Sometimes movies lend themselves very easily to shortcuts when it comes to marketing. Sequels, obviously, play on how much bigger the explosions are, steamier the sex is or funnier the jokes are. Adaptations of existing works mean there is a built in fan base that can be appealed to. You can bet that the 40 percent of a movie that actually follows the source novels plotline will be what they pull footage from for the trailers and website synopsis.
Movies that delve into the realm of politics are no different, especially in an election year. When the population’s attention is being consistently brought toward a presidential race then movies that deal with political issues are given fair amounts of free coverage. This is more true now than ever before with at least three 24-hour news channels constantly needing topics to fill the hours between truly newsworthy events (even though those channels seem less and less interested in real news, but I digress).
2004, in case you haven’t noticed, is such an election year. This November we will go to the polls and decide whether or not we want terrorists to strike our country again and again (at least that’s what the candidates would have us believe). No shortage of filmmakers have decided to cash in on the upswing in political thinking and release films dealing with issues being touched on by the campaigns. But are these really just blatant attempts at money-making or do the people behind these movies actually hope to influence the election one way or the other? Let’s take a look at some of the more high-profile movies hitting theaters in the next few weeks.
I’ll start off with Silver City since it is the one clearly defined work of fiction. The latest film from writer/director John Sayles (who I will always picture filling out his scorecard in the press box in “Eight Men Out”) has Chris Cooper portraying a slightly less than bright gubernatorial candidate. Cooper’s character obviously is meant as a proxy for all the intellectual criticisms leveled at our current president, whom no one has accused of being a mental heavyweight. It isn’t clear whether Sayles actually thinks this movie will change people’s thinking but seems to be more in the style of “Primary Colors”, which played as just a ranting on then President Clinton’s, um, peccadilloes. Sayles just has something to say and this is the best way he can think of to say it.
“Michael Moore Hates America” isn’t so much it’s own film as it is a coda to Moore’s Fahrenheit 911. Think of this as the Republican response after a Democrat’s State of the Union speech. Pointing out all the weak parts of Moore’s arguments and accusations, director Michael Wilson really just wants to ride the coattails of “Fahrenheit”‘s Phenomenal success. By directly taking on such a high profile and popular film (it now ranks as the top-grossing documentary of all time) it assures itself multiple discussions by commentators on news channels and Sunday morning political round-tables (whom Calvin Trillian once dubbed the Sabbath Gasbags).
Wilson takes an interesting tact in trying to repudiate Moore. The framework of the film has Wilson trying to interview Moore to see where the two of them get their drastically different views of not only America but of the President. It’s a great hook and one that will be familiar to anyone who has seen Moore’s documentaries. Moore of course has made no secret of his desire to influence the upcoming election in general and get George W. Bush out of the White House specifically. To that end, he has opted to allow “Fahrenheit 911” to be shown on television before the election, thereby disqualifying it from Oscar consideration. The man obviously wants to reach a large segment of the population before they enter the voting booths. There’s a belief that anyone willing to pay between seven and 15 dollars to see his movie in the theater was going to agree with his point of view anyway so this is designed to get anyone who may have been curious about the movie to take a look.
There is another documentary hitting theaters which is designed not to attack the current occupant of the White House but to defend the candidate looking to take his place. “Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry” is the latest salvo in, essentially, the Vietnam War. Why this conflict has been brought to the forefront of the current campaign is beyond me, but that’s not important. The nation still views service (or lack thereof as the case may be) in the war as an important issue of character when choosing a leader. I can only look forward to campaigns thirty years down the road when all veterans of Vietnam are off the political stage and we no longer have to rehash the morality of the war every four years.
The campaigns for all these movies, fictional or not, will have to tread carefully. This is September and the race for the Presidency has been going on for over a year now. Tolerance for rhetoric, doubletalk and promises yet to be broken is wearing thin. On the other hand, the divisiveness of the current political climate may mobilize a good portion of the electorate. If the marketers play up their partisanship too much then they cut out a sizable chunk of their potential audience. If they don’t make their points in the campaigns clear enough then they may not bring out the very partisans their message is most likely to appeal to.