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A Face in the Crowd (1957)


Peter T Chattaway
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I'm not entirely sure why this movie ended up in my public-library inbox -- I think I may have placed a hold on it when I read some obituaries for Budd Schulberg last summer -- but in any case, I happened to watch it tonight, and, uh, wowzers. Here's a slightly edited version of an e-mail that I sent to a friend of mine just now; he and I were big fans of Network (1976) in our early 20s (i.e. in the early '90s), and we used to marvel at the time at how that movie had anticipated the rise of the Fox network a decade or two before its time:

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It's directed by Elia Kazan and written by Budd Schulberg, the same guys who wrote and directed On the Waterfront; and it stars Andy Griffith (as a hick who becomes an overnight sensation and becomes something of a media monstrosity), Patricia Neal (best known, to me at least, as the female lead from The Day the Earth Stood Still; here, she plays the broadcaster who discovers the Griffith character) and Walter Matthau (as a writer who knows both of them). Oh, and Lee Remick (the mother in The Omen) plays a teenaged baton-twirler who becomes one of Griffith's lovers.

The rise-and-fall-of-a-media-persona story arc isn't particular unique, but what really gets me is how the film takes aim at the sexualization of advertising, the vulgarization of politics, the mechanization of entertainment (canned laugh tracks, etc.) and all sorts of other things associated with television ... but this movie was made *in 1957*, when TV was only about a decade old, if that. And of course we tend to think of the 1950s as a "Father Knows Best" kind of sexless era, whereas there's quite a bit of eroticism in this movie. Very interesting.

Perhaps one of the more telling bits is the scene where Griffith advises a politician on how to win votes: Get a dog, he says, and then he remarks that getting a dog worked wonders for "Dick Nixon". This, of course, is a reference to the "Checkers" speech that Nixon gave when he was running for vice-president in 1952 -- five years before the movie was made. People were still trying to get a handle on the impact that TV was having on their culture (Nixon may have used TV to his advantage in 1952, but it would work against him during his first run for the presidency in 1960), and in some ways this movie's satire was arguably ahead of the curve.

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"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Perhaps one of the more telling bits is the scene where Griffith advises a politician on how to win votes: Get a dog, he says, and then he remarks that getting a dog worked wonders for "Dick Nixon". This, of course, is a reference to the "Checkers" speech that Nixon gave when he was running for vice-president in 1952 -- five years before the movie was made. People were still trying to get a handle on the impact that TV was having on their culture (Nixon may have used TV to his advantage in 1952, but it would work against him during his first run for the presidency in 1960), and in some ways this movie's satire was arguably ahead of the curve.

I saw this a few years back, and I remember that scene. And I remember it reminded me of another scene from another film. I wonder if the Coen Brothers were throwing out a bit of an homage...

Formerly Baal_T'shuvah

"Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can't let the world judge you too much." - Maude 
Harold and Maude
 

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Oh, and let's not forget the cameos here! I don't recognize all the names, but the movie's IMDb page indicates that there were quite a few people here playing "Himself" or "Herself" -- including Mike Wallace! (And he's still kicking around, 53 years later...)

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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The rise-and-fall-of-a-media-persona story arc isn't particular unique, but what really gets me is how the film takes aim at the sexualization of advertising, the vulgarization of politics, the mechanization of entertainment (canned laugh tracks, etc.) and all sorts of other things associated with television ... but this movie was made *in 1957*, when TV was only about a decade old, if that. And of course we tend to think of the 1950s as a "Father Knows Best" kind of sexless era, whereas there's quite a bit of eroticism in this movie. Very interesting.

Oh yeah. This film has had some resurgence. Been a fan since before DVDs. I think the Kazan angle is dragging it down as a possible part of the pantheon though. Folks still don't want to give Kazan his due. Your paragraph above brings to mind the Marx Brothers movie Horsefeathers. It was made in the early '30's and it is not the only film of the time to reference college football as big business and possibly corrupt. I remember seeing a Pat O'Brien movie of the same era on TCM with Pat O'Brien as a sort of Fritz Kreisler/Nick Saban coaching genius for hire trying to remain "clean" and ethically pure despite the seeming mercenary career.

"During the contest trial, the Coleman team presented evidence of a further 6500 absentees that it felt deserved to be included under the process that had produced the prior 933 [submitted by Franken, rk]. The three judges finally defined what constituted a 'legal' absentee ballot. Countable ballots, for instance, had to contain the signature of the voter, complete registration information, and proper witness credentials.

But the panel only applied the standards going forward, severely reducing the universe of additional basentees the Coleman team could hope to have included. In the end, the three judges allowed about 350 additional absentees to be counted. The panel also did nothing about the hundreds, possibly thousands, of absentees that have already been legally included, yet are now 'illegal' according to the panel's own ex-post definition."

The Wall Street Journal editorial, April 18, 2009 concerning the Franken Coleman decision in the Minnesota U.S. Senate race of 2008.

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Does the Vitajex commercial remind anyone of the I Love Lucy episode, where she is pawning Vitameatavegamin?

Scratch that, I just watched the linked video. It reminds me more of an Extenze infomercial.

Edited by Michael Todd

"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others." - Groucho Marx

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