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From a positive take on politics of Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939) to a pessimistic one in State of the Union (1948), all in less than a decade of Hollywood … but there is more in this tightly written doco about politics at the movies. Isn’t that all of them, asks Andrew L. Urban.

Every movie is political, one way or another, say some of the interviewees in this 60 minute doco, and I’d have to agree. Some are just more obviously so.

Laurent Bouzereau’s doco slices this thematic genre into chapters, starting with Vetting the Candidate, in which it looks at films that are based on political campaigns and candidates – not just for President, either, like All the King’s Men (1949), in which Broderick Crawford plays Willie Stark, a character based on the tragic and flawed Huey Long, Governor of Louisianna 1928-32.

"some of the most impressive political movies ever made"

The film is anything but boring as it takes in clips from key scenes in some of the most impressive political movies ever made. The talking heads are relevant and intelligent, ranging from directors such as Oliver Stone and Rob Reiner to actors James Cromwell and Fred Thompson (who is also a former Senator), political consultant James Carville, screenwriter Bob Gale and author Terry Christensen.

In The Contender (2000) Rod Lurie wanted to write “about a world in which women are challenged but they shouldn’t be challenged” and Joan Allen plays a Senator who is put forward by the President (Jeff Bridges) for the position of Vice President.

There is a relevant and timely remark (not even 20 minutes into the film) by author and film critic Julie Salomon: “Idealism is easy in the abstract, but when you’re dealing with realpolitik … you have to compromise…” She’s talking about the lesson of The Candidate (1972) starring Robert Redford as the Democrats’ Presidential candidate.

Redford, of course, went on to buy the rights to All the Presidents’ Men and produce the 1976 film of it, with director Alan J. Pakula.

And when it comes to films about the President, there seem to be two kinds; one is what we’d like the President to be and how we’d like him (so far always) to behave (eg Michael Douglas in The American President [1995]); the other is more how it is.

"comprehensive yet accessible"

In its attempt to be comprehensive yet accessible, the doco touches on the comedies made within the thematic genre, notably Dave and the Peter Sellers classic, Dr. Strangelove (1964). And by contrast, a searing (but short) look at Costa Gavras’ deconstruction of dictatorship, Z, and one of the giants of political movies, Warren Beattie’s Reds.

We get a glimpse of some of the more recent biopics, too: Nixon, W – and JFK, the negative reactions to which changed Oliver Stone, made him less confident, less willing to take risks. The one major omission in this list is Steve Spielberg’s Lincoln – but perhaps it was just bad timing, as this doco was made in 2012, the year Lincoln came out. It would have tied the timelines and the theme together beautifully.

Published October 17, 2013

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Dr Strangelove

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