Can't Get Enough Campaign Politics? Then Go See Films About Campaigns

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For the political junkie with an unquenchable 24/7 thirst for CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News and all things campaign, we have the perfect remedy: Go see movies about political campaigns! Vanderbilt's International Lens film series has two, count 'em two, classics of the political campaign feature film genre (granted, not the largest of genres) on the schedule for late October. The screenings are free and open to the public, and I will introduce each film and be joined by a member of Vanderbilt's political science faculty for a brief post-film discussion.

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The first, screening tonight at 7:30, is The Candidate (1972), one of the progenitors of modern political films. It stars Robert Redford as a legal aid lawyer who mounts a progressive challenge to a stodgy incumbent (the fabulously named Crocker Jarman) for a U.S. Senate seat, figuring out along the way that idealism and victory are two rather different things. With a great supporting cast, this 40-year-old film is still very much a relevant take on the modern political campaign, and features a helluva closing line. Reviewing it when released, the New York Times' Vincent Canby observed that the film is "serious, but its tone is coldly comic, as if it had been put together by people who had given up hope." See the trailer here.

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The second film, showing next Monday night at 7:30, is Primary Colors (1998), Mike Nichols' fictionalized version of Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign for the presidency, based on the novel by Anonymous (aka journalist Joe Klein). John Travolta's impresson-slash-performance as the candidate Jack Stanton is the beating heart of a film that is part stylized biopic and part meditation on the ethics of political mudslinging. The first-rate cast features Emma Thompson as Stanton's wife (the Hillary character), and Billy Bob Thornton doing the James Carvillesque bit. The timing of its release is part of the film's backstory: completed before the Lewinsky affair broke in January 1998, the film hit theaters in March, right in the thick of the Ken Starr investigation and months before impeachment. See the trailer here.

Discussing the films afterward with me will be Prof. John Geer (for The Candidate) and Prof. Alan Wiseman (for Primary Colors).

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