Will 'W.', Political Movies Impact Election?

Josh Brolin As W. i i

hide captionOliver Stone's W. chronicles the life of President George W. Bush (Josh Brolin); it's the first movie ever about a sitting president. Lionsgate Films

Sidney Ray Baldwin
Josh Brolin As W.

Oliver Stone's W. chronicles the life of President George W. Bush (Josh Brolin); it's the first movie ever about a sitting president. Lionsgate Films

Sidney Ray Baldwin

The new movie W. by Oliver Stone chronicles the life and presidency of George W. Bush. A new spoof called An American Carol mocks liberals. As films like these come out just a few weeks before the presidential election, what effect will they have on voters?

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

With more now on "W." and why Hollywood is tapping into election fever, here is Day to Day's Alex Cohen.

ALEX COHEN: Director Oliver Stone started making the film "W." in May of this year. He shot it in 46 days. For a two-hour-long film that covers four decades of George W. Bush's life, that's pretty fast.

Mr. STANLEY WISER (Writer, "W."): We wanted to do something that was political again. And what more can you do than George Bush at this period in time? Because we are going to be living with the consequences of his presidency for many, many years to come.

COHEN: Stanley Wiser wrote the film "W." Although most presidential biopics come out long after the commander-in-chief is done commanding, Wiser says both he and Stone felt it important for their film to come out prior to the election.

Mr. WISER: They say that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. I do have a partisan stake here. I'm not going to pretend that I don't.

COHEN: The liberal leaning team behind "W." isn't the only duo in Hollywood with a political agenda. There's the left-wing comic pair of Bill Maher and Larry Charles with their new documentary "Religulous."

(Soundbite of documentary "Religulous")

(Soundbite of presidential debate, October 13, 2004)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I believe that God wants everybody to be free. That's what I believe. And that's one part of my foreign policy.

COHEN: And on the other end of the political spectrum...

(Soundbite of movie "An American Carol")

Mr. TRACE ADKINS: (As Angel of Death) This election year, if you believe in the American way, it's time to get behind one man.

Mr. KEVIN P. FARLEY: (As Michael Malone) I love America. That's why it needs to be destroyed.

COHEN: "An American Carol" is a spoof that pokes fun at liberal documentary maker, Michael Moore.

(Soundbite of movie "An American Carol")

Unidentified Man #1: We're going to abolish July 4th.

COHEN: Ted Johnson is the managing editor of Variety. He says the director of "An American Carol," David Zucker, felt there aren't enough conservative voices in Hollywood.

Mr. TED JOHNSON (Managing Editor, Variety): Especially when it comes to comedy and satires, that is usually directed at Bush or it's directed at conservative Republicans. I think the reason he wanted to make it is really to make a statement that, hey, we're out here.

COHEN: From a marketing perspective, it's a smart move. The appetite for political content is much larger than usual now. For example, nearly 70 million people tuned in to the Palin/Biden debate. So, it's little surprise that TV ads for "An American Carol" ran during analysis of the presidential debates, or that posters and billboards promoting the film "W." were plastered in both Denver and St. Paul during the party conventions.

Mr. TOM ORTENBERG (President, Lions Gate Theatrical Films): I think both those from the left and right, Republican and Democrat, Independent will find something in the film for them.

COHEN: Tom Ortenberg is the president of theatrical films for Lion's Gate, the studio behind "W."

Mr. ORTENBERG: A number of consumers will see this as an opportunity to vote at the box office three weeks before they get a chance to vote at the ballot box.

COHEN: But will these films make any difference on November 4th?

Dr. S. ROBERT LICHTER (Communication, George Mason University): We usually think that movies are more influential than they really are.

COHEN: Robert Lichter is a professor of communications at George Mason University. As proof that movies have little effect at the ballot box, he cites the 1983 film "The Right Stuff," which featured actor Ed Harris as astronaut John Glenn.

(Soundbite of movie "The Right Stuff")

Mr. ED HARRIS: (As John Glenn) I just thank God I live in the country where the best and the finest in a man can be brought out.

COHEN: In real life, Glenn went on to become a U.S. senator, and he ran for president in 1984. Professor Robert Lichter.

Dr. LICHTER: Most people thought that the appearance and success of "The Right Stuff" was going to greatly benefit Senator John Glenn in the Democratic primaries. Glenn went in to Iowa as one of the favorites, finished fourth with five percent of the vote.

COHEN: Lichter says in this election undecided voters and those who could possibly have a change of heart are unlikely to go see a film with a strong political message.

Dr. LICHTER: People tend to seek out information that agrees with what they already believe.

COHEN: If anything, Lichter says, "W.," "Religulous" and "An American Carol" might reinforce peoples' existing opinions and encourage them to take a more active role in persuading others. But perhaps he's underestimating the power of film. Consider the case of the "Hanoi Hilton," a film about American POWs in Vietnam which came out in the late 1980s.

(Soundbite of movie "Hanoi Hilton")

Unidentified Man #2: Welcome to Hanoi and (unintelligible) prison. I am Major Nodok (ph). And you are?

Unidentified Man #3: 2210771 Lieutenant Commander Williamson, Patrick Michael. 16th October 1930.

COHEN: This year, Warner Home Video has been planning a 20th anniversary rerelease of "The Hanoi Hilton" for next month. And as Variety's Ted Johnson explains, the filmmaker, a conservative, Lionel Chetwynd interviewed John McCain for a DVD extra.

Mr. JOHNSON: So, Lionel actually wanted have a screening of this movie and Warner Home Video said no.

COHEN: Warner's explanation, Johnson says, was that they didn't want the studio to be accused of influencing voters so close to the presidential election. Alex Cohen, NPR News.

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