What’s worse: A pitiful crop of movies, going back to the beginning of the supposed blockbuster release portion of the year—last December—or a pitiful crop of presidential wannabees? No doubt, the anticipated “serious” reply would be the pitiful crop of presidential wannabees, but I would like to break with tradition.
The last time a presidential election offered a candidate who rose above the rest of the putrid field was back in 1984, with Ronald Reagan—and the time before that was 1980 with Ronald Reagan. Not surprisingly, Reagan scored landslides in both contests. Before Reagan, Eisenhower was an easy choice over Stevenson in both 1952 and 1956; and before that, it was 1924 with Coolidge. If you catch my drift, the American presidency has been truly bereft of great or even good men.
There are many reasons for this, of course, not the least of which is the emergence of the political class, or people who essentially made a career out of politics. This was to happen after Andrew Jackson left office, even if there was plenty of shady dealing before he got there. Jackson’s presidency really does mark a turning point…
As it happened, when Jackson was elected in 1828, this marked the first time that the presidency was decided by popular vote. In 1824, although Jackson had more electoral votes than his opponents, since there were three opponents, none pulled a majority, and the election went to the House. Candidate Henry Clay threw his support to John Quincy Adams, and was rewarded by being appointed Secretary of State.
When Jackson was reelected with a crushing victory in 1832, that election would be the first time the candidates were chosen by nominating conventions. Although Martin Van Buren was Jackson’s hand-picked successor, he was a full blown New York lawyer politico, and would become the model for most of those who followed him. Simply put, the system tends to corrupt those who remain in it too long; and even if they do not become financially corrupt, they become far too imbued with the process.
Moreover, it is abundantly clear that those few times that someone good does come along are strictly by accident. Thus, why should I worry about a situation that seems to be completely random?
Movies, on the other hand, are hardly random. A grueling process exists whereby scripts are selected, developed, cast, and finally turned into pictures. How, then, to elucidate a litany of recent losers such as Rambo, Untraceable, Over Her Dead Body, The Bucket List, The Golden Compass, et al. at the very time when the good films are supposed to be released? The standard answer—that it’s all up to 17-year-old boys—is not going to explain away that entire list.
A better rationale would be to suggest that the powers that be in the industry might have forgotten that it generally takes four components to assure a chance at success: Star power, good story, quick pace, and good execution—with good story being by far the most important. Too many current releases want to rely on star power and making the deal, to the exclusion of everything else. Indeed, this is now starting to occur in the even lowliest of indie releases.
For example, Displaced (2006) features a reasonable story idea that is completely undermined by incredibly awful acting, plot execution so inept it is difficult to believe that anyone ever watched the dailies, props that would embarrass a junior high pageant, and character development below cartoon standards. But, the producers somehow enticed Ian McKellen to do a voice-over at the beginning, which could have been delivered better by an unknown, and no doubt blew most of their budget in the process. Yet, by God, the film got made, and got distributed, and that’s all that counts.
One suspects that the pic got done by virtue of its endless and mindless action sequences, and McKellen’s minuscule presence. It is quite telling that the making-of featurette emphasizes the process of getting the film made under hopeless circumstances. Fine, but you would think in the five years they claim it took to release it, someone would have figured out basic matters such as being able to tell the protags and antags apart, and spending at least a few moments on dialog that could have helped hapless viewers follow the absurd plot line.
What does a grade-Z indie feature have to do with presidential politics? Way too much, unfortunately. They both aptly demonstrate that obsession with the process will tend to ruin the outcome. If you are searching for a byword for our age, look no further.