The Oscars are over. I actually went to the movies instead of watching the award show. I like movies but I’m not a fan of the celebrity-fest. But then I know I’m out of touch with this celebrity stuff. I’m still surprised that a short court hearing for actress Lindsay Lohan gets two or three times the number of TV cameras than come out to cover Governor Jerry Brown’s first visit to Southern California to discuss the budget mess, as happened a couple of weeks ago.
Movies can and do play a role in political debates.
The Los Angeles Times reported over the weekend that Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon visited with Hollywood bigwigs asking them to take up the fight against global warming. Specifically, the Secretary General wants movie and television writers and producers to educate the public on the issue by putting messages in their work or dramatizing the issue.
Makes you wonder if these Hollywood folks would take a meeting about dramatizing concerns about crushing government debt or out-of-control spending.
Wishful thinking, I know, but then it has been done in some older films. The Adventure of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn might be one of the best anti-tax movies ever made. The villains were Prince John, representing the national government, and the sheriff of Nottingham representing the local government. They took pleasure in levying heavy taxes to subjugate the people. At one point, Prince John says: “Golden days are ahead. I will assign tax districts to you tomorrow.”
In another oldie, Honky Tonk, starring Clark Gable, Gable plays a con man who figures out the biggest con is running things his way at city hall. You can’t watch the movie without thinking about the circumstances in the City of Bell.
Sending messages through movies and television is a long time practice. A few years ago, Tim Cavanaugh put a critical eye on “message” movies of the period for Reason magazine, relaying the history and listing many “message” films.
If writers and producers want to send a message, no one should hold them back. It would be nice, however, if those messages don’t come from the same political point-of-view and are dramatized well. Give different messages a chance to be heard.
But, message movies carry a risk. There is a classic warning about message movies from one of the best, old time movie makers that I imagine no one shared with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. It comes from Samuel Goldwyn, a man who knew his audiences: “If you want to send a message, call Western Union.”