Although it is set against the backdrop of the 1996 re-election of Bill Clinton, Warren Beatty's film Bulworth can tell us much about the state of America in 2016. The disgust and scorn that Bulworth displays for mainstream American politics is the same disgust and scorn millions of Americans feel today as they wait for yet another representative of corporate American to enter the White House - and, almost certainly, another Clinton.
AS THE UNITED STATES and the world counts down to the lacklustre and depressing presidential election on November 8, those seeking an antidote to the tragedy might like to take - in the absence of a revolution - a look at Warren Beatty's 1998 movie Bulworth. I think you may get more out of this literate and intelligent comedy-drama than a whole week of watching the 24/7 corporate news channels.
So long as he produced Bulworth within budget Twentieth Century Fox allowed Beatty the luxury of making his movie his own way, without studio executives breathing down his neck and offering 'advice'. And Beatty did just that. He used the funds of a conglomerate like Fox to make a remarkably left wing movie, all the more remarkable because it was made using the resources of the politically cautious Hollywood studio system.
Bulworth opens in 1996. It is the presidential primary and the film titles announce that Bill Clinton is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination, while Senator Bob Dole has secured the Republican nomination. The movie informs us that its politics as usual and “the populace is unaroused.”
Beatty plays Jay Billington Bulworth. He is a Democratic senator and former liberal seeking re-election for the state of California. While his television commercials show a confident senator declaring that he is 'for a hand up, not a hand out" Bulworth can't believe what he has become.
Once a passionate politician who sought to win the world for the people who voted him into office, he has turned into a Clintonite machine politician - a protector of the powerful and vested interests who fund his election campaign. He realises, too late, that he has compromised away his principles. We find him shedding tears in his office, on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Unable to take it anymore, Bulworth concludes that drastic action is required. He orders his own assassination.
This, ironically, proves to be act of political liberation. He no longer cares about opinion polls, photo opportunities, media profiles and what his paymasters think. He gives speeches in which he admits the Democratic Party doesn’t care about black people, doesn’t care about the working class– doesn’t care about anyone, in fact, except for the rich and powerful who fund the Democratic Party.
In the movie’s pivotal moment, Bulworth attacks, in a rap, economic inequality, the lack of decent jobs, the parlous state of the health care system, the system's efforts to divide blacks and whites. The economic and social conditions in America are obscene, he asserts, not the four-letter words in rap music .He even mentions the unmentionable: socialism. The lyrics run, (“Yeah, yeah / You can call it single-payer or Canadian way / Only socialised medicine will ever save the day! Come on now, lemme hear that dirty word: Socialism!”).
As one critic wrote: "Bulworth is the harsh morning-after for liberals who went to bed with Bill Clinton and woke up with NAFTA and welfare reform." I might add that Hillary Clinton enthusiastically campaigned for her husband's punitive welfare reforms which plunged millions of Americans into poverty.
In some ways, Bulworth predicts the rise of not only Bernie Sanders and the national movement he inspired but also of other individuals and groups - such as Jill Stein and the Green Party and Black Lives Matter - united in their rejection of 'politics as usual' and their demand that the rule of the one percent be overthrown.
Bar a major and unexpected reversal, America and the world will soon be confronted by the corporate presidency of the discredited and deeply unpopular Hillary Clinton. Bulworth reminds us, that despite everything , there is still a world to win. Bulworth, in the end, is optimistic that ordinary Americans can finally break the political stranglehold of the Democrat-Republican dictatorship and the rule of the one percent.