Movies reflect society and often revisit and revise history. Right now, as we watch the slow and ugly demise of a man we helped create, I am thinking of films that predicted we would get here.
Before an official Donald Trump biopic is made, (Alec Baldwin in "American Horror Story, 2016") we should recall a few fictional movie characters that were there first: Howard Beale, the out-of-control anchorman who gets a "mad as hell" country revved up in "Network," and Chance Gardiner in "Being There," a grown man with the mind of a child, whose simplistic responses ("In a garden, growth has its season") somehow resonate with the powers that be.
But as I listened to the "Access Hollywood" tape and learned of Trump's three a.m. tweetathon, my mind went back to one classic film character: Lonesome Roads, portrayed by Andy Griffith in "A Face In The Crowd." This dark and lacerating film, written by Budd Schulberg, is about a guitar-plucking, charming rogue, discovered by a savvy radio producer. (Played by Patricia Neal) He becomes a national phenomenon, but eventually the charm is gone and a mean spirited vanity sets in. In the end of the film, Neal's character opens a microphone and an unsuspecting country hears the real man promising to win back a "public which is a cage full of idiots" and blaming his demise on "one neurotic, temperamental female."
He is drunk on power and ends up alone, exposed and unloved in a glitzy hotel tower.The moral compass of the film, played by a young Walter Matthau, muses, "he'll have a show again..people's memories are short." Remember that one. As we speak, "A Face In The Crowd" is being developed as a Broadway musical. Its timing may either be right on--should Trump, gulp, win-- or miss its moment and seem like a scary reminder of what almost was.
One thing you must admire about all three of those films, written decades ago, was their prescience. "Network," of course, predicted reality television at a time we'd considered that field comprised only of quiz shows. In the movie, an un-savvy black panther group gets its own show, and soon after is demanding to know its 'lead-in.' We laughed uproariously at the very idea of actual people with no apparent talent becoming celebrities.
"Being There," portrayed the gullibility of not only the public, but those who are theoretically its leaders, who should be able to recognize pure ignorance. Donald Trump, at least in the beginning, captured attention and support with his non-academic, untraditional ways of looking at issues. But that has all turned sour and, like Lonesome Roads, the demons, dumbness, and denigrations emerged.
We can only hope that Trump goes off to start a "network" of his own. I prefer him "being there" rather than anywhere near real significance. I hope he ends up alone in his golden tower, a pompous if shattered face with no crowd at all.
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