Ebert & McCain & Obama at the movies.

One more note of a politics-meets-pop-culture nature, if I may.

Roger Ebert did some snooping around to see what the favorite films of Joe Biden, John McCain, Barack Obama and Sarah Palin might be — and while he couldn’t find anything for either of the vice-presidential nominees, he did find some interesting stuff on the presidential ones.

For McCain, Ebert found this exchange at Entertainment Weekly:

We read somewhere that Viva Zapata! is your favorite movie of all time…
Elia Kazan made three movies with Marlon Brando. One was A Streetcar Named Desire, one was On the Waterfront, and the third was Viva Zapata! Many people think Brando’s performances in Streetcar and Waterfront were his best. I think Zapata! was his best. I’m in the minority about this. But go back and watch the scene of his wedding night, with [Brando] and Jean Peters — the actress who later married Howard Hughes, who made her give up acting — when she teaches him to read by taking out the Bible and reading it with him. That’s a poignant scene.

Ebert comments:

Now what do we learn from these answers? First of all, we are impressed that McCain names three great Kazan-Brando movies. He even knows which title he’s in the minority on. How many people know who Kazan was? Conclusion: He knows his movies.

Quite so. Of course, McCain was in his teens when those three films came out between 1951 and 1954 — so for him, knowledge of Kazan may come as naturally as knowledge of current filmmakers comes to teenagers today. It’s not something he had to study or learn about decades after the fact, as it was for people like, say, me. But it’s still an impressive answer, I think.

Ebert also notes that McCain lists two other films among his favorites on his Facebook pageLetters from Iwo Jima (2006) and Some Like It Hot (1959) — while Obama lists five films on his: Casablanca (1942), Godfather I and II (1972-1974), Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975).

Now, I certainly can’t quibble with any of these picks, at least where the ones I have seen are concerned. (The odd one out is Viva Zapata!, which I have not yet seen.) But my gut reaction is that McCain’s list feels rather personal, even eccentric — an impression bolstered by his recognition that he is “in the minority” on at least one of his picks — whereas Obama’s feels pretty generic, almost poll-tested. I mean, couldn’t he have picked at least one film that wasn’t an Oscar winner for Best Picture?

That said, Obama’s picks are certainly interesting in their own way. For example, Lawrence and the Godfathers both concern characters who are caught between cultures, just as Obama, the bi-racial son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from the United States, has been caught between cultures.

T.E. Lawrence, like Obama, was the illegitimate son of a man who already had a wife and at least one child somewhere else, and the film draws an explicit link between Lawrence’s illegitimacy and his uncertainty regarding whether his primary cultural allegiance should be to the British or to the Arabs. The film also concerns Lawrence’s frustrated efforts to unite squabbling tribes, as well as the tension between Lawrence’s romanticism and the realpolitik practiced both by his British superiors and by the Arabs with whom he works.

Michael Corleone, on the other hand, is a second-generation Italian-American, the son of an immigrant, who has Americanized his family yet remains an outsider to mainstream American society. He has ties to the old country, and he can speak his father’s language when he wants to, but on a certain level, he has lost touch with what “the family” was supposed to be all about. And while he has sometimes tried to assimilate himself into American society — most notably through his military service during World War II — he is still subject to racial or ethnic prejudice.

So it’s not too hard to imagine why these particular films resonate for Obama, who wrote an entire book about how he has grappled with issues of “race and inheritance”.

I haven’t seen Cuckoo’s Nest in years, so I wouldn’t want to begin to guess what the significance of that film is for Obama. And as for Casablanca, I will simply note that the film is essentially an argument against American isolationism — which may or may not be at odds with Obama’s own stance — and that the words “casa blanca” are Spanish for “white house”. Hmmm.

Anyway, after offering his own analysis, Ebert concludes:

For me, the important thing is that they both attend movies and care about them. As I’ve written many times, the movies are an empathy machine, drawing us into other lives, allowing us to identify with those of other races, genders, occupations, religions, income levels or times in history. Good films enlarge us, and are a civilizing medium. Bad films narrow us. No films at all impoverishes us. There is a splendid projection room in the White House. I hope the next president uses it a lot.

Amen to that.

Final thought: Canada is in the middle of an election right now too. I’ll see if I can find any info on the favorite films of Stephen Harper, Stephane Dion, Jack Layton, Gilles Duceppe and Elizabeth May.

Paglia, Palin, and the Seven Brides.

The always interesting Camille Paglia wrote an article a couple days ago on Sarah Palin and the “frontier feminism” she embodies, and along the way, Paglia makes an historical point that I don’t recall ever hearing before:

The gun-toting Sarah Palin is like Annie Oakley, a brash ambassador from America’s pioneer past. She immediately reminded me of the frontier women of the Western states, which first granted women the right to vote after the Civil War — long before the federal amendment guaranteeing universal woman suffrage was passed in 1919. Frontier women faced the same harsh challenges and had to tackle the same chores as men did — which is why men could regard them as equals, unlike the genteel, corseted ladies of the Eastern seaboard, which fought granting women the vote right to the bitter end.

Coincidentally, the day before I read this article, a certain song from a certain movie came up on my iPod:

Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly.

I’m not saying the song above, from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), is a precise echo of what Paglia is talking about — and I certainly don’t want to downplay the sexism that is reflected in the Howard Keel character, here and elsewhere throughout the film — but still, it seemed like a fun coincidence.

And for what it’s worth, note the wedding-night conversation between the Keel and Jane Powell characters in this clip, starting at the 6:40 mark — especially the bit about the “hard life out here in the forest and wilderness”.

Make of all that whatever you will.

Yet another movie not screened for critics?

Studio Briefing says Tyler Perry‘s The Family That Preys “was not screened for critics“, but if that’s the case, how was The Screengrab able to post a review of a “screener” it received two days ago? And while Variety didn’t post its own review until a few hours after the film opened today — something they normally do when they haven’t had a chance to even see the film until opening day — this particular review was apparently based on a screening that took place weeks ago, on August 18. So while it’s common for Tyler Perry movies to shun the critics in general, there would seem to be some exceptions to that rule here. For what it’s worth, I can’t comment on the presence or absence of any local, Vancouver- area screenings, because the film isn’t even opening here. The only Canadian cities getting it are Toronto, Halifax and Windsor.

Flashback: Real life and fiction in Hardball.

Christianity Today posted an article today on Bob Muzikowski, a Little League coach who works with kids from the projects in Chicago. At the bottom of that article, they link to an article that I wrote for BC Christian News seven years ago, comparing and contrasting Muzikowski’s book Safe at Home with the Keanu Reeves movie Hardball (2001), which was very, very loosely based on the league that Muzikowski co-founded.

Two quick thoughts on High School Musical.

It’s been a slow week, and I’ve been getting some work done, so I haven’t blogged a whole lot lately. But in the meantime, I have also finally gotten around to watching High School Musical and its sequel — mainly because the third film is coming to theatres next month, so although I don’t watch all that much TV, I might need to familiarize myself with this franchise anyway — and two points come to mind that might be worth making here.

First, while these made-for-TV movies do have the word “musical” in the title, the songs that are sung by these characters are produced like regular pop songs, complete with electronically processed background vocals which, in this context, sound a little funny, since there is no one onscreen to sing them. This gives at least some of the song-and-dance sequences the feel of a regular music video — which wouldn’t seem so odd to someone who came across these movies while channel-surfing, but now that the third film is going to theatres first, I wonder if this technique will hold up as well on the big screen. Maybe it will, I don’t know.

Second, it is striking how the first film is all about challenging the “status quo” and overcoming social barriers in order to pursue your heart’s desire, but the second film is all about sticking to your social group and not letting yourself be drawn into alternative social circles that might help you to get what you want. This may be more of a paradox than a contradiction, akin perhaps to the way Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) said the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one, while Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) said the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many — but it’s still an interesting thematic tension.

And man, a few days ago, after watching Casino Royale (2006), I had Chris Cornell’s ‘You Know My Name’ running through my head non-stop. And that was fine. But now I’ve got Zac Efron singing “You can bet on it, bet on it, bet on it, bet on it” running through my brain. And that’s after only one viewing. Make it stop!

Ladies and gentlemen, the Fabulous DVD.

Three years ago, I wrote a brief note about a fun, obscure little movie called Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains (1981). The film starred Diane Lane and Laura Dern, then in their teens, as girl-punk rockers who tour with an all-male band that consists of Ray Winstone, then in his mid-20s, as well as three former members of the Sex Pistols and The Clash. Even better, the film was shot in Vancouver well before this city became the filmmaking institution that it is today, which lends the film a certain raw suburban realism. Now, Spin magazine, via GreenCine Daily, reports that the film is finally coming out on DVD next week, and I’m tempted to give it a spin, if only to see what sorts of anecdotes get told by Lane and Dern on the commentary track.