Jewish World Review Sept. 25, 2012/ 9 Tishrei, 5773
With bitter campaign in full swing, you need to watch some movies
By John Kass
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | What are the three most important films for American voters to watch as we prepare for Election Day in November?
Is your choice "The Great McGinty"? That's an almost ancient but wickedly clever Preston Sturges film about a drunken bum picked out of the gutter by what could be a dead ringer for the Chicago political machine, who goes on to become governor.
Or perhaps "Network," just for the cynicism of TV types who shape our politics, and that shrieking refrain, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore," which is now repeated, endlessly, on cable news from commentators on the left and the right.
Certainly, I have my own favorites, and we'll get to them, but I'd also like to see yours. We're a visual nation now, what with our new iPhone 5s and our snappy YouTube politics and TV talk show hosts who define the great debate. So it's only natural to ask about political films to get us into the proper frame of mind for what will be a bitter election.
What about books, you say?
"I can't read. ... I like to watch TV," said Chauncey Gardiner, the naive simpleton and empty vessel who walked on water and was poised, the last time I saw him, to become president of the United States.
But if you insist on my book recommendations in a column about must-see political films, I can only suggest two books for this election:
"The Road to Serfdom" by F.A. Hayek, and if the title isn't self-explanatory, then it's already too late.
I'd also offer another, smaller document, but it fell out of favor years ago. Once considered the most important read for Americans, these days it's never discussed. Especially not at book clubs where the wine label is the most compelling read and everybody wants to know what stupid things the husbands did last week.
The second choice is more like a pamphlet, and it's called the Constitution, cobbled together by dead old males of European heritage who believed in antiquated concepts like individual liberty and freedom. Is it available on Kindle?
There are three films that every American must see in preparation to vote on Nov. 6. And what are these?
"Idiocracy," a 2006 film directed by Mike Judge, starring Luke Wilson and Maya Rudolph.
The premise? Wilson plays Joe, a slacker, and Rudolph plays Rita, a hooker. They're recruited by the Army to be frozen and thawed in the future. But the future they awaken to is a scary place.
All the smart people delayed childbirth, but all the dumb people didn't wait, and the result was an America populated by imbeciles. Their favorite TV show is "Ow, my (testicles)!" Their favorite movie was named, well, let's just call it "Buttocks" and it ran for 90 minutes, and that's all it was, 90 minutes of watching buttocks.
Narrator: "Things looked bleak for Joe, but they looked even worse for mankind. As Joe and Rita lay dormant, the years passed and mankind became stupider at a frightening rate. Some had high hopes that genetic engineering would correct this trend in evolution. But sadly, the greatest minds and resources were focused on conquering hair loss and prolonging erections."
When Joe wakes up, he can't help but speak in complete sentences, and the future Americans view this with suspicion and fear. Socialized medicine is a nightmare, and the people are starving because they insist on watering their crops with a Gatorade-like drink called Brawndo, because electrolytes are "what plants crave."
There is a happy ending. Joe is rescued by the president (a former porn star) and later becomes president himself to save his people. At the end, Joe has a very nice speech:
"There was a time in this country, a long time ago, when ... people wrote books and movies, movies that had stories so you cared whose (buttock) it was and why it was farting, and I believe that time can come again."
Another must-see film is "Ridicule" (1996), directed by Patrice Leconte. Yes, it is subtitled, but deliciously witty and malevolent.
The plot: In prerevolutionary France, a young nobleman named Gregoire hopes to help his people by draining the swamps to eliminate the mosquitoes that spread disease. He travels to the court at Versailles. Once there, he soon learns that malicious wit is the prime currency, sort of like snarky tweets of today, only better.
Gregoire's new friend is the Marquis de Bellegarde, who has a lovely daughter.
Bellegarde (as he's powdering Gregoire's face): "Serious topics are deplored. Avoid them."
Gregoire: "I'll restrain myself."
Bellegarde: "Be witty, sharp and malicious and you'll succeed. No puns. At Versailles we call puns 'the death of the wit.' ... One last thing: Never laugh at your own jokes."
Bellegarde teaches him the prime directive: That wit opens every door.
In that time, verbal malevolence was highly prized, and small snippets of easily repeated thought outweighed context and complex arguments. It was the put-down that counted. Of course, a few years later, the peasants lopped off the aristocrats' witty heads. And I'm sure nothing like that would ever happen again.
Naturally, I've saved "Being There" (1979) for last. Another generation of children has grown up, and if they haven't seen it, they should. The novel was written by Jerzy Kosinski. He also wrote the screenplay for the film directed by Hal Ashby. Peter Sellers stars as a simpleton gardener known as Chauncey Gardiner who has an amazing, almost magical effect on people.
All he knows comes from TV shows, but when he repeats lines from what was once called the "boob tube," everyone around him hears deep and abiding wisdom.
Send me your favorites. We don't have much time. The election is only weeks away.
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John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Comments by clicking here.
© 2011, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.