[This is not really about Scientology. The word "Scientology" appears in the first article, but the rest of the content is kind of interesting if you want to read about presidents in the movies.]
Foreplay to Lewinsky
The big expose of "Primary Colors":
Politics uses poison stakes
From: "Die Welt"
September 3, 1998
by HANNS-GEORG RODEK
Seldom has a producer filmed a best-seller with these kind of mixed feelings. The book "Primary Colors" has already found its way across store counters a million times. However, almost all films about the dirty side of politics have turned out to be poison at the box office.
The story is about the publicity around a candidate to the White House who can not leave his zipper alone. Only this time the president whose hormones are at stake is - as the whole world knows - still in the White House.
Without a doubt, John Travolta presents the ideal portrayal of Bill Clinton: he pulls them in at the box office, and matches his model exactly in appearance, gesture and dusky voice. Nevertheless, Travolta comes and goes at the White House, and has even brought his good friend, Bill Clinton, to putting in a good word for his Scientologists with Helmut Kohl.
The circumvention of controversy is a veritable mine field and an undisguised challenge to director Mike Nichols ("The Graduate," "Catch 22," "Silkwood"). That is why "Primary Colors" is a demonstration of brilliant film-making - in paradox to an on-going satire, it is developing into a known expose.
The strength of the movie theater lies in the fact that it fills in the holes of our imagination. We have read about phantom-like figures with the title "presidential advisor" who put their show horse on display, from tie color to "pause for applause" notations in his speech. In "Primary Colors," we are a witness to this display. We see the powerful machinery which is put in motion to white-wash a scandal. In this movie, we see the machinery at work: how the one night stands are made to be forgotten, how the pregnant under-age female is pushed aside, and the downplay of an arrest at a Viet Nam protest rally.
In other words, "Primary Colors" confirms what we always knew: the punji stakes of the political machine have been dipped in poison [defecation]. You only have to look so long before you find that the virtuous Travolta competitor (J.R. - untypically played by Larry Hagman) proves to be a dark spot in the past.
The film does not manage to escape this platitude. Mike Nichols refrains from portraying the elements of the book which could upset us, those which change our attitude of "nothing can change that" - apparently out of fear of coming too close to the reigning man in office. Presidential wives (including Hillary Clinton) must stand stubbornly by the side of their unfaithful husbands, according to the rule. Therefore the scene in which Travolta's Hillary, Emma Thompson, seduced a campaign manager, was cut after the pilot showing.
Above all, Nichols got across the final, really decisive point: have those who have been attracted by power maintained a semblance of honor/morality? Travolta get a hold of the material he needs to force his rival, Hagman, out of the race. However, the woman who got it for him also demands that he not use it. This is a quandary, a test of his literally sworn ideals.
The solution which Nichols comes to appears unmistakable, but we are not to get a closer look at it. When Travolta leaves Hagman's house, he has the same rehearsed smile on his face as he did at the beginning of the film. With that we are left standing in front of the facade which "Primary Colors" really wants us to see.
Read how Hollywood lost respect for the man in the White House - an essay about US presidents on film - Saturday in the "Welt"
(c) DIE WELT, September 3, 1998
Mr. Showbiz on "Primarily Monica" asks John Travolta about the Lewinsky affair:
"I haven't been very interested in [the Lewinsky situation]. I haven't paid much attention to how it's gone down."
-- John Travolta
Interesting choice of words, John.
How Hollywood lost respect for the man in the White House
From: "Die Welt"
Saturday, September 5, 1998
Mr. Lincoln rides into reality
The transformations of American presidents in the mirror of Hollywood
by HANNS-GEORG RODEK
The charge: conspiracy to overthrow of the American presidency by discrediting the office and the man.
The accused: movies and television.
The means: celluloid film, magnetic tape.
The trial: here and now.
The Defense: We would like to go back to the year 1903 . . .
The Prosecution: Objection, your honor.
Judge: Do we need this?
The Defense: Yes, we wish to prove that the high esteem of the US presidents can be traced back in time on film.
Long before Roosevelt began his "Fireside Chats" and Kennedy turned to television in his address "to the nation," there were movies. In 1901, Theodore Roosevelt was the first President on the Silver Screen in "Terrible Teddy." The film career of Abraham Lincoln began in 1903 with "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
Since that time, the winner of the Civil War has been portrayed on camera more than 130 times; only Napoleon (180 times) and Jesus Christ (150 times) have been before the camera more frequently. Of the 41 presidents, four were never portrayed on film, which should be taken as a criticism of the presidencies of John Tyler, Warren Harding, Millard Fillmore and James Buchanan, because Hollywood was able to discover something interesting about each of their 37 colleagues.
Furthermore, for a long time, an appearance on film was a blank check for a halo of glory. It was 76 years and 20 Jefferson portrayals before the schismatic demeanor of the third president was subjected to the question of slavery. Theodore Roosevelt's conquest of Cuba has still not been questioned after 27 films in 84 years. Abraham Lincoln turned into a regular film guest; between 1908 and 1942, a year did not go by without his gaunt figure appearing on screen.
The image of Lincoln was gained by two generations of Americans through the movies - in which neither the emancipation of the slaves nor Gettysburg nor his murder were mentioned. In 1939 John Ford, American legend-smith par excellence, filmed "The Young Mr. Lincoln." Henry Fonda, without beard in the title role, may have been the greatest exception to the Lincoln interpretations, yet his incipient attorney combined all the characteristics of legend.
He craves knowledge (trades food for a lawbook), popular (wins a timber cutting contest), fearless (stops a lynch mob), crafty (convicts a murderer), and above all, honest. His destiny repeatedly beckons him: at the grave of his friend, Ann Rutledge, his choice of career is sealed, and he walks to a distant rise in order to be alone with his meaningful thoughts. Then Ford completes the sanctification by overlaying the words from the statue of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington: from one who will do something great to one who has done great, from person to myth.
The Defense: That may have proved that the film industry has sufficiently contributed to the strengthening of the presidency.
The Prosecution: As long as Hollywood has portrayed real presidents, they have restrained themselves. However, even the first fictional film president did his best to to destroy confidence in the office. Let's go back to the year 1933 . . .
Judge: If we have to.
The production of "Gabriel over the White House" would today border on a miracle. Consider a newly elected president who tries to escape the breakneck speed of his motorcade, and just nods absently when the Secretary of the Interior gives him a summary.
Then: a car accident and, still half hallucinating, the vision of the archangel Gabriel. From then on, the President is concerned about the millions of unemployed who march on Washington. Neither gangsters nor congress can stop him. He sees to getting people bread and work and forces the leaders of the rest of the world, whom he has called to his yacht, to disarm/demobilize.
The president as a reformed scoundrel - this could only work under the cloak of comedy in times of radical unrest on the linen screen. This was written in Fall of 1932 during the last days of the corrupt Harding administration. Newspaper czar William Randolph Hearst was behind "Gabriel". He had decided to put everything he had at the disposal of Franklin D. Roosevelt - and that included the Cosmopolitan film company.
Even though "Gabriel" was presented as a satire, it opened people's eyes to the possibility for misuse of this office. However, it took another 15 years before the movies cast a glance behind the masquerade of the happy first family. In "The Best Man," the marriage between Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, who campaigned for the highest office, headed for the rocks. In the best Hillary Clinton tradition, Hepburn put a good face on an evil game before she led Tracy back to the straight and narrow: he came to the realization that he was not worthy, and he renounced the candidacy.
The Defense: What do you really want? Two films which end up reinforcing the respect of the office . . .
The Prosecution: and which cast doubt upon those who occupy it
Judge: Are you giving it too much significance? I can recall an evening in the Fall of 1960 which seems much more important to me.
That evening, on September 26, two presidential candidates appeared in the CBS studio in Washington for a television duel. Vice President Richard M. Nixon had just spent three weeks in the hospital with an injured knee, and looked hollow cheeked and white as chalk. Senator John F. Kennedy entered the arena like an Adonis. His vice president, Lyndon B. Johnson, heard the debate on the radio, and believed that Nixon had won on basis of points. However, on this evening, the words and the program did not count for the half of it. His entrance and his appearance won Kennedy the election. In Oliver Stone's "Nixon," the President brooded before an image of Kennedy, "When they look at you, they see what they want to be. When they look at me, they see what they are." For him, the picture took precedence over words, and that happened to him again. In his April speech of 1973, Nixon tried to ascribe all the fault to his subordinates. However, the picture gave a different message than his words. Nixon's face mirrored uncertainty, guilty and fear. Before his TV speech, a minority mistrusted him; afterwards it was more than 50 percent.
Another monumental change occurred during Tricky Dick's era. Until Watergate, entrance into the White House assured the occupant of a sort of canonization. Whatever he had done before, he was forgiven - because the man (according to the teaching) grew with the office. The passage from the halls of the political mudslingers to that of the mythological super-father was accomplished with the taking of the oath of office.
The movies had already taken their leave of the super-father image. Inside of twelve months, in 1963/64 the US movie theaters were playing a number of presidential variations. "PT Boat 109" sang praises to Navy Lieutenant John F. Kennedy in the Pacific war. "Prince consort in the White House" undermined the respect for a female president who left the White House (she was pregnant). "The Candidate" described how a Liberal kept up his campaign battle in spite of a failed marriage and a power hungry Philistine. In the "Seven Days of May," a helpless president avoided a military coup at the last moment. "Attack on Moscow" ended with an atom bomb being thrown on New York by a US presidential reject. And in "Dr. Strange, or: how I learned to love the bomb", Peter Sellers, the President, discussed with Peter Sellers, the mad scientist not how to avoid the overthrow of the world, but how the elite could survive it.
The Prosecution: That cleared the way for the film presidents of today: marriage wreckers and traitors, hustlers! Murderers!
The Defense: Quite the contrary. Hollywood stayed quiet when the White House was occupied, in succession, by a notorious liar, a peanut farmer who couldn't make up his mind, and an actor who should have retired.
Judge: I will have to tell you. You are demonstrating the very lack of respect which you are placing in dispute.
As a matter of fact, the more the country's politics are determined by Viet Nam and by students, the further Hollywood has removed itself from politics. The rule is confirmed by the exception, such as the scurrilous "Wild in the Streets" (1968, filmed as the flower children were in full bloom, a rock star gained the highest office, the voting age was lowered to 14, and the injudicious adults were fed with LSD in work camps), and finally by the Watergate balance "The Incorruptibles" [?] (in which Nixon did not appear as a figure and which is a thriller.)
Above all, Hollywood never violated that last taboo, the intimate lives of the state leaders, until 1976. In "Eleanor and Franklin", a television movie began with Eleanor's discovery that her husband's former lover, Lucy Mercer, was at his side at the hour of his death; Eisenhower's playmate, Kay Summersby, played a prominent role in the TV production, "Ike: The War Years" in 1979.
The dam did not break in Hollywood. That happened when a photographer snapped a shot of presidential candidate Gary Hart in the company of model Donna Rice. Since then, nothing more has been sacred. All are of the same mind, with disapproving, wrinkled-up noses: the scandal sheets, the serious anchormen, the Lenos and the Lettermans in their monologues and - how could they keep back - naturally, also Hollywood. Only a few of their latest president creations:
- Oliver Stone's "JFK" (1991), leaves the myth of the president intact, but destroys the institutions, and also his "Nixon" (1995), in which the reverse happens
- "A Woman named Jackie", a TV Drama from 1991, in which Jackie throws a black slip at JFK and says, "Find out who it belongs to. It is not my size."
- "The President's Child" (1992), where the advisor to a presidential candidate wants to put the candidate's illegitimate child along with the mother out of the way.
- "The Cartel" (1993), in which the President does business with the drug mafia.
- "Dave" (1993), in which the real president (during his afternoon quickie) suffers a heart attack is is replaced by a look-alike, who does his job much better.
- "Hello, Mr. President" (1995), where a (widower) President Michael Douglas wants to keep his romance with a lobbyist a secret.
- "Independence Day" (1996), where the President himself sits in a fighter jet in order to blast the space aliens to hell.
- "My Fellow Americans" (1996), in which Ex-Presidents Jack Lemmon und James Garner flee from political killers and Garner emerges as an unbeatable lady's man.
- "Murder at 1600" (1997), where investigators find out that a murder victim was the lover of both the president and his son.
- "Air Force One" (1997), where President Harrison Ford dramatizes a Viet Nam experience and rids his airplane of terrorists guerilla style.
- "Mars Attacks" (1997), in which President Jack Nicholson disintegrates after a pathetic patriotic speech by a Martian.
- "Absolute Power" (1997), in which the bodyguards of President Gene Hackman accidentally shoot his lover, which fact Mr. President tries to cover up at any cost.
- "Wag the Dog" (1998), in which a war is staged with Albania in order to steer the media's attention away from a presidential affair.
- "Primary Colors" (1998), which barely disguises the description of Clinton's pre-Lewinsky escapades.
By no means have all these films been detrimental to the presidential office. At the end of the comedy, "Dave," the false president campaigned for city council, and his Vice President was named his successor. The action film, "Air Force One" contained a several minutes seminar on who would take over command in case the President were kidnapped. The moral is that the people may fail, but the system still functions in the last resort.
Judge: The people, that would be Bill Clinton. He has dealt the death stroke to the high ideals and moral considerations of the presidency. The holder of the office no longer possesses these qualifications. The title has become an empty shell which we can use to fulfill our fantasies, sometime as those of an armed felon, once as a killer of space aliens. The film industry is cleared of the charges of being solely responsible for the decline of presidential prestige.
P.S. When the Jodie Foster film, "Contact manipulated shots of Clinton as if he were part of the film, he protested lamely more out of pride than from anger. Shortly thereafter, he actually let himself be depicted in a guest role for a television movie in which the President consoled a child who was going to die. Finally, Zeus has descended from Olympia to be among the people. However, the worst is not yet over. Joe Eszterhas, the best paid author of Hollywood since "Basic Instinct," has just written a new script entitled "Sacred Cows." In it, the president is discovered having sodomitical activity with a cow.
© DIE WELT, 5.9.1998
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