The Hidden Edge

Politically ‘liberal’ artists are generally significantly better at making their points than are their counterparts. There are exceptions, of course, principal among whom is Allen Drury whose Advise and Consent is a paradigm of the power of political persuasion. Its film version is free from explicit or implicit political favoritism, a rare event in Hollywood filmmaking. The points made in that film half a century ago have the same impact now as they had then. Most unfair negative criticism of the novel, then the play, and then the film is also the same as it was then. Objectivity invariably disturbs partisans.

The left element of the political spectrum overwhelmingly surpasses the right in its ability to persuade in novels, in plays, in films, and (usually) in political speeches. Please note that I am not evaluating the messages of left or right politics in themselves. My interest here is only in the definitive fact that artists of the ‘left’ persuasion are generally far better communicators than those of the ‘right.’ This is true of most writers, actors, and directors.

Although writers sometimes write scripts that are overtly political, most of the time their political messages are implicit under a central theme that is not necessarily political. It could be a science fiction, adventure, or fantasy film, e.g., Avatar, which is a combination of all three genres. That is true of countless films-past and current-that are not listed as political films. Whatever their genre identity, the political messages are there, beneath the surface. But don’t expect to find Avatar listed as a political film. It doesn’t fit the standard criteria for political films. On the other hand, Advise and Consent is on all political film lists.

Several prominent liberal actors who are offered many options to play a major role in a new film, often choose to portray characters that display the worst liberal perceptions of corrupt politicians, cold-blooded corporate executives, and ruthless military leaders. Prominent directors, who also have several options in choosing scripts, invariably select scripts that are either non-political or in harmony with their political views. As producer/actor, some filmmakers write and direct their own scripts as well. This, of course, gives them maximum control over the creation of a film.

Regardless of the function(s) of a scriptwriter, actor, or director, there is a fundamental factor that determines the efficacy in conveying a political message: that, of course, is their talent. But audiences and critics also have political views, and the film world is not so much a ‘field’ as it is a jungle. Although there are equally talented artists at any point on the political spectrum, in most instances it is conservative artists that are prey to liberal critics. For example, when Advise and Consent was described as a ‘soap opera,’ that slur was merely political vitriol-not valid criticism.

Critics aside, the reasons for the great difference in number between fine liberal and fine conservative actors are many. They are also too complex to be expressed in an article. I don’t dare attempt to express them in any form less than a book! With the online shadow of a reader’s admonishing words, “too-long, I-didn’t-read-it,” pursuing me, I only venture to lightly touch upon one factor that gives liberals an edge.

A film may be explicitly political. If that is the case, as it is with Advise and Consent, its message is openly articulated by the author, actors, and director. Its creators focus on unambiguous dialogue, clear characterizations, and linear direction. Conservative artists are as good at that as their liberal counterparts. Watch the film, and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

However, if a political message is only implied, then the author, actors, and director need to walk a fine line between messaging and fine art. That is what Avatar failed to do, at least for some of us over thirty! The ‘kids’ didn’t notice the painfully obvious “hidden” political messages whether they subliminally agreed with them or not. It might be said that the messages were ‘hidden’ under the dazzling special effects: the blend of technology and exotic scenic art, the fantastic killing machines as extensions of the soldiers operating them, and the unquestioned depiction of American soldiers callously destroying an entire civilization, a scene too familiar to blur the messages beneath it.

I have always easily spotted ‘hidden’ messages-political or otherwise. I’ve also learned to enjoy a good film despite hidden messages with which I don’t agree. I ignore the messages and enjoy a well-made film despite them.

But take heart. Although less vociferous, and nowhere close to matching their counterparts’ numbers in filmland, there are enough fine conservative writers, actors, and directors to occasionally balance the liberal edge.

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