Levinson, humor and politics
Pull Quote: "Humor and politics come in two parts, but very often politics itself creates its own humor," Levinson said. "It's harder to fun of it now because it's so ludicrous on its own."
BY STOKELY BAKSH Eagle Staffwriter
Connie Brean: What's the thing people remember about the Gulf War? A bomb falling down a chimney. Let me tell you something: I was in the building where we filmed that with 10 inch model made out of Legos. Stanley Motss: Is that true? Connie Brean: Who's the hell's to say? -Wag the Dog
When a U.S. president is caught in a sex scandal 14 days from election, his advisor and plenty of Hollywood magic, manufactures a war that deceives the American people through the media and ultimately wins him the election. The political-satirical film, "Wag the Dog" that stars Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman, has become an icon in pop culture and synonymous with government propaganda and manipulation and the American people's distrust of it.
The director of the film and AU alumnus, Barry Levinson, spoke to The Eagle last week about his movie, politics and political comedies today.
"Each film you do, you find a reason and you make it," said Levinson. "It could be a drama, a comedy or some obscurity piece of work."
In fact, Levinson says that AU was influential on his career especially one teacher who impacted both his life and the direction he took in television. Levinson, who grew up on Baltimore, MD, soon became more involved in television, working local television stations Channel 5 and went to Hollywood and tried his luck. Although, it was hard for the first couple of years when he had no money and was sleeping the car on the beach, he eventually made it big by writing for television shows including The Carol Burnett Show.
Eventually the award-winning director-producer-screenwriter would move to be responsible for the direction of such movies as "Rain Man" and "Good Morning, Vietnam" and his semi-autobiography trilogy "The Diner," "Tin Men" and the "Avalon."
However, in directing Wag the Dog, Levinson wanted to show the tools of how the media is manipulated and how it's used by politicians for their own interests. He said he wanted to figure out how the media was used and abused which has become part of the political landscape and is done on a regular basis sometimes subtly and sometimes in a more obvious fashion.
"Politics has become more devious...more Hollywood," he said. "It understands entertainment values and it corrupted, by large corporations by such a large degree."
However, Levinson said that few political movies enjoy great success. In fact, they are more difficult to make, sell and distribute now and hardly do well in the "scheme of things."
"Humor and politics come in two parts, but very often politics itself creates its own humor," Levinson said. "It's harder to make fun of it now because it's so ludicrous on its own."
In one example, Levinson tells this scenario. Here's a satire: a guy receives a purple heart in the Vietnam War and at a Republican convention, people wear band-aids with purple hearts on them to make fun of him. "It's like a scene in a movie, people would think that was funny," he said. "You think it's not really...but it is real and that's pretty bizarre."
Levinson says that we have come to a real pivotal point in the nation's history as we come closer to the next election. He says that today's politics has so many misstatements, lies and slate of hand at work.
"Where will we go, if we continue to go the way we are going," Levinson asks. "To satirize where we are, you have to go a long way to get past reality."
Levinson says he doesn't know if this country can withstand being Iraq for another 10 to 20 years. He's worried about the nation's economy and other issues at home.
"Looking at this, maybe this is this generation's Vietnam," Levinson said. "In Vietnam, we had spent so much time there, almost ten years. The question is how long will we have to be in Iraq to correct that road we took?"
He also adds that he knows little about today's youth and whether they are activists or apathetic.
"There's so much nonsense on a daily basis and with so little positive that come from it," he said. "I'm not sure which direction students have been going."
Still however, one thing is sure, Levinson's greatest inspiration for making films is his fascination with people, which are played out through most of his work especially his fondness for his Baltimore films.
In another political movie, "Good Morning, Vietnam," what intrigued him initially to the project was the soldiers, the jungle, fighting."
"You never saw the Vietnamese in Saigon," he said, "going to work, to school, home, to the movies, laughing...that sense of understanding them as real people. And then America's in the city and the shit hits the fan. And that's what became 'Good Morning, Vietnam.'"
Levinson will be present at this weekend's School of Communication's Comedy Film Festival at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center. He will be speaking with audiences after the screening of "Wag the Dog" which starts at 7:30 p.m. along with Washington film critic Desson Thomson.