Monday, October 06, 2008

Countdown to Election '08 - A Face in the Crowd

This whole country's just like my flock of sheep! Rednecks, crackers, hillbillies, hausfraus, shut-ins, pea-pickers - everybody that's got to jump when someone else blows a whistle! They don't know it yet, but they're all gonna be Fighters for Fuller! They're mine! I own 'em! They think like I do! [laughs] Only they're even more stupid than I am, so I gotta think for 'em.

A Face in the Crowd

One of the greatest movies of all time, in my opinion, and my favorite Elia Kazan movie, period. It may not seem like a political movie at first glance, but A Face in the Crowd could not be more relevant or profound in the context of politics, and especially an election. I first found out about this movie at the 1999 Oscars, when Elia Kazan was given an Honorary Oscar in 1999 and they ran a tribute to his films. What caught my eye was seeing a clip of Andy Griffith in a decidedly non-Mayberry role. In fact, this movie was made well before the Andy Taylor days, when he was a monologist and wasn't that well known.

Griffith appears as Lonesome Rhodes, who we first meet as an inmate in jail. Marcia Jeffries (played by Patricia Neal), runs a radio program called "A Face in the Crowd" and sees a definite Quality about Rhodes. Soon, Rhodes finds himself a radio star with a surprising amount of influence over public opinion. He sees things and says things about ordinary people that make them feel as if he really knows them and understands them. Watching him, you can't help but fall in love with him. He talks about housewives, and how hard they work doing things that nobody sees, like scrubbing apple juice from the bottom of the oven that's spilled over the edge of a pie pan. And he combines that soft wisdom with a genuine shrewdness about how to wield public opinion.

It doesn't take long at all for Rhodes to go from Piggott, Arkansas to local TV in Memphis to a nationally televised show with a New York City penthouse to a proposed position in the Cabinet. The more popular he becomes, the more corrupt he becomes. Marcia sees the growing corruption, but she can't help being mesmerized by him and running to him every time he calls her and tearfully pleads for her. I'd question her judgment, but then I remember how much I loved him myself in the first half hour of the film.

I know who Rhodes reminds me of in the current political cast of characters, but I leave you to your own conclusions, because certainly comparisons can be made to more than one of the entities that we've been watching this election.

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