This month, Turner Classic Movies is putting a spotlight on politically themed films. A mere coincidence as the presidential election season reaches its peak? Not a chance.
In the TCM special “A Night at the Movies: Hollywood Goes to Washington,” debuting Friday (Oct. 5), writer-producer-director Laurent Bouzereau — whose documentaries about the making of films appear on the home-video releases of many classics, from “Lawrence of Arabia” to “Jaws” — compiles scenes from numerous movies with political bents, from James Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” to Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in “All the President’s Men.”
“It’s not so much to make a statement, but to really tie in with the political season, absolutely,” Bouzereau confirms to Zap2it of the program’s timing. “Some of the people I’ve interviewed say, ‘Everything is political.’ Costa-Gavras, the great director of movies like ‘Z’ and ‘State of Siege,’ said the greatest political movies are [swimming star] Esther Williams‘ movies.
“When you hear something like that, you’re like, ‘Oh, boy, am I in trouble. I’m never going to be able to cover everything and everyone and do justice to the genre.’ What I tend to do is to decide, ‘These are the people I’ve selected, and these are their views.’ So, you get a not-intended-to-be-definitive point of view from filmmakers and journalists and historians who have made or written about films of that nature.”
In “Hollywood Goes to Washington,” Bouzereau’s interviewees include: directors Oliver Stone (“JFK,” “Nixon”), Rob Reiner (“The American President”) and Rod Lurie (“The Contender”); screenwriter Gary Ross (“Dave”); and actors James Cromwell (“W.”) and Fred Thompson (“Born Yesterday”), who actually was a Tennessee senator in-between his movie and TV jobs. Political consultant James Carville also comments.
With the controversy he has stirred with his takes on various political figures, Stone is a particular standout with his remarks in the special. “I’ve interviewed him for other documentaries,” Bouzereau reports, “and I’ve always loved talking to him. He doesn’t hold back, and he is so devoted to his art and the subject matter that he explores, I find that extremely courageous.
“Political movies are a courageous type of cinema, because they probably won’t be smash hits, and you’re going to be encountering tough reviews. Oliver pretty much reinvented the genre. Even his war movies have strong political messages, and he’s very honest about being extremely hurt by bad reviews for ‘JFK.’ He has some touching comments, I feel, about how that affected him and his filmmaking-at-large afterward.”
Also the maker of previous “A Night at the Movies” specials on subjects including Christmas stories and Stephen King-based thrillers, Bouzereau focuses next for TCM on producer and studio chief Richard D. Zanuck, who saw a cut of the profile shortly before his recent death. However, Bouzereau admits he’s “never been more nervous” than he was about the “Hollywood Goes to Washington” idea.
“I am not a political person, and I know very little about how the political machine works … and, I have to say, I did not know a lot of these movies. The positive of that is that I did much more research on this than something like horror, which was natural for me, since I’d already done so much research on that for other projects. I had to sit down and watch all these movies very, very carefully.”
“State of the Union,” “All the King’s Men,” “The Best Man” and “The Candidate” are among other movies highlighted in “Hollywood Goes to Washington.” So is “Seven Days in May,” which TCM will show — along with “All the President’s Men” and “Advise & Consent” — in the last of this month’s Friday nights of political movies on Oct. 26. CNN newsman Wolf Blitzer will be the guest co-host with Ben Mankiewicz … someone with his own knowledge of the topic, being a son of former political insider Frank Mankiewicz.
Bouzereau allows it was a challenge to keep “Hollywood Goes to Washington” bipartisan, since the characters in the films belong to whichever party they do. “I’m an American, even though I was born in France, and I vote,” he says. “There was not an agenda here, but I was conscious of that, and I was careful about that. I did feel it was important that we have something of a balance.”