American Politicians Get the Hollywood Treatment as Election Day Draws Near


Published: October 02, 2008

‘Tis the season! The election season, that is.

With the upcoming presidential election, suddenly everything is waxing political, from “Barack the Vote” t-shirts to Sen. John McCain and family gracing the cover of People magazine. Also, let’s not forget that lipstick and rimless glasses are quickly becoming this season’s “must-haves.” It is not surprising, then, that this trend has extended itself into the medium of film, serving as a theme and backdrop to this season’s most anticipated movies.

One of those films, due in theatres Oct. 3, is a comedy directed by David Zucker called “An American Carol.” Zucker, who made his directorial unveiling with “Airplane!” in 1980, debuts his first politically-based comedy. Satire in its raunchiest form, “An American Carol” takes a swing at left-wing activists. In the film, Michael Malone (parody of Michael Moore) sets out to abolish the Fourth of July because he thinks America’s past and present are offensive.

A former self-proclaimed member of the Left himself, Zucker claims to be well-versed in the mannerisms and moral platitudes of his subjects. However, judging by the long list of cameo appearances, from George Washington (played by Jon Voight) to Fox Commentator Bill O’Reilly, Zucker is clearly poking fun at everyone.

Another highly anticipated film is director Oliver Stone’s “W.” Based on the life and presidency of George W. Bush, Stone describes the film as a play with three acts. The first act depicts Bush as a young man; the second, his succession of his father as president; the third, his decision to invade Iraq. If you get the sense that this movie could possibly be a play by Shakespeare, you wouldn’t be alone (Prince Hal specifically comes to mind).

This isn’t the first time Stone has shown an interest in portraying controversial presidents–he released “JFK” in 1991, and then “Nixon” in 1995. Much like his earlier presidential biopics, Stone’s intent in portraying Bush is to present a “fair, true portrait of a man”—not to depict him as an object of either scorn or reverence.

“Frost/Nixon,” scheduled for limited release on Dec. 5, is based on Peter Morgan’s Tony-Award-Winning play of the same name.  “Frost/Nixon” was presented for the stage in London’s Donmar Warehouse in 2006. Both Frank Langella (“Starting Out in the Evening”) and Michael Sheen (“Underworld”) reprise their West End stage roles as Richard Nixon and David Frost–respectively–for the Ron Howard (“A Beautiful Mind”) film.

Movie-goers unfamiliar with the play may be surprised to discover the film does not concern itself with Nixon’s presidency, Watergate or his resignation. Rather, the focus is on one single interview conducted about three years after Nixon resigned from office.

Costing about $2 million to produce, the interview became not only the most expensive ever managed, but it also generated the largest television audience of its time, reportedly having been watched by over four million viewers worldwide. The interview was crucial to those who wished to give Nixon “the trial he never had” when President Gerald Ford offered him full pardon in 1974.

The election season is, perhaps, no better time than any to examine the political system, politicians and our own values. Comedies like “An American Carol” show us the farcical aspects which shape our political ideologies, and thus, our votes, while biopics and dramas such as “W.” and “Frost/Nixon” expose the true individuals behind those figures we elect and sometimes deem “infallible.”

On Nov. 4, whether we choose to jump on the wagon of “Change” or “Change We Can Believe In,” we would do well to look with the critical eye of the filmmaker as we cast  new characters in the next feature of our nation’s history.