Monday, April 14, 2008

Timely reminder 1 - BOB ROBERTS (1992)

The times they are a-changin' back.We sit at the fag-end of a bitter Presidency: the US preaches liberal free-market democracy but is perceived to practice illiberality, protectionism and to award power by judicial fiat. We distrust our politicians and distrust big corporations and self-medicate with brain-benumbing reality TV. Many movies have chronicled our greasy slide into decrepitude. Some achieved acclaim upon release, and others feel like sadly overlooked markers in the sand.

BOB ROBERTS falls into the latter category. It's a razor-sharp satire on all that is most grasping and petty in politics. The anti-hero of the piece is a Republican gubernatorial candidate. Bob Roberts is a successful businessman, former Marine and passionate campaigner against drug use. He's also a popular singer who peddles easy answers to a catchy folk tune. Consider the following couplet from his hit song:

"Grandma felt guilty 'bout being so rich and it bothered her until the day she died. But I will take my inheritance and invest it with pride, yes invest it with pride."

And what about the opening lines to his song mocking the poor:

"Some people will have / Some simply will not / But they'll complain and complain and complain and complain and complain / Some people will work / Some never will / But they'll complain and complain and complain and complain and complain / Like this: / It's society's fault I don't have a job / It's society's fault I'm a slob / I'm a drunk, I don't have a brain / Give me a pamplet while I complain / Hey pal you're living in the land of the free No-one's gonna hand you opportunity."

In other words, Bob Robert is smug and rich and, by the way, implicated in an Iran-Contra style narcs-for-guns scandal.

Now, Tim Robbins' evidently doesn't go for a subtle approach here. Bob Roberts is a good old-fashioned screen villain, painted with a broad brush. And the whole side plot with a Spike Lee style angry independent film-maker trying to expose Roberts thinly-veiled fascist tendencies is more distracting than incisive. So why is this movie so great? First off, Robbins really captures the feel of a documentary with talking heads, hand-held camera footage and those little shots of people caught unawares. Second, the spoof songs are absolutely hysterical - not least the mock Bob Dylan and Robert Palmer promo videos. Third, Robbins takes Bob Roberts into territory so evil that it will stun even the most jaded of hacks. Fourth, the movie works as a sort of elegy for all those elder statesmen who really believed in public service and human decency. They are distilled here in Bob Roberts' opposition - a patrician incumbent of evident intelligent and mortal certitude. Time was....

So, if you like your comedy intelligent and your politics sharp, check BOB ROBERTS out. Robbins may have been looking back to Reagan, but this movie is a fair place to start as an indictment of Bush 43.

BOB ROBERTS was originally released in 1992 and is available on DVD.

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