by Paul Lowinger
Before you read this, I want to disclose a possible conflict because of my own Hillary and Bill psychohistory on the Web at zpub and under my name. Primary Colors is a movie version of a historical novel. I liked it because it vitalized the abstractions about politics and character. The real campaign speeches in 1992 about the "economy stupid" and health care were yawn-provoking while the abstractions about character floated away like helium balloons. Hard to remember, aren't they?
We want action! And fun! Sex too! We'd rather see Hillary as First Lady Susan (Emma Thompson) slap Bill as Governor Jack Stanton (John Travolta) upside. Maybe George Stepanopolis with melanin as Henry Burton (Adrian Lester) really did boff Mandy Grunwald as Daisy Green (Maura Tierny) on the campaign trail. And the Dustbuster, righteous lesbian Libby Holden as Betsy Wright (Kathy Bates) helps Bill escape the consequences of his philandering, Vietnam war protests and dope smoking before she dishes the dirt on the competition. Henry is too bland as the fulcrum for all this but the surge takes him along.
John Travolta does the good ol' boy with smarts and charisma and so he tells the stories people need to hear. An adult literacy class in Harlem hears him tell how his Uncle Charley won the Congressional [ Medal at Iwo Jima but was so ashamed of his illiteracy that he never could take a job. Tears flow; voters are entranced and Bill has a one night stand with the star-struck teacher.
He captivates seniors in a synagogue community center, down-sized workers in a union hall and even a minimum wage counterman whose scene looks like an Edward Hopper painting. We look into the back room as Clinton hustles his main rival out of the presidential primary because the Dustbuster and Henry discover cocaine addiction and homosexuality in his opponent's past.
The message of the film is the need to lie whenever, make a deal and be a whore to get to be President so you can help people after you're elected. In the only serious line of the picture, John Travolta says that's what Lincoln did. Is this just recycled Machiavelli? No, this is the Entertainment Presidency of the first Rock and Roll President.
Is Bill's campaign a sexual farce? Yes, but this is also a winner's answer to the losers: Bush in 92 whose mistress stayed in the closet and Dole in 96 whose now 63 year old bimbo from his 28 year old affair during his first marriage was left under wraps by the media because he was so far behind in the polls. Bill has a standing offer from Steven Spielberg's Dream Works after 2000.
Jack never falters as he sings ditties, scores points on talk radio's Schmooze for Jews and appears withSusan on television about his affair with Cashmere McLeod. Finally he explodes, "I just can't catch a break!" when told of the rumor that he's impregnated a teen.
The suicide of Libby, the unstable Dustbus Tter follows her recognition that the Stantons' don't practice the values of the sixties. But all is not lost, there is a Jack Stanton mea culpa at her funeral.
Emma Thompson makes an energetic and angry Hillary colorful as she tries to bring order to the Stanton campaign by making the decisions. She flirts with Henry and appears on the tarmac with Jack in a brief fully clothed erotic scene. Other visuals are memorable too like a claustrophobic union meeting and a threatening crowd on a New York street. But mostly a detached camera looks at arenas with primary flag colors and lackluster southern mansions.
If you want higher principles, I have a question. When was the last time you read the Ten Commandments or the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path (if you're a Buddhist) or for that matter the Gettysburg Address?