Pyle: The Nixon/Obama film festival
For sheer escapist entertainment, it's hard to beat those big disaster movies from the 1970s.
This summer, the Utah Film Center's annual series of free flicks at the Gallivan Center downtown dished up four of the best: "Airport," "The Poseidon Adventure," "The Towering Inferno" and "The Andromeda Strain."
Hours of mindless entertainment at its highest level. Things go boom. People go splat. Innocents are threatened. Heroes rescue. But only often enough to keep it interesting. Who will survive?!?
Unless, of course, you go with me. Then you run the risk of having the whole thing become a political seminar. Occupational hazard, I suppose.
The political angle probably wouldn't occur, even to me, but for the fact that the atmosphere that was in place when these movies were new is very different from the environment today.
This is particularly true of the bookends of this collection, "Airport," released in 1970, and "The Towering Inferno," out in 1974. Each offered what the studios used to call "a galaxy of stars," made a ton of money and were taken seriously enough to be nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
But, without changing a word of dialogue or a frame of film, both of them have morphed from being Richard Nixon Republican pictures to Barack Obama Democratic films. And the main reason for this is that, in both films, the people from the government really are there to help you.
In "Airport," the good guys are establishment through and through, government and corporate. The administrator of the airport. The officials of the airline. The customs guy. The airport cops. And, most notable of all, when you consider what Ronald Reagan was going to do to them 11 years later, the air traffic controllers.
They are all-business, skilled, decisive and devoted to their duty. Even the airplane, repeatedly identified as a product of the Boeing Corporation, is practically a character in the film, and among the most steadfast.
In 1970, Nixon's first term, these folks would all be at home at the Republican National Convention.
But along the way, airport boss Burt Lancaster makes a speech about how important it is for the cowardly politicians on the airport board to cough up the money to build a new, more modern airport, one that can handle the inevitable increase in traffic with improved efficiency and safety, even as it creates less noise and bother for surrounding landowners.
It's a speech that would fit right in at an Obama for President rally, with all the "You didn't build that" stuff about how private business, however creative or hard-working, is lost without public infrastructure.
In "The Towering Inferno," businessmen don't come off so well. They cut corners and created a 136-story building that catches fire the night it opens.
The good guys, though, are on the public payroll. Mostly firemen, led by steely-eyed battalion chief Steve McQueen, along with some Navy helicopter pilots, aided by blue-eyed Paul Newman as the most un-John Galt-like, responsible to others, architect who ever lived. Not a tea party role model in the bunch.
This, too, has become a movie for an Obama crowd, folks who don't want to lay off teachers, cops or, especially, firemen, and not the we-don't-need-any-more-firemen trope of the Mitt Romney stump speech.
You've probably heard former Republicans and ex-Democrats complain that they didn't leave their parties, their parties left them. They are often right, and the evidence is available on VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray.
George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, would now discuss the socio-political implications of "Men in Black 3." But, for some reason, he's forgotten everything he was going to say.
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