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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Unconventional analysis

Now that the second of the USA’s two major political parties has nearly completed its national convention, this is perhaps an appropriate moment to ask that age old question: If the political conventions were movies, which ones would these be?

Okay, maybe that seems like a really dumb question because, after all, the conventions have virtually become movies themselves. They are over-produced, slick as grease, choreographed as finely as any live performance with a cast of thousands can be, and the ending is not only determined well in advance but everyone has actually known the outcome for months. In other words, the conventions aren’t just like any movies; they are specifically like Sylvester Stallone movies.

Still, it can be a useful exercise (well, probably not, but hopefully a humorous one) to ponder whether each of the two major conventions has traits that remind us of a particular movie or movies. I’m not talking about movies that are actually about political conventions, like The Candidate starring Robert Redford. Where’s the fun in that? I’m talking about movies that actually capture the spirit of the convention, not its literal pageantry.

I have to tell you that my most unnerving moment watching the Republican convention was during Dick Cheney’s speech. Little red things started floating through the air. They were probably bits of confetti. Legendary ABC News anchor Peter Jennings pointed out in the closing moments of the convention that the Republicans are famous for their confetti showers and that on this particular occasion they were “laying it on pretty thick.” Jennings said this with such a disdainfully dry tone that I’m sure many of us were pretty sure he wasn’t talking about confetti anymore by the end of his compound sentence. But I digress. These little red bits floating around looked like nothing so much as the red petals that floated around during the erotic fantasy sequences of American Beauty! Could the party previously known for wanting to return American to the moral purity of the 1950s be consciously modeling itself after last year’s kinky Oscar winner? After all, now that the Democratic ticket consists of Joe Lieberman and Tipper Gore’s husband, the GOP may by default now actually have the “liberal” position on fictional sex and violence. No, I’d say that if the red floating stuff was intentional, it was more a reference to the macho, revenge fantasy Gladiator, which as I have already noted, seems to have been conceived and written by a Republican think tank.

So much for self-perception. But what movie did the Republican convention really emulate? I would have to say Fight Club (“the first rule in the platform is you don’t talk about the platform”). Furthermore, as many people have already pointed out, even though George W. Bush and Dick Cheney may look like two different people, they are really one and the same.

And what about the Democrats? They make it too easy. That long walk to the podium by President Clinton was apparently modeled on the entrances of WWF wrestlers or the teasers for guests on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show, but there was something very Rocky about it. But not the original good Rocky movie, but the later sequels where Stallone had become too successful and bit too full of himself. Politically Incorrect’s Bill Maher had the best line about Clinton, though, when he pointed out that the closing music was 76 Trombones from The Music Man, which was about a snake oil salesman who comes to town, gets everyone excited, collects a bunch of money from them, and then leaves.

But, of course, Clinton wasn’t the only speaker at the Democrats’ convention. I’m just having trouble remembering who any of the others were. Anyway, the question remains: what movie really captures the spirit of the confab in Los Angeles? Would it be Hollow Man, about a guy who can’t stop being invisible? Or The Talented Mr. Ripley, about a guy who desperately wants to live the life of his much more charismatic friend?

No, I’d say the tone of the Democratic convention is best summed up by Space Cowboys, in which an endearingly wooden Clint Eastwood tries to convince anyone he can that he’s never gotten his due for his years of government service and drags along good-intentioned but independent-minded Tommy Lee Jones who disagrees with him on just about everything.

But looking at the two political parties together, one can’t help but think of Mission: Impossible 2. I mean the bits where you never know for sure who someone is because they keep pulling off those lifelike plastic masks and revealing that they are someone different. In the end, it doesn’t really matter which is which. Let’s face it, if the Republicans and the Democrats were issuing credit cards instead of running the government, they would have been hauled into court by the Justice Department for being an illegal cartel a long time ago.

Sadly, there is only movie title that truly sums up the two major parties these days. It is, of course, Where the Money Is.

-S.L., 17 August 2000

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