“Jackie” and the Emerging Power of Film in Addressing America’s Lost Camelot

The real Jackie Kennedy, who probably psychoanalyzed herself as much as America did and will.

If you think the world changed virtually overnight this year, you’re obviously not living in a bubble, as if anyone really could without deliberately moving to an isolated outpost. Perhaps the only place where we can more realistically escape now is the movies, which might become as much of a bastion in 2017 for well-being as it was during the Great Depression in the early 1930s.

Within that era, Hollywood’s movie-making factory created fantasy films and musicals to assuage those who thought the world was coming to an end. It was a major contrast to how the movies turned out later when more subversive plots began to reflect more violent and turbulent times in the 1960s.

While we’ve always used movies as escape, they’ve increasingly become more of a mirror to our real society, or at least harsh truths of things not said. Now we’re seemingly heading into a new era where the majority of movies begin to reflect our harsh realities after the most contentious Presidential election in American history.

If it’s impossible to accurately predict the future, would movies reflecting our realities become shunned by the public, or become a communal catharsis? That’s a cinematic social test we may soon see, especially with the film “Jackie” metaphorically kicking it off.

Despite some films made before the election bringing a head start to how we view politics (see Jessica Chastain in “Miss Sloane”), “Jackie” had far more foresight. Even though “Jackie” already had a new approach to biopics in mind (thanks to screenwriter Noah Oppenheim and Chilean director Pablo Larraín), it’s worth pondering what they saw coming in the world of American politics.

If you can say films like “Miss Sloane” foresaw the possibility of America’s first woman President, “Jackie” perhaps saw a darker cloud on the horizon. Since history never fails to repeat multiple times, this film’s journey into Jackie Kennedy’s mind following JFK’s assassination may also be an exploration of collective American mindsets.

At the core of “Jackie” is perhaps an allegorical wake for losing an allegorical Camelot a second time in 53 years. No matter your political beliefs, there isn’t any argument America is at a crossroads after arguably becoming a little complacent for eight years.

Now with a controversial, reality-shifting new President inflicted upon us, some might look at it as Camelot lost again. Or, others might look at it as the beginning of a new Camelot for a not entirely popular (while still Kennedy-like wealthy) political force.

For those seeing the U.S. heading headfirst into another dark era, “Jackie” may look like it had plenty of prescience on where we’d be once the film released. It’s possibly the beginning of films turning into intentional or unintentional allegory about our emerging times.

This still opens debate on whether the public is going to want to process reality in movies, or demand escape.

Is it the 1930s All Over Again?

During the Great Depression of the early 1930s, many movie studios considered it a public service to create escape films to help the public forget their bleakness. This was the beginning of the fantasy musical assembly line studios like MGM were known for, existing peacefully into the late 1950s.

Eventually, the 1960s began shaping films to reflect harsher realities so we could process all the nervous breakdowns we had through the decade. As always, though, we started to evolve back to more fantasy films. We’ve seen this process repeat, depending on what’s happening in the world.

Yet, never have we seen a slate of movies ahead that seem to reflect all the overwhelming things happening in politics and the world. We’re seeing hints numerous upcoming films in 2017 are about rebellion, war, and even…yes, walls.

Respectively, films representing these themes include “Rogue One”, “War for the Planet of the Apes”, and “The Great Wall.”

To counteract these, you have “La La Land” as the type of escape film America saw 80 years ago. We might see films like it clash with the harsh reality films in coming years, which might mirror exactly what America turns out being into the next decade.

In that regard, it’s almost akin to two opposing timelines colliding with one another, perhaps trying to find our true cinematic identity. Whatever our destiny over the next four years, almost any film intended to showcase rebellion may become a perfect match with what’s happening in reality. Whether intentional or not, we might gain some catharsis seeing more of these films at the most opportune moments.

For those that want to escape, it’s probably going to become a cottage industry. It may even fast-forward more virtual reality movies to completely detach us from reality for a few hours or beyond.

Nevertheless, “Jackie” is sure to stay noted as the starting point where we started with a solemn moment of silence to mirror a mournful era for some. This includes a similar mindset to the Jackie Kennedy we see in this film: psychoanalyzing ourselves internally to figure out how to proceed.


Stephen Colbert’s First Week of “Late Show”: Will Intelligent Comedy Win or Finish Second?

Colbert and Fallon: The divide of comedy styles.
Colbert and Fallon: The divide of comedy styles.

In an alternate TV universe where Stephen Colbert is an upstart late-night TV host the public hasn’t really heard of, this semi-review of his first week on “Late Show” would be written off as too hasty. After all, how many late-night hosts in history can you think of that had red-letter first nights, first weeks, or first months? Starting from Johnny Carson on down to Jimmy Fallon, the first night of a late-night show is generally filled with awkwardness and desperately finding assured footing into a personal comedy brand that’s not quite there.

Let’s be fortunate we don’t live in the above alternate universe where Colbert is one of those relative unknowns. In our reality, he’s one of the rare ones with enough confidence to say his first night (and week) hosting the “Late Show” was arguably the most brilliant of any late-night debut in history.

We didn’t even have to contend with any rote monologue jokes about wanting to vomit or run away from nervousness. Late-night TV historians can certainly tell you even Johnny Carson did that on his first night hosting “The Tonight Show” in 1962. Perhaps the most nervous host in history was Conan O’Brien when first given NBC’s “Late Night” throne in 1993. His noticeable trembling and sweating on his debut night was physical proof of how much pressure was on his shoulders, despite gaining confidence within a month.

Colbert is an example of how any late-night host needs a strong training ground for at least five to 10 years before getting a big-time late-night gig. It’s with that in mind where you can continually say Colbert’s first week was strong, even if something unexpected happened by the second night.

Yes, when the ratings came in, Jimmy Fallon had ultimately beaten Colbert in the ratings. This continued for the rest of the week, which seemed beyond comprehension considering Colbert’s near tidal wave following.

Once you think about it a while, though, you can start to see a setup for a repeat of late-night TV history. It also says much about a major divide in America: Those who crave intelligent comedy and those who go for comedy that’s easier to digest.

We’ve seen this before along the late-night TV timeline. It goes back as far as when ABC hired Dick Cavett to compete with Johnny Carson during the late 1960s/early ‘70s. Most people looked at Cavett as being a more intellectual wit, if also sometimes exteriorly bland. Carson had a spark and appealed to Middle America, plus abhorred doing anything that made you think too hard.

We saw this divide again during the Jay Leno-David Letterman era. Leno always made his comedy middle of the road to give you the easy laugh. Letterman wasn’t really an intellectual, though his comedy forced you to turn your gears to get the full impact.

Stephen Colbert comes from perhaps the most intellectual side of comedy to ever hit the mainstream. The Colbert and Jon Stewart comedy brands are known for bringing intelligence to comedy while still dripping with hipness and irony. The problem with that is “The Colbert Report” was everyone’s favorite early evening alternative news show. In late night, audiences are likely too tired and don’t want to think nearly as hard.

This dilemma brings to light yet another American divide that looks foolish next to our more serious social divides. It still highlights how comedy has two (if not more) frames of mind, depending on demographics and maybe where you live.

Fallon winning the first ratings wars may be an indication slightly more people want the Fallon brand of comedy that’s easier to absorb. Colbert continues to knock us over with blazing topical, observational, and political comedy that’s perhaps too much to assimilate for those exhausted after a long day.

If this is really a problem for Colbert, then maybe late-night TV wasn’t the best forum for him after all. Others may argue Fallon won merely by the type of guests he had rather than comedy content. It’s hard to figure that when the monumental interview of Vice President Biden on Colbert was still beat out by Fallon in the ratings.

With probably a decade or two ahead of Colbert and Fallon battling it out for #1, will we see Colbert’s more thoughtful comedy always coming in a distant second rather than first as it deserves?

There truly seems to be a near 50-50 divide on the two comedy planes, which is the same for far too many other issues in our country. When it’s that close, the most we can hope for is just enough people finally getting Colbert’s comedy brand to bounce him to #1 when it really counts during network sweeps.