The Weekly Assignment: In Search of a President For the Big Screen
by Cate Hahneman
February 18, 2011
Next assignment! We've all seen them. Hollywood's "Presidential Pics" which portray the leader of the free world as only the film industry truly can. Sometimes he's a heroic leader, like Harrison Ford in Air Force One, or maybe he is braving an alien invasion like Bill Pullman did in Independence Day. The President might not be the President at all, rather a comedic impersonator as with Kevin Kline's Dave, or he may be a wig-wearing lawyer of the Revolution like Paul Giammati in the HBO mini-series John Adams (which, by the way, is absolutely excellent and directed by Oscar-nominated Tom Hooper of The King's Speech, too).
Now that we know how varied Hollywood Presidents can be, I give to you this week's assignment: Pitch in the comments a premise for a "Presidential" movie (can be dramatic, comedy, real, campy, anything) and the actor you think would play the best President in that idea. Bonus points for anyone who casts their Vice President and/or First Lady in the movie as well.
My Suggestion For Weekend Viewing: The first season of Aaron Sorkin's (yes, him again) The West Wing [Amazon/Netflix]. I know it's a TV show rather than a film, but I can promise you the screenwriting, production, and acting are top of the line. For those of you who have never seen it, The West Wing follows the newly elected President Jed Bartlett (played by the incredible Martin Sheen) and his upper-level staff who work in, you got it, the west wing of the White House. The pace matches Sorkin's dialogue as the staff tackle real issues of politics, press, and personalities with sharp wit. Sheen's Bartlett is a wise Baccalaureate and Nobel Prize winner who guides the supporting cast and the audience through the triumphs and failures of his administration. Sadly, Sorkin left the show after the fourth season and though it was still very strong, it never retained the power of language held by the first three. Thus, I suggest starting with Season One!
I've also compiled a list of President-related films in honor of the upcoming holiday (it's Presidents' Day on Monday). Take a peek at the list and I hope you find something worth watching over the holiday weekend! Top suggestions: Aaron Sorkin's The American President, Frost/Nixon, Oliver Stone's biopics Nixon, JFK and W., Thirteen Days, Primary Colors (Travolta as Clinton, basically), Murder at 1600, Dick, Dr. Strangelove: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (some of the most incredible, and famous, production design ever) and finally, Barry Levinson's Wag the Dog.
For the more adventurous cinephiles, there are some oldies that might be worth checking out, including: controversial director D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915) which quite vividly depicts Lincoln's assassination, Griffith's early talkie Abraham Lincoln (1930), Young Mr. Lincoln (1939 and starring a young Henry Fonda), or also The President's Lady (1953) and The Buccaneer (1959) both of which star Charleton Heston as Andrew Jackson. And if Oliver Stone's Nixon starring Anthony Hopkins is too long for you (at over three hours), check out Robert Altman's much shorter Nixon flick Secret Honor (1984).
Looking forward to hearing your "Presidential" suggestions! The Weekly Assignment is a discussion series written by Cate Hahneman that encourages further discovery, exploration and most importantly, a healthy discussion about cinema past and present. Last Week's Assignment: An Unconventional Romance.