Maybe Hollywood is in touch’ after all

first_imgWHEN George Clooney accepted his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for “Syriana,” he delivered the most political remarks of this year’s awards ceremony: “We are a little bit out of touch in Hollywood every once in a while. I think it’s probably a good thing. We’re the ones who talk about AIDS when it was just being whispered, and we talked about civil rights when it wasn’t really popular. … We bring up subjects. This Academy, this group of people gave Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1939 when blacks were still sitting in the backs of theaters. I’m proud to be a part of this Academy, proud to be part of this community, and proud to be out of touch.” Clooney was tongue-in-cheekily responding to critics of artists’ activism. The truth, however, is that filmmakers are sometimes extremely in touch with their times. Just look at three new films, which are quite astonishing because of their uncanny timing. “Thank You for Smoking” is Jason Reitman’s witty adaptation of Christopher Buckley’s satire about Washington lobbyists. The anarchistic “V for Vendetta” depicts resistance in a futuristic, fascistic Britain. “Walkout” is an HBO made-for-TV-movie about East L.A.’s historic Chicano student strike, directed by and co-starring Edward James Olmos. Although Buckley’s novel was published in 1995, the film opened in March as the real-life Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal unfolded. Abramoff was sentenced to six years behind bars for business fraud. The disgraced uber-lobbyist remained free for three months to assist a federal investigation into corruption on Capitol Hill, where Abramoff and his associates allegedly committed widespread influence peddling. “Thank You for Smoking” emerges against a broader canvas of GOP/government scandal du jour. Last fall, White House procurement officer David Safavian was arrested for, among other things, lying about a golfing trip to Scotland with Abramoff. Another jet-setter-cum-golfer, Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas who’d called Abramoff “one of my closest and dearest friends” gave up his congressional seat last week. San Diego County Rep. Randy Cunningham who resigned in November from the House for accepting a Rolls-Royce, yacht, and other goodies from defense contractors was sentenced in March to the longest prison term a congressman ever received. Meanwhile, the SEC investigation of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist continues, while Vice President Dick Cheney’s ex-Chief of Staff Lewis Scooter” Libby faces perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges in connection with the CIA leak case. With its dystopian depiction of a totalitarian England, “V for Vendetta” was timely when first published in comic-book form during the Orwellian ’80s in Prime Minister Thatcher’s U.K. But the graphic novel’s movie adaptation is even more relevant today. In canny casting, John Hurt who’d portrayed 1984’s Winston Smith, the dissident whom the Thought Police spied on via telescreens plays the Big Brother-like chancellor who appears on the nation’s jumboscreens. The film went wide March 17, just four days after Wisconsin Sen. Russell Feingold introduced a resolution to censure President George W. Bush for bugging citizens without court orders, as national debate on warrantless wiretapping and NSA surveillance continues. Vendetta’s evocation of Guy Fawkes and his 1605 gunpowder plot to blowup London’s Parliament Building and V’s terrorism strike a chilling post-9-11 nerve. The on-screen explosions that destroy Parliament and Big Ben suggest the Twin Towers catastrophe. Following July’s London subway bombings, the November premier of the incendiary movie was postponed. But shortly after Vendetta’s release, on March 27, Zacarias Moussaoui declared he was part of al-Qaida’s 9-11 plot, and conspired with unsuccessful shoe-bomber Richard Reid to crash a fifth jet into the White House. “Vendetta” culminates with the masses taking to the streets. As the credits roll, the Rolling Stones sing “Street Fighting Man,” and Malcolm X speaks. The day after the film’s release, thousands marched for peace in Hollywood and elsewhere. People-power protests swept Bangkok, Belarus, Britain and Paris, which, on March 28, witnessed its most militant student-worker strike since May 1968. Debuting March 18 on HBO, “Walkout” depicts Latino students in 1968 protesting against the Los Angeles Unified School District by boycotting classes and demanding Chicano rights. On March 25, hundreds of thousands of protesters, objecting to proposed Draconian new immigration laws, marched in downtown L.A. Similar rallies shook cities across America; locally, Hispanic student walkouts rocked LAUSD schools. Is all this mere coincidence? Or can films be prophetic? During 2005’s L.A. Film Festival, I asked Robert Towne if Watergate influenced “Chinatown,” his 1974 movie about corruption. “Artists reflect their times,” replied the screenwriter. In another noir classic, 1941’s “The Maltese Falcon,” Humphrey Bogart paraphrases Prospero in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” when he calls the bejeweled bird, “the stuff that dreams are made of.” Movies are the stuff that our collective dreams are made of. From their creative process to their on-screen attributes, motion pictures viewed in a dark, sleeplike setting are dreamlike. Ideas don’t fall from the sky or flow from the sea. They percolate within society, emerging out of humans’ interactions with one another and nature. Artists are avatars, with antennas tuned in to the subterranean depths of the zeitgeist and collective unconscious, rendering visions in tangible form. As filmmakers put their fingers on a culture’s pulse, films can be prescient, from features like the tsunami-warning “The Day After Tomorrow,” to documentaries, such as Robert Greenwald’s upcoming “The Big Buy: How Tom DeLay Stole Congress.” Moctesuma Esparza, who co-organized 1968’s Chicano student strike and was one of the East L.A. 13, went from political prisoner to executive producer for “Walkout.” On March 29, Esparza told “Democracy Now” that “We made this movie to be an actual manual on how to organize … From mid-February to the actual air date, Eddie Olmos and I went on … a 20-city tour where we presented this movie to over 15,000 people … Many young people have seen this film … inspired by its message … applying its tactics and strategies to the current situation.” Apparently, the revolution will be televised. To shoplift from Hamlet’s soliloquy, movies empower us “perchance to dream.” One suspects Clooney would say: It’s probably a good thing. Film historian and freelance writer Ed Rampell is the author of “Progressive Hollywood, A People’s Film History of the United States.” AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREOregon Ducks football players get stuck on Disney ride during Rose Bowl event160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img