Sunday, November 02, 2008

Election Movies - Part I

Lorenzetti's Allegory of Good Government, 1338-1339, Palazzo Publico, Siena

For a blog that’s ostensibly devoted to politics, this blog probably has you confused. Explicit discussions of “political” movies – that is, movies that explicitly deal with modern politics like elections, scandals, government policy – have been nonexistent on this blog.

A large part of this is my explicit highlighting of the differences between ancient and Renaissance drama versus film. Of course, ancient and Renaissance tragedy is almost exclusively about explicit politics – pageants of kings, princes and heroes so to speak.

When we turn to the moderns, political tragedy essentially immediately vanishes. Examine the following: the greatest poetic works of the ancient Greeks are Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, stories of the kings and heroes fighting the Trojan war. The greatest poetic work of the ancient Romans is Virgil’s Aeneid, which has the same subject. The greatest poetry of Renaissance England is that of Shakespeare, who’s tragic subjects are the history of the English monarchy, the politics of Rome (Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra) and tragedies befalling medieval or Renaissance princes (King Lear, Macbeth, Hamlet).

But when we turning to the most modern of modern states, the United States, we encounter a literature that is essentially entirely devoid of depicting a major statesman from the inside. Certainly, American literature often depicts major political developments acting upon non-politicians. But, except for a mere handful of potential examples, American literature seems actually unable to depict a major political actor convincingly.

This inability to depict actual active politics in a substantive way seems to apply also to American cinema. Essentially invariably, statesmen are either portrayed with a cartoonishly shallow level of understanding – either as buffoons, villains or ethereal saints.


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