Saturday, August 23, 2008

Movies About Conventions

After the Olympics, can the 4-day TV extravaganza of men in ties and women in power suits possibly compete with bikini-clad beach volleyball demigods? If you're thinking, yep, that about describes it, then I think a good compromise is ordering these classics from Netflix:

--The Best Man, 1964, from a 1960 Broadway hit by author & critic Gore Vidal
This black & white period piece follows the behind-the-scenes schemes and machinations by Henry Fonda (an Adlai Stevenson-like character) versus Cliff Robertson (half JFK, half Joe McCarthy). And Lee Tracey as the Souther President (a little Lyndon Johnson mixed with Eisenhower and some heart problems.) Guess which character Vidal paints as the philanderer.

--The Manchurian Candidate, 1962, the original please. Don't waste your time with the remake.
The best villain of all time (Angela Langsbury) plus James Gregory as her evil, Joe McCarthy-type husband, Senator Iselin, it makes up for truly turgid performances by Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey. God knows, we don't want the violent strain of American politics to rear its ugly head in this (or any) election, but this film sure packs a wallop of suspense with hidden gunmen in Madison Square Garden. Even better, show this to someone younger than age 25 and be prepared to explain the meaning of "communist."

--The Parallax View, 1974, starring Warren Beatty.
Esteemed film critic Pauline Kael was famously known to see a move once and once only, and then dash off a review so insightful, so penetrating, it stands the test of time when you flip through her many books of collected film criticism.

Me? I remember how much I loved a film but have had to apologize to guests more than once with a humble, "maybe you had to be 14 years old when you see this film." Or, "It was right after 9-11, it seemed to resonate. i guess now it's just dull."

I haven't seen the Parallex View since it first came out in the early '70s and my friends all saw it in one of those old fabulous theaters on Hollywood Blvd. It was deep, man! It told the truth! There was nothng like it before Oliver Stone and Michael Mann and so many other reexaminations of 60s-era sacred cows. Today, is there anyone left who believes the Warren Commission? Back then, our parents did. And they were shocked--shocked! really!--during Watergate to hear evidence that government officials lied to us.

Back to the Parallax View. First, this might be a moot point. Can you even get this on video? That would be a pity and it's high time someone at Paramount start digging through the vaults. All I can remember is how this was one of the earliest films to explore the long shadow of doubt cast by JFK's assassination and the laughable Warren Commission's official conclusion of the lone gunman. In the 60s, there were plenty of books, newspaper articles, but not the fictional and visual exploration of cinema. If you were impressed by the Beatty of Bullworth, go back to his earlier work in the Parallax View.

--Honorable mentions:
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Yeah, yeah. For the optimists among you. Dave and The American President (for those who want to escape the cynical spell cast over the 60s and 70s). And even Being There from 1980 with Peter Sellers, because it reveals more with each viewing, just like Chance, the gardener.

--Extra Credit and a longer post
All the films inspired by Watergate.

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