Sunday, September 21, 2008

Did Ingmar Bergman Have An Impact On the 1964 Election?

Yes it's a perfectly ridiculous question, but bear with me.

I first discovered this classic commercial some months ago at the superbly educational and entertaining website The Living Room Candidate, which has just about every presidential campaign commercial ever made, even before I knew they made them. I would have posted something then, but they didn't have the embedding mechanism up and going.

This one jumped out at me for several reasons, all of which you'll notice.

For one thing, it's a four minute long monologue in which a professed Republican goes through the reasons he can't bring himself to vote for Goldwater. For another, he actually smokes a cigarette, and looks rather cool and suave doing it, even when he flicks a ash off his leg. It was 1964, a year of heavy smoking, despite the surgeon general's warning. No one would have batted an eye back then; talk show hosts even smoked on their shows.

Another thing: it's an absolutely compelling masterwork of propaganda, the kind of commercial that I could see actually persuading someone to change his point of view. It starts with the set-up: a Republican from a family of Republicans who has always voted Republican tells why he's about to jump ship because he's afraid of Goldwater. Importantly, he does not say he's abandoning his party, and he doesn't express any great love for Johnson. The commercial stays focused on the moment, on this particular election.

Stylistically, I think this commercial is very much a product of it's time, when foreign films were slowly beginning to make an impact on American filmmakers. Just a couple of years before this commercial aired, Ingmar Bergman made Winter Light, which took the highly-unusual step of having a character deliver a vast chunk of the exposition directly to the camera, a startling "tell, don't show" move that would no doubt outrage narrative purists such as Robert McKee and his ilk, and which is, indeed, so anti-cinematic that it's purely cinematic.

I could be wrong about this, but when I watched the above, the following scene is the first thing that soared to mind. (The scene in question begins at 1:15.)

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