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WHEN CLINTON WAS ‘GUMPED’

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: When I was writing about movies for the Deseret News I would occasionally see Donald Trump — yes, our (insert adjective here) president — in movies doing cameos as himself: ‘The Associate,’ ‘The Little Rascals,’ ‘Two Weeks Notice,’ ‘Zoolander.' And if you look up his credits on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) you’ll see that he has no less than 27 credits in his ‘Filmography’ list and 379 in the ‘Self’ list, meaning talk/variety/political shows on which he was a guest — which includes his appearances on ‘Fox and Friends’ and other shows during the past four years. But it also includes such TV shows as ‘Sex and the City,’ ‘Spin City,’ ‘The Drew Carey Show,’ ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ and the daytime soap opera ‘All My Children.’ No kidding!

 

But for previous presidents, such frivolous appearances were something they didn’t even consider — to include the years before and after their presidencies. As an example there’s this column I wrote back in the late ’90s. Under the headline ‘Clinton in “Contact” is amusing despite what the White House says,’ published on July 20, 1997.

 

And, strangely, this does dovetail into current politics when altered videos are routinely used to discredit opponents and promulgate disinformation. When fiction becomes prediction, if you will.

 

President Clinton has been Gumped. And he's not happy about it.

Filmmaker Robert Zemeckis, who won an Oscar for "Forrest Gump," cleverly worked news-conference footage of the president into "Contact," thanks to the advanced computer technology that so seamlessly blended Tom Hanks' interaction with President Nixon in “Gump."

In "Contact," it appears that Clinton is on the movie set with the film's actors, offering up approval of the space exploration program that is the film's subject.

Of course, our chief executive didn't really participate in the film.

The main speech used was given some months ago in the Rose Garden of the White House, and he's actually discussing a rock believed to have come from Mars. Zemeckis and crew simply placed the video of Clinton into the movie, so that it appears he's in a room with Jodie Foster, Tom Skerritt, James Woods, Angela Bassett and other actors.

  

From left: Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Ford, all in their 70s and still doing action films.

Steve Starkey, a co-producer of "Contact," told the Los Angeles Times that presidential speeches "are in the public domain. We didn't alter a word he said. We just digitally replaced the setting. We took him from the Rose Garden to the pressroom."

The White House is not amused, however, and has lodged a complaint with the filmmakers.

Maybe they'd like to put the film in arbitration. Clinton could get into the Screen Actor's Guild, and his speechwriter could receive a writing credit — or at least a fee.

What's most interesting about all this is how well Clinton's remarks fit into the context of "Contact." These particular news clips provide a perfect example of how easily a pontificating generic political speech, which actually says nothing, can be adapted to any situation.

In that sense, it's pretty funny. And I was more amused by Clinton's appearance in the film than anything else. (There was also a titter that ran through the audience when he appeared onscreen.)

On the other hand, it does set a strange precedent. "Contact" may be the first movie to use public domain footage rather than simply hire an actor.

Who knows where it might lead?

Maybe all those 50-year-old action heroes — Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford — will be able to continue doing slam-bang movies longer than anyone thought, with digital computer-generated bodies doing all the work.

They'll be 90, still banging heads and saving the world.

 

And movie producers will still be giving them 25-year-old female co-stars.

  

Wolf Blitzer, left, Bryant Gumbel, Jay Leno, at their day (or late-night) jobs in 1997.

-— CNN RSVP ASAP: Someone else who got his feathers ruffled by "Contact" was CNN President Tom Johnson, whose highest-profile reporters appear in the film, making pronouncements about the fictional plot as if they are reading legitimate news.

CNN's senior news anchor Bernard Shaw, anchors Bobbie Battista and Linden Soles, several field reporters and, of course, Larry King, all show up.

A range of non-CNN types — from Bryant Gumbel to Jay Leno — also appear in "Contact." But because CNN is owned by Time-Warner, which also owns Warner Bros., the movie studio that made "Contact," there has been some question about the ethics of so many CNN reporters showing up on various TV screens in the movie. (Only CNN White House correspondent Wolf Blitzer formally declined.)

Of course, CNN has also been a strong presence in a number of other recent movies — "Independence Day," "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," "Face/Off" and many more.

Johnson said the intention was to help promote the Cable News Network — but now he feels that it has become a bit embarrassing.

Though a formal announcement has not been made Johnson indicated he may not let any of his reporters appear in future movies.

That will be a relief to struggling actors who audition for roles as news anchors.

ENDNOTE: Wolf Blitzer, by the way, has since been seen in such films as ‘The Campaign,’ ’Skyfall’ and ‘Mission: Impossible — Fallout,’ along with such TV shows as ‘House of Cards,’ ‘The Brink’ and ‘Alpha

 House.’