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Movie Correlations This paper – by analyzing the four films, Primary Colors (1998), The War Room (1993), Bulworth (1998), and Bob Roberts (1992) – shows how these works satirize American political system and illustrate absurd and theatre-like performance of the politicians before public. Primary Colors, which tells the very thinly veiled story of the Clinton 1992 election campaign, opens with a conversation between the idealistic Henry Burton and Susan Stanton (assumed to be George Stephanopoulos, Clinton’s communications director, and Hillary Rodham Clinton respectively). Watching Burton’s naive vision of what is real and what is history touches upon our collective awareness that the subtle views on history, pride, and honor presented by most politicians are lies anyway, and that what links Kennedy and Clinton perhaps more than anything else is their womanizing, not their rhetoric. Those watching Clinton on television are too well-informed to accept his rhetoric at face value, so the myth is created elsewhere - by the spin doctors, the media, the multitude of Hollywood movies featuring heroic presidents that the 1990s produced. The War Room is most clearly illustrative of this loss as it is made within a comparable observational style to Primary Colors, especially the loose, eaves-dropping camera work much of which is Pennebaker’s own. As suggested by its title, which refers to the Arkansas ‘war room’ from which Stephanopoulos and James Carville, campaign manager, masterminded Clinton’s victory, the documentary observes the associates responsible for that victory. Clinton himself is marginal; what is main is the relationship with the media covering the campaign. The War Room contains a few inevitable but somewhat mocking echoes of Primary (on which Pennebaker worked as a cameraperson), for instance two lengthy hand-held tracking shots in pursuit of George Stephanopoulos that are reminiscent of Albert Maysles’ shot following John Kennedy in 1960.
The second is particularly emblematic of the shift in political representation that has taken place. Following the first televised debate Stephanopoulos runs out clapping, his arms in the air, convinced that Clinton has won the night. Whereas Primary draws us in and forges a similarity with Kennedy in particular, The War Room invites its audience to experience real elections: we are doubly removed from Clinton by gaining access to him second and third hand from, firstly, the media and, secondly, his campaign team who are constantly analyzing that media coverage. It is tempting to conclude that The War Room reveals simply the amoral and ultimately apolitical attitude of approaching political communications solely as a battle of images, waged through the mass media, although the film seems more complex than this; what it signals, more than pure cynicism, is a sense of what has been lost by this inevitable shift towards media-dominated politics. The War Room does not only offer evidence that Carville and Stephanopoulos created the ‘perfect’ candidate Bill Clinton through their dual manipulation of his image and the media, it raises the suspicion that the main task of the two advisers, having saturated the media with pictures of their candidate, is perversely to shield him from view. Despite its direct cinema derivation, The War Room does not (and presumably was not permitted to) show Clinton or the others in many undirected situations (although there is what looks like a hidden camera shot of Carville fixing a date with Mary Matalin, deputy manager of the Bush campaign). Towards the beginning of the documentary, there is a brief sequence showing Clinton on the telephone in baseball cap, T-shirt and shorts, he looks at ease and comfortable.
As The War Room progresses, there are fewer and fewer glimpses of him, the implication being that the spin doctors do not want to run the risk of exposing their candidate to unpredictable encounters with a documentary crew. The motto of modern politics is ‘always be on your guard’. To continue, Bob Roberts and Bulworth are political films, since they illustrate and criticize the electoral process. The general and accepted definition of political films is those that challenge the organization of the government and that are opposing to the mainstream presentation of the world. In Warren Beatty’s comedy drama, Bulworth Senator J. Billington Bulworth learns that he is soon going to die and decides to be brutally frank and open with his audiences. Warren Beatty plays Bulworth, the political leader who decides to come clean. He has grown sick of Senate and of his own hypocrisy. He tells his listeners that money has corrupted the political system. At one point, he contracts a top gangster to kill him, but when he changes his mind, Beatty has problems canceling the contract. Oliver Platt, Beatty’s aide, believes in him and continually tries to cover for his constantly disappearing boss. However, he warns Beatty that he often goes too far. At one public appearance, Beatty’s wealthiest California contributors abandon him during one of his politically incorrect rants. Bob Roberts is a fictional documentary that follows the rise of right-wing folksinger Bob Roberts (Robbins) to fame, fortune, and a seat in the U.S. Senate. The film effectively satirizes the emptiness and hypocrisy of Roberts, a master of the media and pure American demagogue, who spouts moralistic slogans but is willing to lower himself to any level of deception, and even murder, in a ruthless quest for wealth and power.
In this sense, of course, the film can be taken as a commentary on the Republican right in general, a commentary that gains an especially chilling force in the light of the 1994 "Republican revolution," when right-wing opportunists running on uncannily Roberts-like platforms were swept into Congress and the Senate from districts all over America. Bob Roberts is actually a sort of meta-documentary that follows a film crew that is making a documentary about Roberts. It includes performances of a number of Roberts’s songs, many of which are hilarious, highlighted by the music video "Wall Street Rap, which glorifies greed and acquisitiveness via a parody of Bob Dylan’s "Subterranean Homesick Blues." Indeed, Roberts consistently parodies Dylan, releasing albums with such titles as "The Free Wheelin’ Bob Roberts, "The Times Are Changing Back, and ‘‘Bob on Bob. This dialogue with Dylan is part of an overall assault on the values of the counterculture of the 1960s, which Roberts sees as a source of moral decay. He particularly campaigns against drug use, which makes it highly problematic when investigative report Bugs Raplin (Giancarlo Esposito) uncovers evidence that Roberts and his sinister handler, Lukas Hart (Alan Rickman), have been involved in an array of shady deals involving failing savings and loan associations, arms shipments to the Nicaraguan Contras, and the smuggling of drugs into the United States. This evidence is dismissed by the Roberts camp as the ravings of a crazed radical. It nevertheless seriously hampers Roberts’s senatorial election campaign against long-time liberal Senator Brickley Paiste (Gore Vidal), overshadowing Roberts’s earlier attempt to discredit Paiste by fabricating evidence of an extramarital affair between Paiste and a teenage campaign worker. Desperate, the Roberts’ camp makes up an elaborate scheme in which they fake an assassination attempt on Roberts, claiming that he has been crippled by his gunshot wounds.
He thus finishes the campaign in a wheelchair, hoping to gain sympathy. In the meantime, the Roberts campaign attempts to kill two birds with one stone by framing Raplin for the shooting using fabricated evidence. Eventually, Raplin is cleared, thanks to the efforts of his lawyer, Mack Laflin (David Strathairn), but the trick works, and Roberts is elected. In conclusion, it has to be stated that Primary Colors (1998), The War Room (1993), Bulworth (1998), and Bob Roberts (1992) are the brilliant examples of effective satire that criticizes the American political system as largely influenced and formed by the media rather than shaped by the public’s opinion. The movies clearly illustrate that things have been turned upside down in the modern America: it is the media that manipulates the government and makes the public opinion, but it is NOT the public that influences the government or the media. Finally, as the elections that took place since these films were released indicate, satire clearly had no impact whatsoever on American voters, ironically demonstrating the apathy of the American populace that is one the main themes of the films.