Political Filmmaking and America's "Poisoned Chalice": The Banned Gore Vidal Interview
by Joseph McBride
Bright Lights Film Journal
The good news is that, as a result, it is becoming easier to make movies about politics: "There is a real chance, because the country's falling apart very rapidly. Audiences are going to be drawn either toward total Spielbergism — total escape from their fear of losing their jobs, fear of walking down the street — or to things that speak to them and bother them.
"It has to be done ingeniously, because if it's done like a civics lesson, it will put people to sleep."
Looking back over the spectrum of American political filmmaking, Vidal can find little enough that's been done ingeniously: "The few I know of which are realistic — as opposed to being Frank Capra fantasies or fairy tales — are Citizen Kane for the '40s, my own The Best Man for the '60s, The Candidate for the '70s, Tanner '88 for the '80s and now Bob Roberts for the '90s."
Bob Roberts, writer-director-star Tim Robbins' scathing satire of our current political malaise, offers in Robbins' folksinger-politician the most credible portrait of an American fascist I've seen in any movie since Edward Arnold's newspaper tycoon and political boss in Capra and Robert Riskin's 1941 Meet John Doe.
Though distributed by Paramount in conjunction with Miramax, the low-budget ($4 million) Bob Roberts was made independently, with half the money coming from the U.K. after Robbins shopped the script around the conventional studio route without success.
It's amazing that a mass-market film was made on this subject, since it deals with issues usually addressed only in the alternative media — issues such as the systemic corruption of the establishment media and political institutions and the cynical manipulation of public sentiment in favor of the Gulf War.
To Read the Rest of the Interview