State Your Shame for 2017

Do you have those movies — you know the ones — the ones you *should* watch, the ones you could watch if you just made the time?

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The Blade Runners, the Godfathers, the Taxi Drivers, the It’s a Wonderful Lifes that everyone talks about and maybe you admit you haven’t seen them.

Maybe.

Or maybe you pretend because you know enough to make idle conversation and espouse idle, non-poignant remarks that won’t give away your secret.

CinemaShame is a community of online writers, bloggers and social media participants that have formed a support group, a safe zone, for penitent moviewatchers. We name the movies we regret not having seen. We watch the movies. We write about our experience.

Finally watching a “classic” after reading and hearing about it for so many years offers a different perspective than those that have lived and loved a film for their entire life. It’s an informed perspective that brings prior knowledge and cultural awareness. Does the film live up to its status? Does it live up to the hype?

Join the Knights of Penitent Moviewatching. Share your shame, fulfill your destiny. Kneel before the classics of Cinema.

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Beauty & The Beast

I never watched the Disney animated Beauty and the Beast. I was already a teenager when it arrived in theaters.

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Belle sits on a fountain, teaching the sheep. The story book she has just taken out of the town book collection. The moment that she meets Prince Charming. But she won’t realize it’s him til Chapter 3. 

She really is a funny girl, that Belle. 

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I think I am perhaps far too in character as Belle right now.

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I watched it–it’s true, I did. The new Beauty and the Beast. The live action one. I was excited about this for a number of reasons–not the least of which being that in it, Belle is played by Emma Watson, who plays Hermione Granger. And what we need from the filmiverse is exactly this double casting.

The Magnificent Seven (1960) – An Essay on Another Movie That Became Important Later

I briefly considered going Full Shame on this movie, watching the three sequels and the Chris Pratt remake, but who has that kind of time. Also, I realized that if I wanted to really go Full Shame, I’d also have to watch Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, which the film is roughly based on. Again, I really don’t have that kind of time. Especially, if I want to complete my CinemaShame list and prepare for an upcoming CinemaShame podcast.

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The Magnificent Seven was an interesting pick, because I assumed it was a massive hit. A Western with Yul Brenner and Steve McQueen, that earned a remake last year with Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and approximately five other guys of varying fame and payscale. Turns out, it wasn’t. It was a box office flop in 1960, and only became popular after it was a big hit in Europe and many of the actors went on to become big stars – Steve McQueen, James Coburn, and Charles Bronson all appeared in John Sturges’ next film The Great Escape, which was a much bigger success.

In my last essay on Bulworth, I referenced a book by Chuck Klosterman where he contemplates how things will be viewed differently in the future and how we perceive things now, may be very different. The Magnificent Seven is actually a perfect example of this. It flopped in the box office, only to gain status as a classic much later after success of it’s participants. I find two things about this interesting. First, it’s referred to as a classic and not a cult classic. Second, it received this title, despite it’s problems. That’s right, I went there.

At some point — I could look it up, but I still don’t have the time — the term “cult classic” was coined for movies that weren’t successful, but grew a fandom later. (Okay. I looked it up, the term “cult film” started in the 1970s, no date on “cult classic.”) I would argue The Magnificent Seven was the first, or one of the first “cult classics.” But eventually, it just became a classic, based largely on the merits of the cast and crew at a later date. I then after to wonder, at what point will our cult classics then become classics. I feel like I still hear Pulp Fiction referred to as a cult classic and not just a classic film. Perhaps not enough time has pasted, or perhaps classics will only ever refer to a specific time period. This all has less to do with the film, and more to do with film consumption culture.

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Now, the point where I say it may not deserve the praise. The introduction to the first two members of the seven is amazing and great story telling. The hearse scene shows the kind of men that Yul Brener’s and Steve McQueen’s characters are. They are men of honor and they do the right thing. They don’t know each other, but team together to drive a hearse – a comedically short distance – to a cemetery to bury a Native American where the locals don’t want him buried. They do it because it’s the right thing. After that, the rest of the Seven getting slightly less strong, but still well written introductions, minus Robert Vaughn’s character. This covers the first third of the film and it’s followed by a strong second act where they go to the village in Mexico that hired them for protection. After the initial confrontation, the last third of the film goes downhill.

I found a review from Variety that kind of nailed it for me: “The last third is downhill, a long and cluttered anti-climax in which The Magnificent Seven grow slightly too magnificent for comfort.”

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The last third of the film feels anti-climatic and it’s hard to really feel triumphant as the Seven, now kicked out of the village, go back to win again. A gunfight breaks out and within the fight, each character gets their moment to complete their story arc. It’s a mess though, partially because of the fact that the script never really clarified in which order the final deaths happened. The moments of each character are lost in the hustle on the first view and don’t give a resonance when Yul Brenner says his final line: “The old man was right. Only the farmers won. We lost. We always lose.”

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The Magnificent Seven is a great film, and probably does deserve the title of classic, but at the same time, I understand why it wasn’t a big success initially. It gives me hope though that Terminator Genisys will one day become a classic after its stars have gained more mainstream recognition.

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So I thought I’d seen The Godfather Part III

 

This has become a most unexpected slice of Shame. Having rewatched Godfather and Godfather Part II to brush up on my Corleone lore for the recently recorded Cinema Shame podcast, I kept right on rolling into Godfather Part III. Why not? The wife and I were invested, hip-deep, quoting the films and proffering our own community-theater Brando impersonations. Of course we would complete the cycle.

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But a funny thing happened shortly after beginning the final Godfather installment. I discovered none of this felt familiar. The wife began probing me for clues about the film’s outcome. I knew the crucial deaths and a few choice quotations. But how we got there? Not a morsel of information.

It’s not uncommon to begun watching a movie and realize I’d actually seen it, but not once in my movie-watching history (at least to my recollection, which I’ve just called into question, so… grain of salt) had I convinced myself that I’d seen a film when I actually hadn’t.

It’s a strange sensation.

My Shame has taken on a completely new twist. I went into Godfather Part III expecting re-evaluation. Only I had no initial evaluation to reconsider. I suppose latent images and trace memory from my readings had convinced me I’d seen the film. Frequently, the Cinema Shame phenomenon occurs because popular culture has hammered home particular aspects of a film, causing us to feel like we’ve already experienced the story. We already feel like we’ve seen it through the eyes of popular culture. The phenomenon is real and perhaps too powerful. I’m living proof.

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Let’s first put a few thoughts on the table before moving on. The Godfather Part III has a bad reputation. It’s considered a lesser film. Our frame of reference will dictate whether we consider it a lesser film or just a lesser Godfather film. The discrepancy is important. The critical mass has duly documented Sofia Coppola’s performance as legendarily bad. Movie-killing bad. As a direct result, this final installment just isn’t properly considered when discussing the Godfather saga.

I may only be merely one voice in a sea of film criticism, but I cannot abide this treatment any longer.

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The abandoned Corleone Lake Tahoe compound.

The abandoned and dilapidated Corleone Lake Tahoe compound opens the film, an affecting sequence of still images that sets the tone and propels our expectations. Before anyone sets food on screen, the audience has been primed for one ultimate outcome – the destruction of Michael Corleone and potentially the entire Corleone dynasty. The Godfather Part III offers no misdirection; this film, unlike the first two chapters, promises only tragedy, it promises the end of our anti-hero Michael Corleone and potentially the entire Corleone family. It comes as no surprise to learn that Francis Ford Coppola wanted to name the film “The Death of Michael Corleone.”

The Godfather Part III embraces darkness. Perhaps this river of bleakness offers one reason that audiences failed to embrace the film. It entertains notions of mortality and regret rather than a celebration of machismo and initiative. There’s no measure of hope or optimism for the future. The aging and now ill Michael Corleone attempts to make amends for his familiar failures and repent for his crimes, to scrub clean the Corleone family name. He wants to rekindle the old world familial bonds that he’s eschewed in favor of money and power. The Don has lost sight of the tenant that his father, Vito Corleone, held most dear. Family first. If Don Vito Corleone represents the American Dreamer, Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III represents a cultural disillusionment with our greatest institutions. Capitalism. Religion. The nuclear family.

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The loss of the Godfather’s pro-active anti-hero from Parts I and II shifts the tone dramatically. Michael manages his diabetes, weighs the value of his life and attempts to return his misplaced focus to the family. His inaction and hesitancy to call for immediate retribution in the face of an obvious assault on the Corleone name takes on an air of defeatism, a far cry from the Michael Corleone that assassinated Sollozzo and McCluskey and launched his career in the family business. He’s staring down a modern world stripped of its moral compass and opting out.

In Michael’s stead, Part III instead provides Andy Garcia’s Vincent (Sonny’s illegitimate son) as the Corleone representation in this new world order. Leather-clad, brash and hyper-reactive, Vincent accepts the bestowal of Godfather status from Michael – an unthinkable development in the Corleone business model. Vincent isn’t even a Corleone. Management of the family business has been outsourced. Plus he’s having sex with his cousin Mary, Michael’s daughter. The corruption of the family from within.

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Vincent (Andy Garcia) striking back against a couple of low-level hitmen. 

Godfather Part III also benefits from Connie (Talia Shire) coming into her own as an invested and active member of the family rather than just a failed homemaker. She too represents a modern dynamic. The women were once relegated to a shadowed, maternal existence. Willingly naïve of the family business. Connie emerges as a strong central figure, giving orders during Michael’s incapacitation. One could write an entire book on Connie’s journey to investiture in the family business and how that represents the emergence of feminism in the Godfather narrative. She becomes perhaps the most interesting figure in the entire saga.

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Connie rise to power charts a fascinating course through the Godfather Trilogy.

The obvious criticism of Part III remains Sofia Coppola’s portrayal of Mary. It is unfair to judge the Godfather Part III on Sofia Coppola alone. Yes, she’s distracting. She’s an amateur acting alongside Diane Keaton, Al Pacino and Andy Garcia. She was destined for failure. Context is important, however. Winona Ryder dropped out of the production at the last minute. Coppola, fearing that Paramount would pull the plug on the whole film, asked his daughter to fill the role as an emergency measure to preserve the production. Without Sofia there might not have been a Godfather Part III at all. Just something to think about.

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Sofia Coppola is not an adequate scapegoat. This is no Christmas Jones, people.

There’s so much more to the film than Sofia Coppola’s performance that relying on that as criticism feels patently lazy. Intricately woven themes of redemption and mortality remain in play throughout the film. Part III offers a complex and multifaceted analysis of the ways in which power and money has corrupted not only Michael Corleones of the world but the greater institutions designed to protect us.

This sense of total corruption snowballs into a thirty-minute white-knuckle finale that rivals the baptismal conclusion of the first Godfather in terms of complex, layered cross-cutting. The opera assassination sequence features the most tense and thrilling moments in the trilogy. It is masterful filmmaking.

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George Hamilton photobomb at the opera.

Only a small bit of comic relief (supplied by Connie) breaks the persistent tension. And rightly so. This is the climax of the entire trilogy. The reckoning for past misdeeds coming to call on Michael in the form of a reaper-like assassin sent by his powerful enemies. The opera house becomes the gateway to the future of the Corleone family. The Corleone hopes and dreams, the plausibility of redemption all hang in the balance.

The film shocked me. I thought I’d merely forgotten, but aside from certain culturally accumulated catchphrases, I’d never really known it at all. The accepted and perceived order of the Godfather films clouded my judgment and distorted my conception of the film. I know now that many of these criticisms had merely been formed based on overly critical and small-minded comparisons.

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The Godfather Part III was not only worthy; in many ways it surpassed its supposedly greater elders. It’s not the cinematic perfection of its predecessors, but it tells a very human story, a very relatable story – and perhaps as a result it cuts too close and too deeply. The Godfather and The Godfather Part II allowed the viewer a measure escapist distance. The violence and human horror framed in otherness. As part of the mafia, as part of a narrow band of Italian immigrant experience. The Godfather Part III is the human condition – it is all of our stories.

 

 

So The Postman Always Rings Twice sizzles and fizzles.

As I have a tendency to do, I went overboard with my shame. This time I overindulged in The Postman Always Rings Twice penance. I watched the film and the 1981 remake (which we’ll not worry about for purposes of this conversation), but that wasn’t enough. So I tracked down a copy of James M. Cain’s anthology of noir novels and novellas at the library and read that. And that wasn’t enough. I learned that the 1943 Luchino Visconti film Ossessione was one of two earlier adaptations of the novella. So I found a copy of the Visconti and now I’m working on locating the 1939 French film Le Dernier Tournant with English subs. I’ve put my best Francophiles on the case.

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Why satisfy the Shame but continue on down this path of obsession? …or Ossessione?

Truth time. I watched the film and thought, “That’s it? That’s the movie I’ve been hearing so much about for so many years?” This is not disappointment; this is the danger of Cinema Shame — the damning expectation that comes along with the term “classic.”

I’m going to lay this out for you, reader. I found this uncontested (at least to my knowledge) classic to be a minor chore. I enjoyed the film, but never felt the film grip my lapels and hoist me up by my own petard. Film noirs should sizzle – a slow burn, a candlewick burning, dwindling until it folds onto itself upon the end credits. The layers of wrongdoing and malice eventually extinguished with one final gasp for air.

“Then I saw her. She had been out back, in the kitchen, but she came in to gather up my dishes. Except for the shape, she really wasn’t any raving beauty, but she had a sulky look to her, and her lips stuck out in a way that made me want to mash them in for her.”

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Lana Turner’s first appearance in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946). Cain describes the Cora character as sulky and without any “raving beauty.” 

James M. Cain describes the first meeting between Frank and Cora in a way that portends the ugliness to come. Frank sees Cora and the sight drives him to combine sex and violence into an unsettling mélange. She’s no “raving beauty” he says, but notes her shape and especially her lips. The raw, animalistic aggression contained within the study of her her lips provides a platform for their relationship and the ugliness that it ultimately inspires.

If there was any doubt about Cora’s reciprocity, look no further than their first sexual encounter.

“I took her in my arms and mashed my mouth up against hers… ‘Bite me! Bite me!’

I bit her. I sunk my teeth into her lips so deep I could feel the blood spurt into my mouth. It was running down her neck when I carried her upstairs.”

When I first read this passage from the novel, I understood precisely why I’d felt underwhelmed by the 1946 classic. Not one part of me truly believed Lana Turner embodied “Cora” to John Garfield’s pitch-perfect “Frank.”

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The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) purposefully references Cain’s popular source material, but ultimately undermines the thrilling ugliness of the novel.

Garfield’s very visage – scarred, mottled like that of a boxer – conveys Frank’s demons. As Cora later tells him, “you’re smart but you’re no good.” Even though I’d not read Cain’s prose before seeing the film, Garfield felt authentic. I, of course, brought in extratextual information. Garfield’s performances in films such as He Ran All the Way, Body and Soul, and Force of Evil all contributed to my expectations and acceptance.

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The flip side is of course Lana Turner’s enduring image. The pristine, Hollywood-groomed beauty of Lana Turner could not conjure the woman who married the slovenly Greek twice her age, the woman who displayed masochistic sexuality, the woman who helped author the plot to murder her husband. Lana Turner was not Cain’s Cora. After reading James M. Cain’s prose, the more convinced I became.

In order to go along with The Postman Always Rings Twice, one must believe in the uncontrollable animal magnetism between Frank and Cora. Though Cora certainly commits misdeeds in the film, she lacks the character’s purposeful impetus from the novella. In Tay Garnett’s film, she’s almost a passenger, propelled by Frank’s delusional self-prowess. She wields her sexual potency with no certain end. A more in-depth conversation about the film could explore how Lana Turner’s sexuality in The Postman Always Rings Twice merely entertains the audience’s gaze rather than also function in service of narrative propulsion.

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“No one can know what that means to a woman. To have to be around somebody that’s greasy and makes you sick to the stomach when he touches you. I’m not really such a hell cat, Frank. I just can’t stand it any more.”

Cain’s Cora lacks measurable self-confidence; Frank feeds her ego with his sexual aggression. She’s painted as an average beauty, one consumed by the attention bestowed upon her by Frank. Lana Turner presents the self-assurance of someone who’d never be wanting for male companionship or attention. That she’d ever become the wife of an owner of a greasy diner or that she’d turn her life upside down for a wandering miscreant ring false. I can’t fault the casting of Lana Turner here, because her presence in this film belongs in the realm of pure spectacle, but I can also challenge the casting choice as a detriment to the merit of the film.

By definition the femme fatale is “a mysterious and seductive woman who whose charms ensnare her lovers, often leading them into compromising, dangerous, and deadly situations.” The archetype figures prominently in the folklore and mythology of many ancient cultures including the Sirens of Greek mythology, most notably in Homer’s Odyssey.

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The Sirens and Ulysses by William Etty, 1837.

I concede that Cora’s overt malice would likely have been marginalized by the production code. Double standards existed for female on-screen decorum. And this film had already pushed the boundaries of acceptable mainstream cinema. Cora’s character has been recalibrated as a partial victim.

I would argue that the on-screen portrayal shows that she did not pro-actively lead Frank astray, but rather that Frank nudged her astray and their obsession and plotting gathered momentum like a snowball. With that in mind I do not believe that she is acting as a true femme fatale. I think it is important to differentiate Cora’s actions from that of a character such as Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyillis in Double Indemnity. Phyillis manipulates Walter Neff from the moment he first walks in the door. If Lana Turner’s Cora manages Frank in this way, we don’t see that conveyed adequately on screen.

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Consider the conscious ways that Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) manipulates Walter Neff in Double Indemnity versus how Cora does not purposefully control Frank.

Turner’s performance is not wanting, however. And I must agree with the critics that cite her role in Postman as a dramatic landmark in her career. She charges her scenes with a shocking amount of eroticism for 1946 – especially considering the Production Code’s decade long fight to prevent this story from being seen by American audiences. I just do not see this character using her sexuality as man bait. Cain’s text clearly shows Cora manipulating Frank.

Critics don’t seem to agree with my judgment of her character. Writing in 2000, Stephen MacMillan Moser in the Austin Chronicle writes “from the first glimpse of her standing in the doorway in her white pumps, as the camera travels up her tanned legs, she becomes a character so enticingly beautiful and insidiously evil that the audience is riveted.” Even if you place Visconti’s Ossessione next to Tay Garnett’s Postman one can immediately notice differences in the way the two filmmakers went about establishing malice and intent in Cora.

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Visconti’s Ossessione (1943) starring Giovanna Bragana and Gino Costa. 

Ossessione portrays Cora as having clear and purposeful intent in a way Turner’s Cora does not. It may seem like splitting hairs to challenge a grade-A certified classic film noir over a subtle characterization, but after lining up all these various adaptations of Cain’s novel, Cora’s clear intent to kill her husband and manipulate Frank make this a far more interesting dynamic than a girl just getting swept up in a seedy romance.

Visconti’s Osessione and Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice perfect the minor keys that this Hollywood classic could not perfect or did not even attempt due to the watchful eye of the production code, abandoning the full depiction of femme fatalism by casting as unbesmirchable as Lana Turner.

I’m using my Shakespearean license to declare “unbesmirchable” a real word. I think that if you also line up all your Postman Always Rings Twices you will also come to see a similar value in the grit and grime of the Visconti. It might not be the certifiable grade-A certified piece of film noir, but it rings true. And maybe the answer is as simple as citing Visconti as a genius of understand emotional turmoil and Tay Garnett as a talented, but unspecialized cog in the studio machine. You be the judge.

Episode 2: Fatal Attraction / Krissy Myers

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Krissy Myers (@krissy_myers) and Jay (@007hertzrumble) discuss their shared Shame – Fatal Attraction – and contemplate the ways in which the film wrongs women, trades on peak Michael Douglas fame, and undermines its greatest asset (crazy Glenn Close) for the sake of ticket sales. Will McKinley drops in courtesy of the Old Movie Weirdo hotline to offer his hot take on Fatal Attraction and recommend a thematically-related classic film that’s more deserving of your time. In the scorned women revenge genre, Fatal Attraction may have moved the bar, but it also broke the mold.

CREDITS:

Talking Heads:

James David Patrick (@007hertzrumble) – Writer of fiction and non-, former entertainment journalist, host.

Krissy Myers (@krissy_myers) – Toronto-based pinball wizard, photographer and lifelong student of cinema.

Will McKinley (@willmckinley) – writer for Sony’s getTV network and a self-proclaimed Old Movie Weirdo. willmckinley.com

Direct download (right click, save): http://traffic.libsyn.com/cinemashame/CinemaShame_2_FatalAttraction.mp3

Music Contained in this Podcast:

Diana Ross & the Supremes – I’m Gonna Make You Love Me

Maria Callas – Madame Butterfly: Act 2 “Un bel di vedremo” 

Talking Heads – Psycho Killer

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Originally recorded on March 2 and March 16th 2017.

Copyrights are owned by the artists and their labels. Negative dollars are made from this podcast.

Episode 1: Police Academy / Will McKinley

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Cinema Shame – Episode 1: Police Academy / Will McKinley

Will McKinley (@willmckinley) stops by the Shamequarters after first-time watching Police Academy to discuss the erosion of slapstick comedy and consider the factors that led to Police Academy becoming an American phenomenon in 1984 and beyond.

Direct download (right click, save as): CinemaShame_1.mp3

CREDITS:

Talking Heads:

James David Patrick (@007hertzrumble) – host

Will McKinley (@willmckinley) – writer for Sony’s getTV network and a self-proclaimed Old Movie Weirdo. willmckinley.com

Music Contained in this Podcast:

Police Academy March – Robert Folk

El Bimbo – Jean-Marc Dompierre

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Originally recorded on March 1, 2017.

Copyrights are owned by the artists and their labels. Zero dollars are made from this podcast.

Watching Bulworth in 2017 is Different Than Watching it in 1998…Probably

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Bulworth came out in 1998 when I was finishing up seventh grade and had this huge crush on a girl in my English class that I really wanted to ask out, but never did. What does that have to do with Bulworth? Not much of anything other than, it’s probably the reason I didn’t see it. I was more interested in this girl than politics at the time. And that was the way it went for a while, because I assumed that Bulworth was a political film and not a dark comedy.

I chose this as my first shame because it has often been referenced over the last year in relation to now-President Trump and the 2016 Election. It’s a valid comparison, a candidate that speaks his mind, says what he actually thinks, and in the end, wins people over. The film in retrospect, leaves me with an alarming take on President Trump making it perhaps a more noteworthy film from this point on.

In the film, Warren Beatty does a fantastic job of playing Senator Jay Bulworth who has reached the end of his limits. His campaign is seemingly dead in the water, he’s compromised his views and himself to stay in politics as long as he has. His marriage has been a fraud for years. He’s in a deep depression. When we join him, he has decided to commit suicide by hiring someone to assassinate him. The only problem is that he doesn’t know where or when it’ll happen, but that it will be sometime that weekend.

When he gets off a plan in California, he’s drunk (presumably in preparation to accept his fate), but now his natural survival instinct has kicked in and he’s running scared. He goes to a campaign stop at a church in an African-American community and begins to freely speak his mind. When it’s over, he realizes how good it felt to stop being a politician and continues a weekend of speaking his mind while continuing to avoid the assassin.

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The film goes from there and there’s no reason to go through it, but I recap all that to make this point: If Senator Jay Bulworth starts to speak his mind and not play into politics, because he has nothing to lose knowing he’ll be dead soon, then did Trump not play the political game in 2016 because he had nothing to lose? A man with nothing to lose is a dangerous thing.

Bulworth wasn’t revolutionary in filmmaking – it feels like a movie made in 1998. It was well-made. There was an almost farcical element to the assassination avoidance storyline and plenty of Warren Beatty rapping. Halle Berry gives a nice performance here as well as many of the great actors scattered throughout do. Bulworth didn’t shatter politics in any radical ways – while it has been reportedly reference by President Obama, I would argue The West Wing had a bigger impact on future politicos in America. Bulworth does explore issues of race, but it didn’t do much for that either. It’s a good movie, but there’s nothing that propels it into a great movie. Not yet at least.

In his book, But What If We’re Wrong?, Chuck Klosterman presents the idea that what is considered noteworthy or culturally important in the future is based on what the future values more so than what was happening at the time of publication. The 2016 Election will probably be the election where politics changed. President Trump gained a lot of supporters by not playing the political game and sounded different than everyone else out there. It’s hard to know for sure, but I imagine this will have an impact on how future candidates run for office. If that’s the case, then I can also imagine a future where Bulworth is of greater note than it is now by the general populace.

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