Tuesday, August 19, 2003

The Great Dem Hope?

Whether it's the symptom of the media's relentless emphasis on the horse race instead of policy or just another product of our postmodern age, a chunk of the electorate views "electability" as a candidate's most important attribute. (How so very "meta"...) But it's even dawning on some hardcore progressives that ideological purity is far less important than fielding a guy who can beat this maniac who's fucking shit up every which way. Good motto: win first, get politically sanctimonious later. (And given what's happened the last three years, can someone please shut Ralph "no difference between the two parties" Nader's trap? Thank you.)

Nobody whets the appetite of Democratic pragmatists like Gen. Wesley Clark, who may be close to announcing a run for the presidency. Clark, former Supreme NATO Comander, seemingly has the biography and presence that the other announced candidates lack. He's the New Democrat's wet dream: a respected general who led a successful military operation, graduated at the top of his class at West Point, and a forceful and charismatic commentator for CNN during Gulf War II, Clark could singlehandedly neutralize the Dems' achilles' heel -- voters' lack of confidence on national security issues. Here's a guy with the stature to challenge Dubya on security matters, Iraq, the War on Terrorism, etc. and make the criticisms stick.

Being a moderate pragmatist, I can't help but like Clark. He's charismatic and articulate, and at this point, looks to be the strongest Democratic contender in the general election (if he enters the race). But we have no clue how he'd respond to the rigors of campaigning, the inevitable media assault, nor do we know where he stands on most domestic issues. Early money says he'll chart a Clintonian course: taking controversial social issues "off the table" by taking moderate stances while winking to pertinent interest groups (as the Dem candidate will need to do with this year's hot-button Dem-loser issue, gay marriages) and pursuing responsible fiscal policies by minding the budget deficit. He'll fill the Clinton/New Dem vacuum left open by the stalled campaigns of the callow Edwards (who actually has some great things to say) and the unelectable Lieberman (who has nothing of value to say). For pragmatists, the hope is that if Clark pursues a political moderate path, the man won't be saddled with the "too liberal" onus that will give voters a reason to vote against the Democratic candidate, unlike one Howard Dean. The catch-22 is that if he does go this route, with that late start, the General won't excite that activist base that can push his candidacy past South Carolina on the primary calendar.

Prediction: Clark jumps in, grabs loads of media attention (as all the mainstream media outlets will be rooting for a close election), but couldn't excite the Bush-hating base and becomes the "smart choice" for VP on the Dean ticket.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Ball of Fire (Hawks, 1941) A [2nd] Come and Get It (Hawks and Wyler, 1936) B+

Ball of Fire is, quite simply, a strong contender for the title of funniest movie ever made.

Sam Goldwyn replaced Hawks with Wyler during the filming of Come and Get It, assuring its legacy as an auteurist zombie curiosity. Programmed as part of LACMA's divine Hawksian Heroines series (a whole series devoted to my cinematic feminine ideal!), the obviously Hawksian first half is a treat. Frances Farmer's Lotta is an archetypal Hawksian woman, the kinda dame who can tell jokes so dirty it'd make all the boys blush. Tough, sassy, somewhat well-tread but at heart a romantic, the legendary and tragic Farmer, whom I had never seen on screen before, is a knock out, playing dual roles with aplomb (Hawks called her the most talented actress he'd ever worked with). But the raucous first part ends rather abruptly. It gives way to a strange and strangely moving story about a Big Daddy-type (Edward Anrold) trying desperately to replay a choice that'd been made long ago, going so far as to beat down his own son to do it. Much of this part has that stately air and ornate visual style one associates with Wyler, and it's pitched in that Victorian Heiress-like frequency, but Wyler's approach actually suits this melodramatic material (though the father/son rivalry was a riot). Not especially coherent tone-wise and I wish we saw a lot more of the first Lotta, but this is a fine salvage job.

Bonus! Grades for all the Howard Hawks (the greatest American director ever) playing in the LACMA series.

His Girl Friday (1941) A+
Twentieth Century (1934) A
Only Angels Have Wings (1939) A+
To Have and Have Not (1944) A-
Bringing Up Baby (1938) A-/B+
Monkey Business (1952) B+
Rio Bravo (1959) A-
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) B+
I Was a Male War Bride (1949) A-/B+

Seabiscuit (Ross) C

Y'see, time was the Great Depression. Folks were down 'n out. Jus' needed a chance to work to get back on their feet. Then there was this kid, see, Tobey. I mean, Red. Kid's down on his luck. Well-read and a natural with horses, the kid was left to make his own life. But nobody ever gave him a chance, see. And poor Seabiscuit was a tiny stakeshorse trained to lose. They never did give him a chance. Not 'til ol' Horse Whisperer Cooper came along and believed in him. 'Course, it wasn't until saintly Tucker came along and gave all these misfits and losers a chance that the legend of Seabiscuit was written. And in case you didn't hear me right the first, second or third, or even the tenth time I said it, I'll say it again -- it was all 'bout givin' these underdogs 'nother chance. Like FDR did with dem workin' class folk. Thas just how Tucker treated Red, like the son he lost. With dignity. Believed in him, even though he's double the size of the other horse jocks and blind in one eye and nursin' a broken leg. Still gave him 'nother chance. Just like the Horse Whisperer does with poor Seabiscuit, a fine racing specimen that one. Maybe t'wasn't as naturally gifted as that other mean thoroughbred, but it got somethin' more important: horse got plenty o' guts and got folks believin' in him. Just needed a chance was all. Like Red. And Tucker, bless his heart, gave it to 'em. Like FDR did during the Depression. Everyone just needs a second chance. Hey, I'm not repeatin' myself too much, am I?