Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Throwing beads at the ballot box

In preparation for Super Tuesday, I re-ordered my Netflix queue this weekend so I could veg out to election-related media.

The first psych-myself-up film was Iron Jawed Angels, which was good. It told the story of the 19th Amendment's passage and one women's rights pioneer I've always found fascinating: Alice Paul. (Again, the undergrad history advisor, in addition to being a Civil War expert, was also in Women's Studies. Some things will be forever drilled into my head...)

The coolest thing about the film was that it showed how various aspects of social, legislative, judicial, and executive powers intertwine to change public policies. (If you think about it, it's the essence of the recent MLK-vs-LBJ political debacle.) Paul broke off from the more comfortable National American Woman Suffrage Association to form the more radical, lobby-centric National Woman's Party. They both went about in their own ways trying to attain female enfranchisement, sometimes at odds with each other. Meanwhile the Great War started and Wilson and Congress still wouldn't budge. No one tactic or person changed it all.

The other very cool thing was that I'm pretty sure all of Wilson's speeches were real.

The film was, jarringly but creatively, set to a very modern soundtrack -- everything from rock to hip-hop. The fashion and mannerisms were also very un-early 20th century, but overall I think it worked.

My only minor quibbles: I kept waiting for scenes where the suffragettes chain themselves to the White House fence, but apparently that didn't make the cut. Everything else (hunger strike, force-feeding in prison, the Silent Sentinels, the split between suffragette factions) made it, but not that. Oh well. It happened, even if HBO didn't think it was worth showing. Also, Hilary Swank's random almost-romance with Patrick Dempsey seemed out of place.

After Iron Jawed Angels came Election. I'm a big fan of Reese Witherspoon. The movie was not quite what I expected, but I enjoyed it a lot more than I think I would have enjoyed the movie I thought it was going to be ... if that makes sense! I thought it was going to be just another teen comedy about a high school popularity contest. But it actually had more to it than that -- Witherspoon plays the overachiever running for school president. Matthew Broderick is the teacher who, for pretty petty and stupid and vaguely sexist reasons, doesn't want her to win so he goads a popular jock into running against her. Teen drama and a breakdown of "traditional family values" ensue. I liked how the first-person narrative constantly switched between about five different characters.

The slightly disconcerting thing was that the film, made in 1999, had a plot twist with an eerily coincidental similarity to the real 2000 U.S. presidential election outcome.

And now, on to following the Super Tuesday results. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

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