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On Movies, Money & Politics | The Nation

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On Movies, Money & Politics

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Q:

Many of the power brokers in the Hollywood community have embraced Clinton closely. Is this a good thing, or mutually destructive? Hollywood liberals get co-opted, while Clinton gets tarred with showbiz schmaltz and progressive advocacy in general suffers?

About the Author

Peter Biskind
Peter Biskind, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, is the author of a forthcoming book on the independent film...

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THIS IS THE THIRD of what now threatens to become The Nation's annual Hollywood issue. Following in the footsteps of the catholic Mr. Soderbergh, whose Y2K output ran the gamut from Erin Brockovich to Traffic, this time around there is not even the shadow of a theme. But a little eclecticism never hurt anyone. In the forum, GENE SEYMOUR engages black filmmakers, who, as a group, appear to be enjoying unprecedented success, although he finds clouds within the silver lining. ELLEN WILLIS puts The Sopranos on her couch with a dazzling appreciation-slash-deconstruction of the East Coast's favorite soap (interestingly, the West Coast appears to be more taken with Gladiator), while MARC COOPER does the same for Hollywood's version of the labor movement, giving us an eye-opening glimpse into the internal politics of the guilds on the eve of what at this point seems to be an inevitable strike.

GEOFFREY GILMORE, who has run the Sundance Film Festival for eleven years, takes on "purists" and "ideologues" in a spirited assessment of the current state of independent film. Also in the not-so-pure department, AMY WALLACE reports that Jodie Foster is looking to make a feature out of the life of infamous filmmaker-cum-Hitler- groupie Leni Riefenstahl. The byzantine Oscar documentary process gets put under the microscope by CARL BROMLEY, who notes that the academy's snub of Wim Wenders's Buena Vista Social Club last year was only the most recent in a long history of mind-boggling misjudgments. We've tossed some candy throughout the issue in the form of reflections--both visual and verbal, from some names you'll recognize--on the allure of certain matinee idols. Finally, there is a real treat: an excerpt of newly published letters that present RAYMOND CHANDLER in a wholly unexpected light.

*Last year, I was the guest editor of The Nation's first issue devoted exclusively to Hollywood and politics.

Glover:

Campaigning and raising money, the whole thing with Clinton or Gore and those guys--I refuse to do it. Those guys who want to sleep in the Oval Office, sleep in the mansion, it's about access.

Beatty:

It's not a question of Clinton, but I don't see enormous passion from the creative community for the Democratic or the Republican Party. It's hard to have passion for something that polling gives you. It doesn't need your passion.

Robbins:

I don't believe it's our job to endorse candidates. I believe in using your celebrity and your fame to call attention to issues that are not getting press. If your appearance at a fundraiser or at a rally can bring press that otherwise wouldn't be there, and you believe in the issue, then I think that's almost an obligation, certainly for me.

Q:

What issues is the press ignoring, in your view?

Robbins:

The recent civilian casualties in Iraq. I remember being adamantly opposed to the Gulf War. And you talk about the Hollywood left, where the hell were they? The same people who will be absolutely crazy about animals being sacrificed in the name of medical research will not raise a voice about human beings who are killed in the name of oil. That's an uncomfortable issue for people. We've all turned our eyes away for whatever reason, religious or political.
   And refugee issues--the people who are in jails in the United States for wanting political asylum here, for trying to cross into the United States illegally and because their skin happens to be a darker hue. I think we have a really racist immigration policy that we don't think twice about.

In New York City there is finally some attention being paid to this overly enthusiastic police state that's happening here--the erosion of civil liberties in the name of fighting crime.

Q: Do you call yourself a Democrat?

Beatty:

I've always been a Democrat and I guess I'll always be a Democrat, until I get a better idea.

Lear:

No. I ceased to be a Democrat in the middle of the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings. I was just fed up with the whole array of white, largely Protestant, out of touch, elderly guys. So I'm a registered Independent.

Q:

Do you believe that the parties have converged?

Beatty:

That became an issue as soon as the Democratic National Committee decided there's only one way to win this thing, and that's to become Republican Party Lite. There is very little difference between a conservative Democrat and a liberal Republican. We're living in an era where Mary Matalin can be married very happily to James Carville.

I'm not naïve enough to say that winning isn't important, but the Pyrrhic nature of that victory does not thrill me. The question is now, What will happen within this centrist party that we call the Democratic Party? Will it go back to its roots? Or will it stay mired in the centrist lack of ideology? At the moment, it seems as if it will stay in that centrist track. People are reluctant to break up the Yankees. By that, I mean a winning team.

Lear:

I think the last six months have proven there is a very significant difference between the parties. Since 1980 I've been extremely concerned about the growing threat of the religious right. And the Democrats have been far less, if at all, susceptible to that threat. We figure the Republican Party apparatus in some thirty-one states is largely owned by the religious right.

Q:

Are there any Democratic candidates on the scene today whom you like? Could you work on a campaign today?

Beatty:

In truth, if the campaigns involve the careers of individuals, the answer is usually no. But there is one idea that underlies everything, one issue, what Bulworth tries to address, and that is campaign finance. And that interests me very much. If people find that interesting enough--I think we're getting closer to that--it will be too embarrassing for the incumbents to remain against it.

Baldwin:

Campaign finance reform is the key to solving probably nearly all of the significant political problems we have in this country. People are turned off because the current system has forced the political parties to recruit candidates who are guys that are just trying to get their hands up your blouse in the back of the car. Look at Michael Huffington, who ran as an archconservative Republican [for the US Senate from California in 1994] whom nobody knew anything about. He didn't have any record; I mean, the guy was a complete paper tiger, but he had lots of paper dollars, obviously. People are just suffocating. This is why we have Jesse "The Body" Ventura. Every now and then you reach a critical mass of people--it's as rare as diamonds, I suppose--who will take what's new and refreshing. Ventura just represents a kind of political oxygen to these people.

Q:

Paul Wellstone has already pulled out of the race for the Democratic nomination for President. Jesse Jackson did in the past. Does electoral politics have a future for progressives in this country?

Lear:

This is where money is killing us. Some very good people with some fresh thinking would absolutely be there if they thought they could raise the money, or if they didn't think they'd have to kill themselves to raise the money. Wellstone says it was his back that kept him out of the race. I think he was projecting how his back would feel after he tried to raise $40 million. I would have helped him every way I could, because I think his voice is important to be heard. But then it would be my aching back.

Beatty:

Well, the present is not like the past, with Eugene McCarthy or Bobby [Kennedy]. Now these frontloaded presidential primaries will be rigged to respond to money in the same way that movies opening on a Friday night are rigged by money. There are exceptions, but in the main, it is the money that controls public opinion on movies and in politics. So it's almost--I won't say impossible, but it's difficult to make relevant the attributes of a given individual and attract attention to him and make his point of view clear even if he's charismatic, without the money.

Q:

Alec Baldwin, in your campaign financing activism, you talked about getting the tobacco industry out of politics, referring to the way that they're almost buying elected offices.

Baldwin:

I think the influence of corporations in American political life is no more and no less than it was seventy-five years ago. It just has a greater impact today because the consequences seem to be so much more dire. There really is a sense that in certain areas, time is running out. We have to start coming up with answers for emissions and greenhouse gas effects and things like that before it's 120 degrees six months out of the year and the polar icecaps are gone and nobody's laughing at all those jokes about ocean-front property in Nevada. The biggest change today is that the media are now part of the conspiracy. I don't want to pull a Hillary Clinton conspiracy theory thing here, but the----

Q:Did you ever buy that?

Baldwin:

Oh, I totally bought what she said. I think there's a right-wing conspiracy to get Clinton. I think there's a right-wing conspiracy to get anybody who represents real progress and change in this country.

Stone:

She seems to have been correct. Quite a bit of money was funneled in, serious money, to keep this thing alive. Richard Mellon Scaife and his right-wing money came very close to toppling the presidency.

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