Pundits have long observed that politics is really show business but with ugly people, but this year the political cast of characters seems to be uglier still, as does their rhetoric.
Not that long ago elections were at least good theater. Consider the contrasts of style and class in Kennedy vs. Nixon. Politicians like Jerry Ford, Jimmy Carter and, yes, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, were irritating in their own ways but brought a certain civility to the process. Today’s politicians come across not as cajolers but as bullies (there’s that word again) or as full-fledged idiots.
The bottom line: They could use some serious input from Hollywood on several levels.
Let’s start with casting. Hollywood’s hard-boiled casting mavens wouldn’t have let folks like Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell or Carl Paladino past the first audition.
Then there’s the script: With the help of Hollywood spinmeisters, someone like Alaska’s Joe Miller could have presented himself as a free-thinking outdoorsman instead of letting him talk like a crypto-fascist thug. It’s easy to “sell” a phony version of a candidate — look how shrewdly John Edwards sold himself as someone he wasn’t.
Candidates in the past often recruited top Hollywood writers and directors to guide their campaigns — think Johnson, Kennedy and Clinton. But the Tea Partiers seem to recruit their speechwriters from the ranks of tram drivers at Disneyland, because they keep spouting fantasies. Listen to O’Donnell and Angle and you realize why Sarah Palin now comes across as an intellectual (is that why so many Republican candidates seem to be running away from her scheduled appearances?)
The Hollywood marketers who figured how to sell “Jackass 3 D” would have advised Paladino against sending out mailers that deliberately carried the stink of rotting garbage. Why reflect the aroma of your campaign?
It may be a sad commentary that politics needs more Hollywood influence, but that’s the reality of the moment.
Maybe I should have gone to Jon Stewart’s rally, after all.
Brass ring? Try tarnished goods
Never in Hollywood history has there been a battle so big over a prize so small. I’m referring to MGM, of course — the limping lion that continues to transfix dealmakers. Surely Louis B. Mayer would never have predicted that his once-proud studio would end up in the bankruptcy business, not the movie business.
The newly cemented team of Carl Icahn and Lionsgate is seeking to outmaneuver Spyglass and its allies for control of MGM. Both sides are courting debtholders, some of whom must be marveling that a company that no one wanted suddenly seems to be everyone’s flavor of the moment.
One bemused bystander is Mary Parent, who had the job-from-hell for the past two years as MGM’s production chief. MGM has averaged roughly one production chief a year for the past 30 years, and all have one thing in common: They never made a hit. One Parent movie, “Hot Tub Time Machine,” was a loser, a horror movie titled “Cabin in the Woods” is in limbo and China threatens a missile attack if anyone ever releases the remake of “Red Dawn” (the Chinese are the bad guys in this version).
MGM has long hung its hat on its James Bond movies, of course, but I learned Bond’s survival secret when I was an executive at that studio and actually greenlit a Bond movie. The producers kept their distance: They said that the next time I’d hear from them would be in the form of an invitation to the premiere.
I never got one. They knew that, like my predecessors and successors, I wouldn’t be there that long.