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Its Prophetic Own: The President’s Analyst

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Its Prophetic Own: The President’s Analyst

Forty-one years down the line, and I think The President’s Analyst has aged slightly better than The Manchurian Candidate. John Frankenheimer’s classic of prototypical American paranoia anticipated (or seemed to anticipate) the Kennedy assassination freakily enough to necessitate its withdrawal immediately afterwards, but The President’s Analyst never bothered anyone besides Hoover’s F.B.I., who showed up knocking at Robert Evans’ office to demand cessation of production, then bugged his phones in revenge when he didn’t. To most, it didn’t seem like anything more than amiable, non-threatening satire. Big mistake: as anti-corporate a film as Gremlins (the alleged Christmas family comedy which ended in the trashing of a department store under red and green flashing lights), The President’s Analyst evaded attention by tackling a target (corporate greed) way before it was fashionable. What might have seemed like a cop-out in the anti-LBJ/Vietnam years now seems dead-on.

There’s a good bit of tedious spadework required to get there: the first half-hour of The President’s Analyst is as lame as a contemporary SNL sketch, extending one joke too far. Dr. Sidney Schaefer (James Coburn) is the last word in au courant psychiatry, c. 1967, banging a gong between sessions to clear his mind, demonstrating his up-to-dateness by being comfortable with every last sculpture in the Whitney. (Coburn being Coburn, he’s not entirely on-board: he wipes his eyes in discreet disgust when his patients aren’t looking.) Chosen as the President’s personal shrink (writer/director Theodore J. Flicker wisely avoids showing his fictional chief—a clue as to which way the misdirection is headed), Coburn loses it bit by bit: first from the flashing red lights that go off at any time and place to announce the president’s in need of him, then when he starts noticing all the spies around him. Like the old joke goes, he isn’t paranoid: everyone really is out to get him.

The first half-hour dabbles in mild paranoia and oh-those-crazy-agencies jokes: the “FBR” and “CEA,” respectively. (The stand-out is a serious monologue, delivered directly to the camera, from CEA agent Don Masters (Godfrey Cambridge) on “the day I learned about niggers”—delivered straight to the camera, beating Medium Cool to the punch by two years.) Things take a sudden turn for excellence when Coburn makes a run for it—first hiding out with a couple of proud New Jersey suburbanites (William Daniels and Joan Darling) who proudly announce themselves as good liberals: “We’re for civil rights. We’ve done weekend picketing.” (So much for the same year’s Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner changing everything.) Then it’s off with a hippie band—all the while being pursued by seemingly every Cold War pawn in the book, including the competing American agencies.

This is where the twist comes: this is a movie in which every government agency is ultimately ineffectual, and everyone seems to know it besides the agency bosses. The Soviet agent, one Kropotkin (Severn Darden), is on BFF terms with Masters, and the two effectively team up to save Coburn. Ideology? Forget about it, shrugs Kropotkin: “Every day your country moves closer to socialism and mine moves closer to capitalism.” It hasn’t quite worked out that way, at least the former part, but it’s as appropriately cynical a contemporary response as any. Coburn manages to turn the tables on his would-be Soviet captor through rote psychoanalysis (“All my life I’ve been miserably unhappy,” Kropotkin marvels, “but I always thought it was my Russian soul”); counter-culture and psychedelia will save the world. All forces bond together, finally, against the ultimate enemy: The Phone Company.

It would, perhaps, be irresponsible to suggest that corporate greed is responsible for 100% of the ills of daily life. But it’s tempting: walking out of a screening of Michael Clayton, I heard one man tell his viewing companion, “Things like that happen every day and we don’t even know about it.” I doubt there’s as many contract killers in Westchester County as either he or Tony Gilroy thinks—but it’s tempting, and who knows. The finale of The President’s Analyst puts all the blame there: it suggests, quite literally, that America is run by a bunch of soulless corporate robots. And I can’t say I disagree. Forty-one years late, The President’s Analyst has come into its prophetic own.

Vadim Rizov is a New York-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Reeler, Nerve, and, oddly enough, Salt Lake City Weekly.

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Awards

Oscars 2019: Who Will Win? Who Should Win? Our Final Predictions

No one is okay with the Academy Awards the way they are, and everyone seems sure that they know how to fix them.

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Roma
Photo: Netflix

No one is okay with the Academy Awards the way they are, and everyone seems sure that they know how to fix them. Cut out the montages, bring back honorary award presentations, give stunt performers their own category, let ranked-choice voting determine every category and not just best picture, overhaul the membership ranks, hold the event before the guilds spoil the surprise, find a host with the magic demographic-spanning mojo necessary to double the show’s recent audience pools, nominate bigger hits, nominate only hits. Across the last 24 days, Ed Gonzalez and I have mulled over the academy’s existential crisis and how it’s polluted this year’s Oscar race so thoroughly that it feels eerily similar to the 2016 election cycle all over again. We’re spent, and while we don’t know if we have it in us to do this next year, we just might give it another go if Oscar proves us wrong on Sunday in more than just one category.

Below are our final Oscar predictions. Want more? Click on the individual articles for our justifications and more, including who we think should win in all 24 categories.

Picture: Green Book
Director: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Actor: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Actress: Glenn Close, The Wife
Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Supporting Actress: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Original Screenplay: Green Book
Adapted Screenplay: BlacKkKlansman
Foreign Language: Roma
Documentary Feature: RBG
Animated Feature Film: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Documentary Short: Period. End of Sentence
Animated Short: Weekends
Live Action Short: Skin
Film Editing: Bohemian Rhapsody
Production Design: The Favourite
Cinematography: Cold War
Costume Design: The Favourite
Makeup and Hairstyling: Vice
Score: If Beale Street Could Talk
Song: “Shallow,” A Star Is Born
Sound Editing: First Man
Sound Mixing: Bohemian Rhapsody
Visual Effects: First Man

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Picture

The industry’s existential crisis has polluted this race so thoroughly that it feels eerily similar to the 2016 election cycle all over again.

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Green Book
Photo: Universal Pictures

“I’m hyperventilating a little. If I fall over pick me up because I’ve got something to say,” deadpanned Frances McDormand upon winning her best actress Oscar last year. From her lips to Hollywood’s ears. No one is okay with the Academy Awards the way they are, and everyone seems sure that they know how to fix them. Cut out the montages, bring back honorary award presentations, give stunt performers their own category, let ranked-choice voting determine every category and not just best picture, overhaul the membership ranks, hold the event before the guilds spoil the surprise, find a host with the magic demographic-spanning mojo necessary to double the show’s recent audience pools, nominate bigger hits, nominate only hits.

But first, as McDormand herself called for during her speech, “a moment of perspective.” A crop of articles have popped up over the last two weeks looking back at the brutal showdown between Saving Private Ryan and Shakespeare In Love at the 1999 Academy Awards, when Harvey Weinstein was at the height of his nefarious powers. Every retrospective piece accepts as common wisdom that it was probably the most obnoxious awards season in history, one that indeed set the stage for every grinding assault we’ve paid witness to ever since. But did anyone two decades ago have to endure dozens of weekly Oscar podcasters and hundreds of underpaid web writers musing, “What do the Academy Awards want to be moving forward, exactly? Who should voters represent in this fractured media environment, exactly?” How much whiskey we can safely use to wash down our Lexapro, exactly?

Amid the fox-in-a-henhouse milieu of ceaseless moral outrage serving as this awards season’s backdrop, and amid the self-obsessed entertainers now wrestling with the idea that they now have to be “content providers,” all anyone seems concerned about is what an Oscar means in the future, and whether next year’s versions of Black Panther and Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody have a seat at the table. What everyone’s forgetting is what the Oscars have always been. In other words, the industry’s existential crisis has polluted this race so thoroughly that it feels eerily similar to the 2016 election cycle all over again, and Oscar’s clearly splintered voting blocs may become ground zero for a Make the Academy Great Again watershed.

In 1956, the Oscars took a turn toward small, quotidian, neo-realish movies, awarding Marty the top prize. The correction was swift and sure the following year, with a full slate of elephantine epics underlining the movie industry’s intimidation at the new threat of television. Moonlight’s shocking triumph two years ago was similarly answered by the safe, whimsical The Shape of Water, a choice that reaffirmed the academy’s commitment to politically innocuous liberalism in artistically conservative digs. Call us cynical, but we know which of the last couple go-arounds feels like the real academy. Which is why so many are banking on the formally dazzling humanism of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma and so few on the vital, merciless fury of Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman.

And even if we give the benefit of the doubt to the academy’s new members, there’s that righteous, reactionary fervor in the air against those attempting to “cancel” Green Book. Those attacking the film from every conceivable angle have also ignored the one that matters to most people: the pleasure principle. Can anyone blame Hollywood for getting its back up on behalf of a laughably old-fashioned but seamlessly mounted road movie-cum-buddy pic that reassures people that the world they’re leaving is better than the one they found? That’s, as they say, the future that liberals and Oscar want.

Will Win: Green Book

Could Win: Roma or BlacKkKlansman

Should Win: BlacKkKlansman

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Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay

After walking back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing here.

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BlacKkKlansman
Photo: Focus Features

Eric and I have done a good job this year of only selectively stealing each other’s behind-the-scenes jokes. We have, though, not been polite about stepping on each other’s toes in other ways. Okay, maybe just Eric, who in his impeccable take on the original screenplay free-for-all detailed how the guilds this year have almost willfully gone out of their way to “not tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film.” Case in point: Can You Ever Forgive Me? winning the WGA’s adapted screenplay trophy over presumed Oscar frontrunner BlacKkKlansman. A glitch in the matrix? We think so. Eric and I are still in agreement that the race for best picture this year is pretty wide open, though maybe a little less so in the wake of what seemed like an easy win for the Spike Lee joint. Nevertheless, we all know that there’s no Oscar narrative more powerful than “it’s about goddamn time,” and it was so powerful this year that even the diversity-challenged BAFTAs got the memo, giving their adapted screenplay prize to Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott. To bamboozle Lee at this point would, admittedly, be so very 2019, but given that it’s walked back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing.

Will Win: BlacKkKlansman

Could Win: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Should Win: BlacKkKlansman

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