Happy Election Day dear reader.
I don’t care about daylight savings; this is the longest day of the year. If you’re on the list, I will assume you, like me, are simultaneously desperate for intel, but also a little bit over cable news prognosticators.
In that vein, I thought we’d pass along a recent discussion our team had on the best movies about campaigns. There are some great suggestions in here to help you pass the time today.
Breann – Iron Jawed Angels
As we were having this conversation, I googled the best movies about elections. I was curious about what all was out there, but have to admit I was unimpressed by all the “top 10 (or 25) lists”. There were few movies about women running for office, and working on campaigns. (Yes, I have seen Election but frankly it’s hard to watch a movie about harmful sexual power dynamics and a character (written by a man) who embodies why the patriarchy hates female candidates, especially in the era of Trump). So, I went back to the beginning and chose Iron Jawed Angels.
Iron Jawed Angels tells the story of America’s women’s suffrage movement through the stories of leaders Alice Paul and Lucy Burns and their efforts to lobby DC for the right to vote. The women are powerful and courageous and the movie is a good reminder of the not so distant past.
Jess – V for Vendetta
I saw this movie for the first time in high school in my best friend’s basement on her 90s holdover big screen tv. She had to watch it for a class and I’m a good sport. We had no expectations and it blew our fucking minds. It’s become a touchstone of our friendship to the point where it featured in my maid of honor speech at her wedding.
Natalie Portman’s Evey was my political coming of age. I watched her learn to think critically, overcome her fears, unpack the meaning of justice, and embrace the power of ideas. Every time I watch it, I have a new takeaway.
Candace – Weiner dir. by Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman
I watched this with friends who do not work in politics. While we watched, one friend remarked, “Most of this so far has been watching him and his wife call people.”
Aside from its raw look into campaigning (I told my friend that well yes, campaigning is a lot of asking for money with meet and greets sprinkled in every once in a while), Weiner is a documentary exemplifying being at the right place at the right time. Anthony is a charismatic, yet shameless figure–a great subject for any filmmaker to follow– who concocted his own debacle by being himself. But the greatest tv drama writers could not have conceived a more ironic plot twist. Even though it’s not surprising Anthony had not (nor cared to in my opinion) learned from his mistakes, it comes across as a seismic shock. An excellent feat in storytelling; I am so glad we were along for it.
Michael – 13 Days
I’m not really a ‘movie person,’ and have not seen films like The Godfather, any of the Rocky movies, or many others on your must see list (Don’t hate!). The same goes for political and election-related movies: they just seem stranger than fiction (which is an underrated movie).
When I try to escape into a movie, something election related usually isn’t my go-to. Something about fictional depiction of the work my friends and I do never lived up to the real thing. There are always discrepancies that make the work seem more glamorous or scandalous. It’s like the Parks and Rec version of campaigns, only not funny.
That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy political movies. In fact, one of my favorites in this category is 13 Days, the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I saw it in a theater in undergrad at the urging of my public administration professor, and it was worth it. October 1962 was its own kind of thriller, and the movie captured that for a young organizer. It’s rare for me to see a movie more than once. 13 Days is on a short list of films I can see again and again.
Dean – couldn’t pick just one!
I guess I struggle at naming just one so I’ll name three, all documentaries. The War Room (1993), the epic documentary by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker chronicles Bill Clinton’s campaign for president in 1992. Political junkies will enjoy the honest and in-depth look at life on the campaign trail. While Clinton is the focus, James Carville and George Stephanopoulos are the real stars of the project. Oh and I have the original movie poster.
Our Brand is Crisis (2005) by filmmaker Rachel Boynton on American political campaign marketing tactics by political consultants Greenberg Carville Shrum in the 2002 Bolivian Presidential Election, which saw Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada being elected President. It was later remade in 2015 by George Clooney who starred Sandra Bullock and is also worth a watch.
And finally Street Fight is a 2005 film by Marshall Curry, which follows the 2002 Newark NJ mayoral election that pitted young upstart Cory Booker against the incumbent Sharpe James.
Mike – Huey Long movies
While I’m NOT a big movie guy, and most “campaign” movies I’ve seen range from mediocre to awful. Generally speaking, they are high on cynicism and low on anything else.
So let me just list movies (the ones I’m aware of anyway) dealing with the political life and legacy of Huey Long, who was Governor then US Senator from Louisiana, and better know in his day – and to this day – as “The Kingfish”. Born and raised in modest circumstances in a rural southern backwater, Long combined a keen mind with a flair for politics – and power. In the Senate, Long quickly emerged as the main left-wing opponent of Franklin Roosevelt, arguing that the New Deal didn’t go far enough, instead advocating a more radical “Share the Wealth” program. Only his assassination in 1935 prevented Long from challenging FDR’s reelection in 1936.
Here’s some movies inspired by Long:
> All the King’s Men (1949) was the first, and is still (IMHO anyway) the best. Based on the novel of the same name by Robert Penn Warren, its protagonist is Willie Stark, played in a bravura performance by Broderick Crawford, who won an Oscar for Best Actor; the movie won for Best Picture. Stark is a fictional stand-in for Huey; likewise plot and details are totally different from the realities of Long’s career, but echo many of the same chords and themes.
> All the King’s Men (2006) was a remake starring Sean Penn in the title role. Unlike the original, it was neither a critical nor box office success, though it has its (very) few moments. As Rotten Tomatoes aptly (if cruelly) put it, “With a scenery-chewing performance from Sean Penn, an absence of political insight, and an overall lack of narrative cohesiveness, these Men give Oscar bait a bad name.”
> Blaze (1989) is not about Huey Long (directly anyway) but about his little brother and political heir, Earl Long, aka “Uncle Earl” who was elected Governor of Louisiana twice. Played by Paul Newman toward the end of his career, the movie focuses on Uncle Earl’s last term in late 1950s, when he became enamored with a famous strip-tease artist, Blaze Starr, which became a major scandal and first-class entertainment) in Louisiana, state that takes both politics and debauchery VERY seriously (and often together).
> Kingfish – A Story of Huey P. Long (1995) is a made-for-TV movie starring John Goodman. Who perhaps gives the acting portrayal that is closest to the actual Kingfish. One highlight is his version of Huey’s epic campaign speech to a Cajun crowd under the “Evangeline Oak” honoring the (fictional) Acadian heroine of Longfellow’s poem. Who, as Huey reminded them, waited in vain in exile for her lost lover, just like her descendants who were waiting in vain for roads, schools, etc. promised by the political establishment that never delivered.
The good news is that Huey Long actually did deliver on most of his promises, more certainly than the average politico. The bad news was in his methods of political manipulation and abuse of power.
Thoughts? More movie recommendations? Send ‘em our way.
Good luck today!