Sunday, April 17, 2005


Yesterday, I watched Bulworth. I saw the film once before, back in 1999 when it first came out on video, and I remember liking it, so when I saw it on sale for $5 over break, I picked it up. Now, I wasn't sure if this would be one of those movies that I remembered being good, and then not living up the memory. Considering its emphasis on ebonics, it's the sort of film that could very easily seem dated, and in some ways, hte language is a little bit old, but its main points are even more relevant now than they were back in 1998 when the film first came out. It's an essential film for George Bush's America.

The film is about a senator who gets sick of talking about 'being on the doorstep of a new millenium,' in speech after speech and decides to actually tell the truth, in the process becoming something of a folk hero. Along the way, he moves through a poor black community and begins to understand the real effect that a lack of jobs is having on the community, all while trying to outrun an assassin. I think the film is very successful, both as a story and as a political statement. In 1998, when the film was made, the neoconservative movement was beginning to move to the fore in political discourse, and the idea that liberal is a dirty word became a common belief. Bulworth's opponent calls him an "old liberal wine trying to pour himself into a new conservative bottle," which is something I could easily see Bush saying to John Kerry, and in the next election, I could definitely see the Democrats bringing out an even more conservative person to appeal to the "family values" crowd.

The film is a fantasy, but it's one that really connected with me. Watching debates, and seeing candidates say the exact same things, never deviating from the script is frustrating. At the Democratic convention this year, you saw Kerry giving really coded insults about Bush, when he should outright tell people what he's doing. It's not that tough, and yet he never does, and that's what's so frustrating, that no one can simultaneously just tell the truth about what Bush is doing and present a compelling alternative view. So, when Bulworth finally does start telling the truth, it's riveting, and not just because I largely agree with what he's saying. Poliitics has become so much about masks and compromise, and it seems like the further up you go, the more compromised people become, until only the most bland person can become president, which means it would take a sudden rebirth, like the one by Bulworth here to really change things.

The thing that makes the film stand out from something like Fahrenheit 9/11 is that the characters are well developed and there's a sense of fun about things, rather than outrage. In most documentaries on these sorts of issues, especially Michael Moore ones, there's this sense of outrage that is just channeled into whining and jokeyness, there's a feeling of futility. What he does is try to get an awkward moment rather than dialogue. With Bulworth, there's a sense of empowerment and joy that comes with exposing the truth. He is certainly annoyed with the system, but he's also out there trying to change it, and that makes the film a compelling journey. You actually care about the characters, and the story is told in a really interesting way.

From a filmmaking perspective, there's a lot of interesting stuff going on. I really like the scenes in the ghetto, which are a great contrast to the early part of the film which moves through really wealthy areas. You get the sense of this place as a warzone, and you can understand what creates an operation like the one run by LD.

And, I think the film does a good job of avoiding the old white man raps and dresses like young black person cliches, especially considering the number of recent films that involve this sort of joke. What Bulworth does is basically adopt the posturings of the people he is trying to help, and places himself on their level.

Spoilers Below for the end...

And for people who see the film as merely a fantasy, the ending brings it back down to reality, becoming almost allegorical, as the symbol of big insurance gets revenge for what Bulworth has done over the course of the film. I really like the ending because of the way it breaks through the fantasy, and ties in nicely with the idea of the 60s as a liberal utopia. Earlier in the film, Nina mentions how all of the black leaders got killed, not to mention both Kennedys, so it's logical that Bulworth, who tries to change the system gets a similar deal. However, you can see that what he did has already changed things, particularly notable in the behavior of LD, who is now trying to use his power to help change things. So, the film seems to say that even though trying to change things might get you killed, it's still worth doing because just the disruption to the system will be enough to get things going right.

The film is just so relevant to today's political world, I really wish it could be rediscovered. In a world where the Janet Jackson scandal is bigger than Bush lying about WMDs in Iraq, we really need this kind of honest rebuke of the US political process, and most importantly pointing out the fact that even though they are marginally better, Democrats really are not cutting it as an opposition party. Could something like this ever happen? I don't know, I'd like to think that it could, but the fact that it never has would indicate we'll never see a politician do something so radical, even though I have the feeling that it would lead to him being embraced by the public. But, that doesn't mean it's not a good film, because by showing what a politician could do, it exposes the real failure of almost all today's politicians, something that's only gotten worse in the years since the film.

1 comment:

0malone1 said...

Yikes, just saw the film now but still struggle to make sense out of the insurance fiends