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Cinematheque series explores American politics

September 24, 2008 By Gwen Evans

It seems as if the presidential campaigning has been going on forever. With primaries, caucuses, dueling ad campaigns and the spectacle of conventions designed to energize the faithful, even the most dutiful voting citizen can grow weary. Mercifully, Cinematheque will rescue us with films that explore American politics and give some healthy perspective to the chatter.

Still from ’The Great McGinty’

“The Great McGinty” will be shown at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 1, at 4070 Vilas Hall.

Courtesy: Cinematheque

The series, Vote Cinema: American Politics on Film, presents a documentary, a thriller and a satire that capture the political climate of the times in which they were produced. All give the viewers an education on how things have (or haven’t) changed and a welcome break from politicking.

Saturday, Oct. 4, 7:30 p.m.

“Profit motive and the whispering wind” (2007), directed by John Gianvito

This experimental documentary takes the audience on a tour of the United States by visiting its cemeteries, monuments and historical markers, tracing the history of the American Left. The film was inspired by Howard Zinn’s book “A People’s History of the United States.” The film was voted best experimental film of 2007 by the National Society of Film Critics.

“Profit motive” will be preceded by “Little Flags,” a six-minute documentary by Jem Cohen that sets footage of a Gulf War military parade to music by Fugazi, a punk, hardcore band. The combination provides a sobering look at the times in which we live.

Saturday, Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m.

“The Parallax View” (1974), directed by Alan J. Pakula

Alan J. Pakula made some wonderfully suspenseful and paranoid films. In choosing a selection for this political series, the wise folks at the Cinematheque did not select Pakula’s obvious political thriller, “All the President’s Men.” That 1976 film chronicles the work of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they uncover the details of the Watergate scandal that leads to Nixon’s resignation.

Instead, they selected “The Parallax View,” which also features a journalist in the starring role. Warren Beatty goes undercover to infiltrate a shadowy corporation he suspects of orchestrating a series of politically motivated assassinations.

Saturday, Nov. 1, 7:30 p.m.

“The Great McGinty” (1940), directed by Preston Sturges

Preston Sturges famously sold Paramount his script for “The Great McGinty” (which went on to win the

Academy Award for best original screenplay) for $1 in exchange for the chance to direct. The deal launched a string of films that are gems. Among them are “Unfaithfully Yours,” “The Sin of Harold Diddlebock,” “Sullivan’s Travels” and “Christmas in July.”

“The Great McGinty” savages election politics by telling the story of a hobo who rises through the ranks, becoming an alderman and then mayor through bullying, voter fraud and puppet regimes. It’s up to the viewer to decide if this satire of election politics is distressingly real or a just a hilarious send-up. Either way, let’s hope it doesn’t hit too close to home come November.

If politics isn’t your thing, Cinematheque has two other ambitious film series certain to take your mind off the election.

  • “Moving Pictures: The European Films of Max Ophüls” presents the work of one of Europe’s greatest filmmakers. Known for his camera movement, circular narratives (which often rely on flashbacks) and cynical wit, Ophüls explored romance, love and morality, often through strong, yet flawed, female characters. The Ophuls retrospective includes eight of his greatest European films this fall, and his four American films in the spring.
  • Think the 1950s were all Ozzie and Harriet wholesomeness? “Deviants, Delinquents, and Do-gooders: Hollywood Social Problem Films of the 1950s” presents five films that aimed their cameras at very real problems facing Americans: racism, McCarthyism, yellow journalism, drug addiction and abortion are covered in the series.

All Cinematheque films are free and are screened in 4070 Vilas Hall. Visit for more information on these and other films planned for the semester.

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