"Reel Politics"--by San Jose State political science professor Terry Christensen--is a survey of American political attitudes in movies from the early 1900s to the present. High time, you feel at first--aflush with good will for the endeavor--especially during this current movie era of mindless jingoism ("Rambo"), vigilantism ("Commando"), slash and cash ("Friday the eternal 13th"), the teen-sex comedies and the disco success sagas--all hot and rotten with the intoxicants of sex, revenge and success. Somebody should say something about all this. But is that somebody Christensen?
Doubts gather immediately. The book is divided into 17 footnoted chapters, in each of which Christensen briefly sketches in the socio-historical currents, and then discusses--or in most cases, synopsizes--what he considers that period's most important political films. His style, unfortunately, is bland, choppy, and humorless. But his approach seems thorough and his criteria clear. He says of his choices "These are not necessarily the best political films in terms of either art or philosphical content but they are the ones Americans saw and are therefore surely the most influential."
Does this mean the films he skips were not seen? By Americans or just by Christensen? Gradually, our expectations plummet. How would a serious enthusiast of film or politics react after coming on statements like these--all typical of "Reel Politics"? "Most of us go to movies with someone else, and afterward, we talk about the film." "All of us have some sort of ideology, but many Americans pretend they have none and so do most of the movies." "Usually (movies) tell us that bad people can mess up the system and that good ones can set it right." "Filmmakers should have more faith in their audiences and take more chances with movies about politics. Investors and distributors should support them." "The need for the camera to point toward something, usually a person, helps explain the emphasis on individualism." And: "Music is also used to convey ideas in a political film. The sound track tells us who the good guys and the bad guys are." Many are likely to get annoyed, feel their time is being grotesquely wasted and maybe even consider hurling the book across the room.