Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Film prof: media’s portrayal of U.S. presidents shows public’s split opinion

Northwestern radio-television-film Prof. Chuck Kleinhans told a crowd of about 40 people Wednesday night that America’s portrayal of presidents on the silver screen has always shown the split public opinion between reverence and skepticism.

The presentation was part of the Reeltime Independent Film and Video Forum, which is funded in part by the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation, at the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave

The presentation, titled “Hollywood’s Washington,” featured movie clips portraying the American presidency dating back to the 1930s.

Kleinhans emphasized how mixed feelings of the American presidency have filtered into political images by the media throughout the years.

Featured films included “Young Mr. Lincoln” (1939), “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939), “Dave” (1993), “Independence Day” (1996) and “The Contender” (2000).

Through his clips, Kleinhans showed that the media’s past portrayal of the presidency show relevance to this year’s presidential candidates and next week’s upcoming election.

In “Young Mr. Lincoln,” actor Henry Fonda epitomized what Kleinhans referred to as the “heroic archetype.”

The short clip showed young Lincoln (Fonda) — a simple, unsophisticated, “backwoods guy” — at a southern town fair, judging a pie eating contest.

The scene’s every detail, including Lincoln’s participation in a rail-splitting contest and tug-of-war match, easily related to current campaign images: We are flooded with commercials of Sen. John Kerry hunting and President Bush working on his ranch, Kleinhans said.

Even today, he added, Americans love the wholesome, hardworking president who isn’t too refined to break a sweat.

The next film, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” shed light on the idealistic sentimentalism of the 18th Century.

The movie showed a young senator standing up for himself against the evils of machine politics. The character’s honesty and high moral standards were refreshing but considerably idealistic compared to more modern politics, Kleinhans said.

Kleinhans also showed a scene from “Independence Day,” in which actor Bill Pullman, as the U.S. president, is evacuated from the White House in the final moments before an alien invasion.

Kleinhans compared the movie’s relevance to Sept. 11, and the president as a symbol of hope as his agents stop at no lengths to protect him.

Evanston resident Jim Fogerty, 59, said he appreciated how “each generation had a serious and a satirical movie about the president.

But he also noted that “Mr. Smith’s idealism, (from ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’) would never appear in movies today.”

Fogerty’s wife, Yvonne, 55, said she enjoyed the “sheer variety of images of past presidents.”

She also noticed how the media and common opinion did not necessarily reflect reality. They did, however, “play to the audience” by using very historically contextual humor, she said.

Reach Jenn Carmen at [email protected].

Film prof: media’s portrayal of U.S. presidents shows split opinion of public

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Film prof: media’s portrayal of U.S. presidents shows public’s split opinion