Thursday, 18 September 2008

1600 Sunset Blvd

The White House in Hollywood

BBC Four had a great double bill of programmes this week about Hollywood's representation of the US president that I'd recommend any American Studies graduate or West Wing fan fire up the iPlayer to watch while they're still both available.

In Dinner with Portillo, the former MP chows down with the likes of Joe Klein, Peter Biskind, Republican speechwriter Lisa Schiffren, and journo Kurt Anderson (who gets enjoyably animated as the fine wine flows) to discuss "the enduring conflict between America's liberal Hollywood dream factory and its conservative heartland values" (which would have been a good dissertation subject).

Jonathan Freedland's President Hollywood begins by looking at how The West Wing's writers effectively ran the current presidential campaign in 2005 when they pitted a charismatic non-white Democrat (Jimmy Smits) up against an experienced Republican maverick (Alan Alda). It then argued that JFK and Nixon have provided the archetypal templates for fictional do-gooder and malevolent presidents respectively.

I was surprised by some of the omissions from the discussion of fictional presidents though. You'd have thought, for instance, that Barack Obama's favourite on-screen Commander-in-Chief would get a look in. Despite having The Contender director Rod Lurie as a contributor there was no mention of President Jackson Evans in the programme.

Jeff Bridges doesn't quite play the Prez as if The Dude got the keys to the Oval Office but it's not far off (I even vaguely remember a bowling scene).

The most Nixon-esque president I've seen in recent years was also absent. President Charles Logan from 24 is not only a weaselly criminal in the classic Nixon mold, he even has Tricky Dicky's hangdog expression down pat.

Another 24 prez who got less mention than you'd expect was President David Palmer, which is surprising since actor Dennis Haysbert has publicly stated that he thinks his portrayal of a stately black president may have paved the way for Barack Obama in the eyes of many Americans.

There are plenty more - Jack Nicholson in Mars Attacks! springs to to mind as someone I'd like to see in office - so who are your favourite Hollywood presidents? And if you've seen either of the programmes I mentioned, let me know what you think of them too.

Related Links

Dinner with Portillo: American Elections Special

President Hollywood


Samuel James said...

Does the President in Superman II get a name? He surrendered pretty quickly anyway, unlike Thomas J Whitmore (yes I looked it up) in Independence Day, who actually got on a flight suit and flew the plane himself to bring down the aliens.

Nigel Smith said...

I seem to remember the credit in Superman II being "and EG Marshall as The President". I think there might be an additional Hollywood president theory that if the hero (or evil protagonist) of the film is not the president then the president is an anonymous looking middle-aged man (see Superman II, In The Line of Fire, X-Men etc).

President Whitmore was mentioned in the Freedland doc as the sort of action/war hero prez that McCain is trying to project an image of.

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