SUMMER 2016 INFLUENCE | 21 “MILK” (2008) In 2008 we also got Gus Van Sant’s “Milk,” which won the Oscar for Best Actor (Sean Penn) and Best Screenplay. It’s the Hollywood dramatization of the life and times of Harvey Milk, who became one of the first openly gay people elected in America when he joined the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 at the age of 47. As a native San Franciscan who followed the city’s politics closely right around the time of Milk’s election, it’s also a primer on how the gay community — which had been building up its political power in San Francisco since the 1960s — was able to finally gain political representation in City Hall with Milk’s breakthrough victory in ’77. It came after he lost two previous bids for office in the early and mid ’70s, and only occurred after San Francisco shifted that year from at-large to district elections. Milk represented the Castro, which remains one of the iconic gay enclaves in the U.S. Milk was assassinated by one of his colleagues, Dan White, in the fall of 1978, barely a year after he was elected. His legacy lives on. “PRIMARY COLORS” (1998) 1998 brought two of the most formidable and successful political fiction stories to the screen. First there was the very hyped “Primary Colors,” the Mike Nichols movie based on Joe Klein’s 1996 novel very loosely based on the Bill Clinton 1992 campaign starring John Travolta (as a Clinton stand-in named Jack Stanton). It’s a very funny and entertaining movie, and watching it now it can be appreciated for what was a very entertaining campaign as depicted by Klein and Nichols. It wasn’t necessarily viewed that way when it was originally released in March of 1998, when the nation was caught in the grips of what would ultimately be a year-plus-long national scandal that was the Ken Starr investigation into Monica Lewinsky’s relationship with the president. As Time magazine wrote in a cover story when the film came out, “the film comments on the scandal in ways that are downright eerie. Just as the public doesn’t know what actually happened between Clinton and Monica — or Clinton and Gennifer Flowers, for that matter — so the movie refuses to spell out what did or didn’t happen between Stanton and the women he is accused of bedding.” “BULWORTH” (1998) Just a few months later came one of the surprising Hollywood releases of 1998, Warren Beatty’s “Bulworth.” In the film, Beatty (who also wrote and directed the picture) stars as California U.S. Sen. Jay Bulworth, a man adrift for years from his idealism by too many years of compromising in Washington D.C. He’s so disgusted with himself for all the lies he’s told that he takes out a contract on himself to be killed over the weekend, and that frees him to become a veritable truth machine, telling it like it is, often in rap form. “IDES OF MARCH” (2011) In 2011 George Clooney and Ryan Gosling starred in “The Ides of March,” adapted from a play by screenwriter Beau Willimon called “Farragut North.” Willimon would go on to greater fame two years later as the creator of the Netflix political drama “House of Cards.” The film is about a political wunderkind (Gosling) who is dedicated to the Democratic presidential frontrunner played by Clooney (who also directed). Some rough stuff goes down, and in the end, Gosling feels betrayed by his political mentor. It’s a very cynical story. It should be noted that there are some wonderful performances in this flick, with the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of a campaign operative being the most memorable. “THE CANDIDATE” (1972) It’s extremely dated, but Robert Redford’s star turn in 1972s “The Candidate” remains one of the best political movies ever. Redford played Bill McKay, an idealistic, charismatic son of a former Democratic governor (which led some critics to compare him to Jerry Brown some two years before Brown became governor of California). He’s a longshot candidate and, as such, campaigns on a pretty liberal agenda. He shifts that persona in the general election so as not to get blown out, and then things happen to conspire to help him accomplish the improbable — he actually wins the race. The film’s last scene is its most famous. Meeting with his campaign manager Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle) in a room away from his ecstatic supporters, McKay asks Lucas, “Marvin … What do we do now?” We never get the answer, and thus the divide between campaigning and governing is made stark. “CITY HALL” (1996) As with “Ides of March,” there’s a similar theme in the plot of the 1996 film, “City Hall,” directed by Harold Becker, and Nicholas Pileggi of “GoodFellas” fame. John Cusack plays Kevin Calhoun, the Louisiana-bred idealistic deputy mayor of New York City, and the top go-to political guy for New York Mayor John Pappas, played by Al Pacino. The film’s plot centers around a death, and Calhoun is the man charged with heading up the investigation, which uncovers some high-level misconduct. Elections, and politics in general, can be incredibly dramatic and exciting, but what about the depictions of the process as seen through the eyes of Hollywood?
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