With the race for the Democratic nomination in this year’s presidential election fast approaching its climax, Hilary Clinton’s campaign team have decided to bring in the heavy hitters. Rob Reiner, whose credit for giving the world This Is Spinal Tap and The Princess Bride has sadly been tarnished by a trail of dismal rom-coms, put together a compilation of Jack Nicholson clips for a YouTube video supporting her candidacy that started airing last week – within a few days it had notched up more than a million hits. Team Obama retaliated with their own Nicholson montage, albeit without the actor’s official stamp of approval.
Can I be the only one disappointed that this idea wasn’t pushed a little further? The Departed would surely have provided a rich seam of material – the scene where Nicholson’s Boston gang boss lectures a group of Triads about the need for restraint in your choice of weaponry could easily slot into an earnest call for reform of the gun laws. Since Ralph Nader has announced that he’ll be running again this November, he might want to use the moment that sees Nicholson’s hench-men throw Martin Sheen to his death from twelve stories or thereabouts – with the help of a laconic voice-over, viewers would be reminded of Sheen’s lengthy stint as a Democratic president in The West Wing to emphasise Nader’s message of uncompromising hostility to the two-party system.
I spent a while there searching in my mind for a Democratic candidate called Johnny until I remembered there was another party contesting the election – John McCain might come to regret using the most celebrated clip from The Shining when it was time to repair America’s relations with the rest of the world, but there are bound to be many conservative voters who would relish the thought of the Commander-in-Chief sorting out the insurgency in Iraq by smashing through wooden doors with an axe (or at least ordering others to do so).
(A digression on Jack Nicolson – there’s a splendid bit in Peter Biskind’s classic history of 70s Hollywood, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, describing the moment when radical film producer Bert Schneider shows his contempt for the political inconstancy of his one-time friend and comrade by whipping out his lad and pissing over the fence onto Nicholson’s lawn. God only knows what Schneider, who was in the habit of writing ten thousand dollar cheques for the Black Panthers whenever they needed to hire a lawyer, would make of the star’s latest intervention.)
Apparently the two Democrats are lining up their celebrity endorsements for quick deployment – Hilary has Melanie Griffith and yer one from Desperate Housewives batting for her, while Obama has Robert De Niro and George Clooney. The only one that really made you take notice was Michael Keaton, who has also found the ‘audacity of hope’ too exciting to resist. Would it be too much to ask that, if Obama does edge out Clinton at the Democratic convention later this year, Keaton and Nicholson might reprise their roles from the first Batman movie, with the Joker attempting to steal the Democratic crown before the Caped Crusader sends him plummeting to his death from a steeple and passes on the baton to a grateful Obama in front of the cheering crowds?
After all, it’s not drastically sillier than the stunt the Republicans pulled at their 2004 convention – not satisfied with taking a throwaway joke from Demolition Man and making it near-reality by having Arnold Schwarzenegger become governor of California, the eejits then got him to make a speech denouncing critics of the Bush administration as ‘economic girly men’. For a moment it was nice to see all the try-hard post-modern irony of the art world gazumped by an unrepentant low-brow like Arnie, but then you saw the gormless feckers in the audience cheering him on and began to appreciate why Tim Robbins had decided not to release the soundtrack for Bob Roberts as an album (he reckoned there would be no shortage of conservative politicians glad to adopt The Times Are Changin’ Back as their anthem).
You’ve got to wonder how much good all this celebrity mongering actually does. When George Bush faced off against John Kerry four years ago, it seemed like all the Hollywood stars in Kerry’s corner did him more harm than good, allowing the conservative shock-jocks to rant about ‘liberal elitists’ trying to tell the plain people of their land what they should do in the polling stations.
According to a post-Oscars article by Ryan Gilbey, the film critic for the New Statesman, the Republicans have been able to do more damage to the Hollywood liberals than vice versa:
‘In the past few months, two respected US directors have told me separately that the conservative mood in Hollywood has either thwarted or impeded attempts to finance their films. It is a sign of how oppressive an influence the Bush administration has been on the arts that neither director was keen to speak on the record about the difficulties they had encountered. Both noted that the word “liberal” had become taboo in Hollywood studios, a comment borne out by the opprobrium Michael Moore received when he spoke against the Iraq War at the 2003 Oscars ceremony.’
That’s interesting – well it is for me anyway, I’m not enough of a film nerd to know much about the inner workings of the industry (for some reason I can still remember who’s won the European Cup for the last twenty years, but don’t ask me to name the Oscar winners in the past five). I’ve heard that studio bosses are keen to milk some of the faithful audience that made The Passion of the Christ such a money-spinner – is there a back-log of Biblical projects in the pipe-line? There used to be ads on after midnight for ‘not available in the shops’ DVD versions of various holy lives with proper actors in the lead roles (you could buy Moses with Ben Kingsley and get Jacob ‘absolutely free’ as I recall). Will that sort of product be hitting the theatres soon?
Gilbey seems to know what he’s talking about, so if there is a change in the White House later this year, we might get a few more films like Syriana and not so many clerical block-busters. And it might stop people watching re-runs of The West Wing, closing their eyes and wishing Jeb Bartlett was president, which can only be a good thing.
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