Warren Beatty: The Great Seducer Seduced?
By Arianna Huffington
May 29, 1998
Artists have never been particularly good at describing their work. But Warren Beatty, who has always affected a boyish inarticulateness with the press, is facing a particularly tough dilemma.
The good news is that in Bulworth he has created a powerful movie, exposing through humor, satire, farce and rap, the central political problems of our time: the bankruptcy of political leadership, the corruption of the political system and the neglect of major social problems that lack the special-interest money necessary to pique elected officials' concern. The bad news is that Beatty wants you to believe that he's really just kidding, that in the end, it's all just for laughs.
"I don't know about the message," he said on "This Week," "because I think Sam Goldwyn was right when he said, if you have a message, you'd better call Western Union. But to me, it's a comedy about a guy who goes nuts." If Bulworth is just a comedy about a guy who goes nuts, what pray tell, was Beatty doing on a political show? Should we expect to see Jim Carrey mixing it up with George Will next week? And even more interesting, why were people shouting out with revival meeting fervor in the middle of the movie and applauding at the end when I saw it at a matinee in Westwood? Just because a guy successfully went nuts?
They are clapping because the movie has struck a nerve, because Jay Bulworth is crazy enough to speak the truth -- not the truth about what's going to solve the problems, but the step before that: the truth that the problems exist. "The real obscenity black folks live with every day/Is tryin' to believe a f---in' word Democrats and Republicans say," raps the senator. Or, as Beatty put it to Jonathan Alter in Newsweek: "The parties have melded; they both represent the top 20 percent who have all the money."
But consider Beatty's coy answer to Larry King's question: "As a Democrat, has Clinton disappointed you or not?" "I would dodge that," he replied, "by saying that it's the Democratic Party (that) disjoints me right now." Isn't that the same kind of double-talk that Bulworth went nuts over? The Democratic Party is led by a man. That man is Bill Clinton. So what is Warren Beatty afraid of?
What hope is there for straight talk when even a man who's successful, wealthy, connected and sought after has to hide his opinions behind euphemisms? What could they possibly take away from him? An invitation to the state dinner with the president of China? A cookout at Martha's Vineyard? A private screening at the White House with popcorn and the First Family?
Bulworth seems like an admirable bid for something other than a comfortable, eternally boyish old age. Why disavow its blatantly obvious central point with self-effacing demurring?
This reticence is quite a change from what Beatty had told Alter a few weeks earlier. "Clinton had a window to really do something. What's the point of winning if you aren't going to try?" The same question, of course, could be asked of Beatty. He, too, has a window to really do something. So why did he get all shy and circumspect? Could it be that the affliction for which he castigates politicians has also overtaken him? That the dynamics in the movie aren't just confined to politics?
Movies, like politicians, depend increasingly on focus-group tests and expensive marketing campaigns. "If you make a movie and think about the marketing of it," Beatty said on "Today," "you're going to clip your wings in some way." What he's talking about is not very different, really, than running for office and thinking about pleasing the maximum number of people. Or the maximum number of maxxed-out donors."It's better to lead than to win," Beatty said. But if the leadership from Washington is bankrupt, then we have increasingly to rely on leadership from anyone with a megaphone who can speak the truth and capture people's attention. This is all the more important since the problems that Beatty identifies in Bulworth are not susceptible to big government solutions that don't require our participation. Instead, they need the very citizen involvement that is most likely to be mobilized by leadership that inspires and pricks us awake from our numbness. You've got us half way there, Warren -- don't be such a tease.
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