FILM / Rushes

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Last week, a major exhibition of American political campaign commercials opened at New York's Museum of the Moving Image. In it we learn that in 1952 Adlai Stevenson, the Democrat candidate, declined to plug his own merits, declaring 'This isn't Ivory Soap versus Palmolive'. Instead, a chanteuse sang on his behalf: I love the Gov, / The Governor of Illinois. / He is the Gov/ Who brings the dove / Of peace and joy] His opponent, Dwight D Eisenhower, had no such qualms - he harangued the nation in 40 TV commercials, and the rest is history. These days the making of the president is down to a fine art.

The exhibition prompted musings on the sketchy relationship between Washington and Hollywood in these matters. It's not uncommon for British directors to direct political commercials: Hugh Hudson (Labour), John Schlesinger (Conservative) and Mike Newell, who made the controversial 'Jennifer's Ear' commercial earlier this year. But, despite the long tradition of celebrity endorsement and fund-raising, there are few signs of a similar involvement across the pond (although the MOMA exhibition includes ads made by Spike Lee for Jesse Jackson, and old hippies might care to note that Bill Clinton's current roadshow is being orchestrated by the producer of Easy Rider).

Cynics might say that this is because US directors, unlike their British cousins, have better things to do - like make movies. But Variety recently claimed that 'political media consultants tend to distrust glitterati'. One Hollywood writer joked, when the Clinton campaign declined to use some one-liners he had helpfully supplied, that 'even politicians have to look down on somebody'. And the disdain is reciprocal, certainly on the Democrat side: Variety reported little enthusiasm for Clinton in Hollywood - at least before his nomination.

There may be other reasons for the suspicion, however. Hollywood stars are volatile beings, and their seal of approval may be a mixed blessing: last time round Rob Lowe went batting for the Democrats - shortly before he became the centre of a sex-video scandal. And this year another rambunctious actor, Robert Downey Jr - soon to be seen as Richard Attenborough's Chaplin - is making a documentary about the national party conventions. The film-makers' aim is to shoot 'the most wacky, obscure shit', including Downey surfing with the Republican politican Dana Rohrabacher, and fellow-Republican Jo Kasich being yanked off stage at a Grateful Dead concert.

Anyway Hollywood's low profile may be of little moment: American media observers have been noting that much of the real presidential campaign this year is being fought on MTV, which has been a much talked-about forum for appearances by Clinton and other politicos, and which was a major player at the Democratic convention. Meanwhile the cinema's most telling contribution to the campaign may be Tim Robbin's Bob Roberts, a 'mockumentary' about a colourful, right- wing politician's rise to power, which ends with a simple exhortation: VOTE.

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