Bulworth (1998) Directed by Warren Beatty
In 1966 Bob Dylan was on acid, tired and forever touring. He gave an interview to Robert Shelton and spouted adorably arrogant and poignant "truths" about everything and nothing. It's entertaining stuff. Luckily, Uncut magazine published the interview in their latest issue to honor Bob's 70th birthday. In 1966 Bob Dylan had lost the need to please someone or to care for what others thought of him – or so he said. Not caring what others think of you is one of the most dangerous social weapons we have, because usually that feeling is accompanied by a need to get one's own perspectives out there. A rambling follows.
In Bulworth an aging democratic senator begins to tell the truth about his own ineffectiveness as a politician. He talks these truths on TV and rallies where he is supposed to campaign for re-election. He breaks the facades carefully constructed by his aids and financial supporters. He begins to see the extent in which racism persists on every aspect of American society. He adopts a new way of dressing, he begins to rap his political speeches, he falls in love with Halle Berry... Bulworth is entertaining. It is also infuriatingly simplistic, while at the same time a little too cynical. Warren Beatty is preaching his politics, the stuff he thought would be too radical if he actually did involve himself in real-life US politics. So, Beatty stayed where he has power, in Hollywood, and commented with this film in an overly ironic way. At times I feel embarrassed watching his "mad white politician".
Much earlier in 1966, Bob Dylan said to Shelton: "Why, I don't even want to talk about college. It's just an extension of time. I hung around college, but it's a cop-out, you know, from life, from experience. A lot of people started out to be lawyers, but I venture to say that 100 per cent of the really groovy lawyers haven't gotten through school the way they ought to. They've always been freaks in their school, and have always had a hard time making it; So many lawyers just take people for what they are worth." Thanks Bob. The enigmatic silences that followed are a much more effective way to handle a public image. Warren knows this too.
It's tempting to offer a view that Bulworth has been dated inexplicably by the course of history. US politics and its treatment of racial minorities (or nowadays majorities) has been well documented outside of cinema and partially within. Now we have an African-American in the White House, is the message of Bulworth relevant? Does mainstream US politics still serve a sweet line of bullshit to gain votes from the racial underclass and then fail to deliver? Obviously yes, despite some of us all wanting Obama to succeed, it's obvious the call of big corporations still carries the loudest. And even a man like Barack Obama is unable to counter corporate dominance of American policy. These things take time I guess.
It's not the rather cliched political message that Bulworth carries, that politicians lie and corruption is rife in mainstream politics, why this film works. What's impressive is watching a former A-lister make a movie where he lets it all hang out so honestly. The usual accusations of vanity are wasted on Beatty with Bulworth. As liberal LA Senator Bulworth, Beatty orders his own assassination on the eve of his re-election campaign. After a visit to an impoverished black area on his campaign trail, Bulworth decides to adopt a bluntly honest tone and tell it like it is. Not only this, he decides to do so using hip-hop rhymes and black culture to get his no BS message across. So yes, Beatty raps. Not only this, it's embarrassing and ridiculous.
And that's the point. It's to highlight the whole stupidity of the political process that we buy into and we allow to shape our lives. As a film, Bullworth is a mess, full of racial stereotypes and clichés. But it gets away with its message because its heart is in the right place and it is a genuinely original and bizarre film. Bulworth is similar in many ways to Beatty's hippy sexual comedy Shampoo. Like Shampoo, Bulworth feels like it's all over the place, while slyly making political points and being cohesive at its core. I'm not sure if it's a very good film, but Bulworth is brave and at times a funny curiosity which takes risks with conventionality.