My friend Ken, the innkeeper at my favorite bar, is a big movie fan as am I, but while 99% of my favorites were made before 1950, he still forks over big bucks to sit in tiny theaters and have his ears blown out watching what passes for modern entertainment. For this reason, I am forced, year after year, to watch annual ego-massaging, snore-fests like last week’s Golden Globe Awards as the price for enjoying a few Sunday night drinks.
Although I paid little attention to the TV while discussing the real upcoming Hollywood fantasy production — the Obama Inauguration — I was prodded to watch the Best Picture segments. One of the nominees was Revolutionary Road, a dreary and depressing effort to depict life in 1950s America as, well, dreary and depressing; a flick crammed with Hollywood’s favorite ingredients: bored housewives, adultery, alcoholism, and abortion. Yawn.
But what really stirred up the barroom conversation was all the attention paid to Frost/Nixon, a film by Ron Howard, of whom an anonymous Internet poster riotously said, “Here’s a guy whose career peaked at the age of eight.” What, I asked Kenny, could this movie — an admitted “fictionalization” of the story behind the interviews themselves, which have been and still are available for public consumption — add to the sad saga of a man dragged through the liberal wringer for the past 30 years. His answer? “It’s part of history.”
Well, should we accept my bartender’s erudite explanation and agree that the lives of American presidents should indeed be grist for the Hollywood movie mill? It seems that Tinseltown has already answered that question in the affirmative; at least when it comes to Republicans. A cursory search on movies about Nixon returns over a dozen feature-length films, including 1999’s Dick, a ditzy comedy and the only one worthy of the third-rate burglary that brought down our 37th president.
Obsession with Richard Nixon, even after three decades, is a pillar of liberal elitism. His head on their trophy wall is a symbol of their greatest triumph; one they have tried to repeat without success through the years, most recently with George W. Bush. In their frenzied minds, they have even connected the two men. An example from popular film critic, Roger Ebert:
Strange, how a man once so reviled has gained stature in the memory. How we cheered when Richard M. Nixon resigned the presidency! How dramatic it was when David Frost cornered him on TV and presided over the humiliating confession that he had stonewalled for three years. And yet how much more intelligent, thoughtful and, well, presidential, he now seems, compared to the occupant of the office from 2001 to 2009. Nixon was thought to have been destroyed by Watergate and interred by the Frost interviews. But wouldn’t you trade him in a second for Bush?
Obviously, Hollywood did not spare the sitting Republican president, making several insulting flicks and even an insipid TV show called That’s My Bush! even while he was engaged in defending our nation from grave peril. Now, some might say that the most powerful man in the world is deserving of critical attention, that it is the American way to lampoon our leaders, and maybe they’re right.
One thing we do know is that one of our most recent presidents has escaped the slings and arrows of the Hollywood harpooners who have taken such glee in skewering his GOP counterparts. Save for a few episodes of Biography with sugary titles like: “Bill Clinton: Hope, Charisma and Controversy,” or documentaries with ironically appropriate titles such as Bill Clinton: Rock & Roll President, our 42nd president has escaped with no cinematographic scars.
Yet surely, the Clinton presidency was the stuff Hollywood dreams are made of. So many movies have gleefully depicted the saga of a man who was nearly impeached; where is the story of one who really did suffer that humiliating rebuke? So many accusations of graft, greed and corruption surrounding Reagan, Bush and Nixon; where are the tantalizing tales of Buddhist monks and Indonesian bagmen splashed across the screen?
And where oh where, in the land of sex, lies, and videotape is the Monica Lewinsky scandal? She, the innocent lamb, caught in the clutches a powerful wolf whose cast of victims would have scintillated movie-goers across the nation. Sadly, Bill Clinton does not meet the number one Hollywood requirement for cinematic abuse and scorn; he’s not a Republican. Neither is the new occupant of the Oval Office, but it’s also unlikely that he’ll get the Tinseltown treatment. After all, they say Biblical epics are passé.