Tuesday, April 3, 2007

A Face In The Crowd

I recently saw Elia Kazan's 1957 film A Face In The Crowd, starring Andy Griffith as a drunk in a county jail, who through a variety of circumstances quickly rises to a position of power, predominantly through his charismatic behavior on radio and television.

It was the first time I had seen the film, and it had a lot of interesting echoes given the current situation the world is in. I'd recommend you see it if you haven't, and see it again if it's been a while.

I thought the movie was very well-made. Andy Griffith had a great scenery-chewing role, and Walter Matthau gave a nice early career performance.

The film had a pretty strong political message, which I took it to be mostly an apprehension to the new media (television) coming down the pike, and how it could be used by a common rube to sway the masses of common American rubes and possibly ruin our country.

I know a little about the politics of director Elia Kazan -- he considered himself liberal, but testified and named names in the HUAC hearings in the 50's. This film --and don't get me wrong, I liked it -- seemed really threatened about the rise of some form of populism, that could spread virulently through the airwaves of television and radio.

This kind of grassroots populism never really took root, at least via the medium of television. The best example I can think of this is when Ross Perot spent millions of his own money booking airtime to show us pie charts. People were excited, but then it just sort of fell apart. What's wrong with being excited? Isn't it offensive to paint the involvement of everyday Americans as a threat, or something to be ridiculed?

From time to time I've seen the mainstream media belittle the involvement of the American people. I remember seeing a puff piece on the NBC news where it showed everyday Americans running for President. Tom Brokaw chuckled at the audacity of American citizens attempting to run for office. Don't they know how the political process works?

Now, decades later, people are somewhat empowered by the rise of the Internet. I don't want to paint an overly romantic picture about it, but there seem to be more options and a give-and-take, perhaps the faintest whiff of a new populism.

One thing that the film sort of glosses over, or doesn't make much of, is that Andy Griffith's character is being shaped by various people in power in order to further their own agenda. I remember reading a while back about how neocon George Schultz convinced Dubya to run for President. The two situations seem very similar, except for the fact that Dubya's charisma seems a little forced and manufactured. For me, this is the big threat -- unaccountable people pushing chess pieces on a board, outside the realm of a democracy. But, for Kazan, it's the rubes.


Joe said...

Wasn't it Kazan who won some lifetime achievement award at the Oscars a few years ago, and several celebs notably didn't stand up or applaud?

I'll have to put this on our Netflix list. I've never seen it.

Splotchy said...

Yes indeed, Kazan did get a lifetime achievement award, and there was definitely a palpable funk hanging in the air as he accepted it. Probably one of the more interesting Oscar moments in recent years.

Mizbubs said...

Splotchy, it's good to hear from you! IMHO, Kazan was an elitist who thought he knew better than populist rubes, including commie dupes in Hollywood. Idiot. Definitely got to see the film.