Ok, I am not actually going to do that (though I DO still have boxes filled with VCR tapes somewhere). But I have found myself in recent days striving to put news into perspective so I can decide what I really think about recent developments: global cyber-terrorism, continuing hyper-partisan stalemates, blaming social media for rising resistance to facts and science. And three movies from my ‘coming of age’ years keep popping into my head, suggesting relevance to what we are going through right now. If you are looking for perspective (or a trip back to the ‘80s), give them a look.
In order of their release dates (and I have checked, they are all available either via streaming or from Amazon):
The Seduction of Joe Tynan, 1979
Alan Alda was a young, progressive U.S. Senator and, as the title suggests, we follow him succumbing to each of the forms of seduction that we have become somewhat callous in observing in the political sphere: power, influence, personal integrity (I don’t remember it being so much about money, but I suppose it was in there). Barbara Harris plays his wife with great presence, but it is a young Meryl Streep that captivates: she is smart, ambitious and perhaps free of obsession with consequences. I was a young U.S. Senate staffer myself when the movie came out; I recall thinking that there were parallels in the whirl around me. I left for the private sector the next year, though not because I thought intrigue would be any less evident there.
In the same way we now understand that our national economy is inextricably tied into global markets, this movie came out as awareness rose that our futures were tied to oil producers, and to Saudi Arabia, in particular. Based on that economic reality, Alan Pakula directed a thriller that also included some of the steamiest scenes I can recall (between Jane Fonda and Kris Kristofferson!). I can honestly report that my understanding of the global nature of banking was initiated by watching this one (a few times, in fact). Hume Cronyn played the part of a finance titan who realized too late that we had been abandoned by those we thought we controlled. I have been waiting to see it happen in real life ever since – and of course, 2007 came close.
Absence of Malice, 1981
I have long claimed this as my favorite movie: like much of my career, it is focused on the intersection of business, media and politics. Paul Newman stars, and starts as the victim at that intersection but cleverly navigates to turn the tables on journalism (Sally Field), powerful politicians and even the U.S. Justice Department. At the risk of being a spoiler, I must share the best line of the movie, uttered by Wilford Brimley playing an Assistant U.S. Attorney trying to clean up the mess: “At the end of this hour, two things will be true. One, we’re going to understand what happened here. And two, someone’s ass is going to be in my briefcase.” Ah, yes, accountability was still a thing back in 1981.
Make some popcorn and enjoy. If you’ve got favorites that might illuminate the roots of today’s challenges, please share!