In the race for the White House there is always a search for tidbits providing something true and new about the contenders. That’s perhaps why there’s so much interest in the movie choices of the presidential candidates.
It’s been widely reported that Hillary Clinton counts The Wizard of Oz, Casablanca and Out of Africa among her preferred movies.
Film critic and former political lobbyist Noah Gittell told me those are fairly predictable “establishment choices”.
Donald Trump has gone on the record, albeit four years ago, by declaring that Citizen Kane was his number one film.
Not so surprising, says journalist Jonathan Alter. He sees a resemblance between Trump and the media mogul Charles Foster Kane, who’s at the heart of the movie.
“What was Charles Foster Kane? He was a big media blowhard,” says Alter. “Trump wants to be king of all media, king of the world. That’s who Citizen Kane was.”
Some choices seem unexpected. It’s been reported that John Kasich favours the musical comedy film School of Rock starring Jack Black.
Other candidates have stated a preference for a film that may support their agenda. A case in point is the financial comedy-drama The Big Short which Bernie Sanders views as an “excellent film” that fits right in with his anti-Wall Street message.
Do these movie choices reflect the candidates true sentiments or are they strategic decisions to win votes?
Noah Gittell believes that film preferences are always carefully considered.
“When you’re running for president, I don’t think any answer to any question is cast off or not given much thought,” Gittell says.
“Even if these are actually their personal favourites and not actually some political strategy, the political ramifications for their answers must be considered before they give them.”
While Hillary Clinton’s movie preferences might be viewed as fairly conventional establishment choices, Donald Trump’s display variety.
With his movie picks he reflects a man drawn to violent stories but also one who’s a bit of a romantic. Three of his top five films: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Godfather and Goodfellas are quite violent. His remaining choice, other than Citizen Kane, is the epic romantic melodrama Gone with the Wind.
Of all the candidates it is perhaps Ted Cruz who has the most unexpected movie tastes. It seems his favourite film is the 1987 fantasy adventure The Princess Bride.
This story of a handsome farm boy trying to keep a beloved pretty princess out of the clutches of the unpleasant Prince Humperdinck is an entertainment embraced by adults but also by legions of young girls and boys.
Ted Cruz likes it so much that he goes around on the campaign trail freely quoting sections of dialogue from it. Journalist Jonathan Alter thinks that Cruz’s embrace of The Princess Bride could be more strategic than heartfelt.
“The idea of him kicking back and watching The Princess Bride over and over again is not very plausible,” says Alter. “I think Ted Cruz probably thinks he can get younger women who love The Princess Bride, and then maybe when they find out he likes The Princess Bride they’ll take a second look at Ted Cruz, or that’s what he’s hoping, anyway.”
It’s also been charged that Ted Cruz draws from movies to embolden his rhetoric.
After Donald Trump threatened to “spill the beans” on Cruz’s wife Heidi candidate Cruz responded on television.
“If Donald wants to get in a character fight, he’s better off sticking with me because Heidi’s way out of his league.”
Those words closely match the words uttered by Oscar-winner Michael Douglas in the 1995 film The American President. “You want a character debate, Bob, you better stick with me, ’cause Sydney Ellen Wade is way out of your league.”
Republican presidential candidates have long connected with movies and Hollywood itself. The former Republican president Ronald Reagan, and Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, were both Hollywood actors.
But in this election season it’s a Democrat who has the movie credentials. Much to everyone’s surprise, Bernie Sanders has in fact acted in two movies. In 1988 he made a cameo in Sweet Hearts Dance, a romance starring his now-supporter Susan Sarandon. He appeared in a scene interacting with children on Halloween.
Eleven years later he appeared in My X-Girlfriend’s Wedding Reception playing a New York rabbi.
Political candidates clearly have an affinity for movies, perhaps because both politics and cinema have so much in common. Movies peddle fantasy, they often deflect from reality, create illusion and evoke strong emotions – and that’s just want politicians often want to do too.