter and TV producer.
His pick: Election R; 1999; starring Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick.
Overachieving high-schooler Tracy Flick runs for student body president. Jim McAllister, a teacher at the school, does his best to undermine her.
Election’ is a fantastic satire of everything that is both right and wrong in politics. As a distillation of the American political system, it’s spot-on-perfect and painful. Tracy dearly wants to be class president, and she’s certainly the most qualified for the job, but for Tracy, it’s not about the issues, it’s about winning, about getting a gold star and another line on her résumé. A cynical way to view the film is that people who are most likely to be successful politicians are probably the last people we should ever vote for. It’s Reese Witherspoon’s funniest role, and the fierce, mostly below-the-surface battle between her and Matthew Broderick as the teacher who wants to end her political career is one of the best rivalries in dark comedy. Election’ is one of those rare political films that can be enjoyed and appreciated by those of all political ideologies. Left, right, center – it’s funny no matter how you look at it.
Julia Brownley is running for Congress in California.
Her pick: The Iron Lady PG-13; 2011; starring Meryl Streep (Streep won the Academy Award for this role.).
A biography based on the life of Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of the United Kingdom and Conservative Party leader.
I’ve always been inspired by strong women in the political arena, and I think everyone can learn something from Thatcher’s achievement. While I don’t agree with her politics, I admire Margaret Thatcher, who through hard work, determination and intellect, broke barriers in a male-dominated field that few women had even attempted before. The movie is especially relevant today when battles over civil rights that women have fought decades for are being fought for all over again. Thatcher’s refusal to back down in the face of opposition is a good reminder that women can accomplish anything they set their mind to. It’s also devastating to watch Thatcher’s onset of dementia. It crystallizes the importance of providing care and dignity to our seniors.