The Representation of the American Presidency in Recent Hollywood Movies

Thesis (M.A.), 1998

170 Pages, Grade: 1,0



List of Illustrations


I. Introduction

II. History of Presidents in Films

III. Characterization of the Presidency in Recent Hollywood Movies

1. The Substance and Narrative Logic of the Films
1.1. Absolute Power (1997)
1.2. Air Force One (1997)
1.3. The American President (1995)
1.4. Clear and Present Danger (1994)
1.5. Dave (1993)
1.6. Independence Day (1996)
1.7. Mars Attacks! (1996)

2. Characterizations of Movie Presidents
2.1. The Screen President as Politician
2.1.1. Handling the Job of a Movie President Foreign and Domestic Policy Issues Crisis Situations Public Appearances Presidential Style
2.1.2. Party Affiliation
2.1.3. The Fictional Importance of Popularity
2.1.4. The Political Power Struggle
2.1.5. Portrayal of the White House Staff
2.2. The Fictional First Family
2.3. Personal Traits of Movie Presidents
2.3.1. The Corrupt Version
2.3.2. The President as a Hero
2.3.3. The Dual Character: Presidents in Public and in Private
2.3.4. Hollywood’s Everyman President

3. Hollywood’s Conception of the American Presidency
3.1. The Film Industry’s Humanization of the Presidency
3.2. Characterization of The Presidency as a Symbol of America
3.2.1. America’s Reverence of the Presidency
3.2.2. Hollywood’s Symbolic Treatment of the Oval Office
3.2.3. Illustration of the Conflict between the Man and the Office
3.3. Fictionalization of the Crisis of Political Leadership
3.3.1. The Status of Politics in Film The Public Contempt for Politics The (A)political Functions of Presidents in Films
3.3.2. Portrayal of the Limitations of Presidential Political Power
3.3.3. The Problem of Meeting Public Expectations
3.3.4. Moral Leadership and the Importance of Character

IV. Reasons for the Current Abundance of President Films
1. Film as Reflection of the Public Mood
1.1. Presidential Portrayals as a Mirror of the Social Climate
1.2. The Modern Presidency as a Celebrity
1.3. Clinton’s Adjacency to Hollywood
2. The Commercial Success of Presidential Movies

V. Conclusion

Bibliography Appendix:
A: Film Credits
B: Presidential Speeches and Monologues
C: Tables


1. Hijack mastermind Korshunov (Gary Oldman) and President James Marshall confronting each other in Air Force One (Columbia Pictures, 1997)

2. Michael Douglas as widowed President Andrew Shepherd in The American President (Castle Rock Entertainment, 1995)

3. First Lady Ellen Mitchell (Sigourney Weaver) and Dave Kovic, impersonating President Bill Mitchell in Dave (Warner Bros., 1993)

4. Bill Pullman as the U.S. President Thomas Whitmore in Independence Day (20th

Century Fox, 1996)

5. President James Dale (Jack Nicholson) finding himself under the gun of a Martian in Mars Attacks! (Warner Bros., 1996)

6. President James Dale (Jack Nicholson) and First Lady Marsha (Glenn Close) surprised by nightly visitors from Mars in Mars Attacks! (Warner Bros., 1996)

7. President James Dale (Jack Nicholson) preparing to meet the interplanetary invaders in Mars Attacks! (Warner Bros., 1996)

8. Dave Kovic (Kevin Kline) impersonating the U.S. President Bill Mitchell in Dave (Warner Bros., 1993)

9. Richard Dreyfuss as Senator Bob Rumson, the conservative political rival of President Andrew Shepherd in The American President (Castle Rock Entertainment, 1995)

10. President James Marshall trying to comfort his family as their plane is in terrorists’ hands in Air Force One (Columbia Tristar, 1997)

11. President James Dale (Jack Nicholson) and First Lady Marsha (Glenn Close) having lunch in Mars Attacks! (Warner Bros., 1996)

12. Alan Richmond (Gene Hackman) as the U.S. President in Absolute Power (Castle

Rock Entertainment, 1997)

13. President James Marshall (Harrison Ford) taking matters in his own hands after his plane is hijacked by terrorists in Air Force One (Columbia Tristar, 1997)

14. President Alan Richmond (Gene Hackman) dancing with his Chief of Staff, Gloria Russell (Judy Davis) in Absolute Power (Castle Rock Entertainment, 1997)

15. A step-by-step look at the destruction of the White House in Independence Day (20th Century Fox, 1996)


There are a great many people who have helped construct this thesis. From the outset of this project in September of 1997 to the completion of the work in March 1998, a number of friends and fellow students have contributed with ideas, criticism, and encouragement. In many cases, their comments improved what were often ideas in a rough form. All of their suggestions were good, and many of them were followed. I was very fortunate to have such wonderfully patient friends.

Particular thanks goes to my good friend and mentor Dr. Dieter Buchwald, for his constant encouragement and help during the entire time of the completion of this thesis, as well as during the six years that he has employed me at his movie theater. Through his generosity and advice, I have not only been able to gather the invaluable amount of knowledge about the movie industry and movies in general which has been of extreme advantage for this paper. What started as a business relationship, furthermore, has changed into a dear friendship.

Several friends helped me with a number of critical details: Daniel Hunstein, Tanja Settele and Robert Smith read versions of the manuscript and revised it competently and patiently. Michael Schraut was constantly at hand to save a damsel in distress whenever my computer broke down. Matthias Horn helped me prepare the photographs which appear in the paper. I also remain indebted to all of the participants and fellow students of the thesis seminar for their perceptive comments.

Special thanks goes to my professor and tutor at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität of Munich, Prof. Dr. Berndt Ostendorf, who always had a good sense to tell me what to concentrate on and how to organize my findings - his support has been very much valued.

I would also like to thank two professors of the University of Wisconsin - Madison, Prof. David Bordwell of the Communication Arts Department and Prof. David Canon of the Political Science Department for offering me valuable insights into the study of film as well as the modern presidency, respectively.

At various archives and libraries were a number of helpful people: Especially the friendly staff of the Memorial and College Libraries at the University of Wisconsin - Madison provided me with information for the bulk of the research for this thesis.

I am very grateful to Mr. John Shaw, president of Movieline International, for going through all the work of supplying me with helpful information and press material from American film distributors. I am also indebted to the German public relations departments of Buena Vista International, Concorde Film, 20th Century Fox, United International Pictures, and Warner Bros. for providing me with press kits of the discussed films.

My parents provided me with financial assistance not only during the work on this thesis but during the entire time of my studies, and this thesis would not have been possible without their generous help.

Last, I must give deep personal thanks to Klaus Ungerer, who lived with me amidst mounds of videotapes, computers, books and folders. I could not have written this thesis without his support.

I. Introduction

“No one’s interested in movies about the President. (...) People get enough of him on the news every night. They don’t want to see him at the multiplex.”1

This quote dates back to 1992 when a Hollywood agent informed the press that this was the conventional wisdom in Hollywood of that time. Only a few months later, however, a new period of moviemaking emerged which produced one movie after another with a presidential character.2

In Hollywood film history, the U.S. president has had many images - a brave leader, an incompetent fool, a lovable hero. One thing is for certain: No matter what era, Presidents, whether fictional or real, are frequent fodder for filmmakers.3 After Vietnam and the revelations of Watergate, however, the number of films with presidential portrayals steadily decreased, and the depictions that did appear generally cast a corrupt or inept Chief Executive. It is therefore more than surprising why filmmakers today have decided to produce such an incredibly large number of films as compared to the last two decades. Presidents have been portrayed as minor characters in dozens of Hollywood films, either for inspirational purposes or simply to keep the plot moving. Lately, not only the number of President films has increased significantly, but there is also a clear tendency to let the Presidents move towards center stage, and they are now often pictured as the protagonists. This phenomenon opens up a whole range of questions: How are the Presidents depicted? Is there a certain trend in the portrayals? Or are those portrayed all different from each other? Are there differences or similarities to older characterizations? What does this tell us about Hollywood’s view of the Presidency? Has it suddenly changed? And what are the reasons for such a sudden boost in the number of films?

By taking a closer look at a selection of Hollywood productions, this paper will provide an attempt to find answers to these questions. One might suggest that films are made by only a very small number of directors, and therefore simply express a very subjective view. This may be the case in independent or foreign filmmaking. In the Hollywood film industry, however, the filmmaker has some influence on the final touch of his work, but the power over the content of films ultimately lies in the hands of the public. “American films,” writes one historian, “are neither simply the unmediated expression of a collective consciousness, nor individual acts of self-expression, but the products of some possibly rather complicated relationship between the two.”4 The immense commercialization of Hollywood has led to the exclusive production of films which apply, or are thought to apply, to the audience. In other words, Hollywood films - as carefree and entertaining as they might often seem - are, in fact, reflections of the public mood and thus tell us a lot about people’s values, hopes and fears. The box office regulates production by operating as a powerful feedback mechanism, encouraging Hollywood to make what the audience wants. As a movie critic has noted, “since Hollywood acts as the barometer of our global culture, a shift in the myth factory’s preconceptions about political power (...) is a fair sign that mass culture is moving the same way.”5 Since films are thus a valid historical source, changes in the industry have to be considered within a larger historical and cultural context. Viewing the art of film as a mirror to public sentiments is what gives the following examination more depth and makes it more interesting.

Of the string of fictional Presidents that American filmmakers have recently created, some are more loathsome than their real-life counterparts, others more heroic. Both types seem designed to connect with audiences’ hopes and fears - what the Hollywood dream factory does best. Interestingly, the portrayals have been all over the map: genial, kind-hearted impostor ( Dave ); reluctant, alien-fighting hero ( Independence Day ); pompous, delusional incompetent ( Mars Attacks! ); sympathetic, romantic widower ( The American President ); distracted, workaholic father ( First Kid ); promiscuous, murderous hypocrite ( Absolute Power ); tough defender of family and country ( Air Force One ), to name only a few.

By examining a selection of presidential films, this thesis will examine Hollywood’s portrayal of the American Presidency. A short outline of the history of U.S. movie Presidents will first be presented in order to produce the historical background and a possibility of cognitive comparison with recent films. Such an outline will, in addition, be of benefit when finally trying to establish the reasons for the recent abundance of presidential films. Consequently, seven films will be presented as examples for the following analysis. The various film Presidents of these films will then be closely scrutinized, followed by a comprehensive presentation of Hollywood’s current conception of the Presidency. Having established the presidential portrayals in the films, we will finally engage in an attempt to compile the reasons for the abundance of President films.

II. History of Presidents in Films

The presidential portrayal has been a familiar subject on film ever since the first motion pictures were produced in the mid 1890s.6 Film historian Nathaniel Ross even referred to U.S. Presidents on screen as “almost as perennial a screen subject as the Western.”7 Naturally, all movie Presidents have not been depicted in the same manner; the widest range of various chief executives have appeared in theaters over the last 100 years. While early film Presidents, for instance, were depicted with much respect and awe, later leaders on screen have been shown with several flaws or even simply as villains. Innumerable differences can be found when characterizing real and fictional Presidents. Yet, more interesting are the differences that can be discovered with the passage of time, since these can be taken as reflections of the public’s mood and perceptions about the Presidency of that time. Taking the public mood into consideration will furthermore be of advantage at the end of this paper when trying to establish the reasons for the current abundance of Presidents on screen. The following outline of the history of Presidents in films will therefore be put in a historical context, commenting on the historical and political events which accompanied the production of the various movies.

The earliest presidential movies were documentary records of public events filmed by movie cameras. “As early as 1896, President-elect William McKinley was filmed on the porch of his Ohio home.”8 Yet, with the rise of the studio system in the 1910s, two new film categories representing Presidents emerged. One was the historical drama, in which the life or a part of the life of an actual President was depicted. The other lay in the realm of fiction, in which imaginary Presidents were created for the purpose of comedy, mystery, adventure, melodrama, and romance. The evolution of these cinematic categories reveals interesting attitudes about politics in general and Presidents in particular, since films often tend to reflect the public’s mood at the time of their release. Historical drama and biography were clearly the most common genres to convey Presidents at that time. Most of the portrayed Presidents were exalted leaders such as Lincoln and Washington. The frequency with which each President has been portrayed seems to be related to his standing in public popularity. Historians and Hollywood are agreed in giving first honors to the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, who has, by far, been the President depicted most frequently in film. Whenever presenting real Presidents, Hollywood has constantly remained respectful and reverent.

Not until the early 1930s did a considerable number of films with imaginary Presidents appear in theaters. Many of these called attention to the apparent need for action and change in the midst of the Great Depression. Films like The Phantom President (1932), Gabriel over the White House (1933), and The President Vanishes (1934) implied that the country was greatly in need of a strong, resourceful leader. So did Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) which is probably one of the most popular films ever made about American politics. This comedy has Mr. Jefferson Smith, an average citizen, take on the entire corrupt political scene of Washington when fighting for his lost cause, American democracy, thereby bridging the gap between the American creed and its realization. No matter which genre was used or whether screen Presidents were real or fictional, all the movies of this time had one thing in common: the institution of the Presidency and its incumbents were constantly presented in a positive view. Writer M.S. Mason explains that Hollywood movie moguls were in the business of building an image of America - and the Presidency - that would help unite a heterogeneous culture. When directors like D.W. Griffith, John Ford, and Frank Capra zeroed in on the Presidency, the qualities they depicted may not have belonged so much to the real men who held office, as to ideals of the Presidency held by the American public.”9

By the end of the 1930s, Hollywood returned to a more traditional treatment of Presidents in historical dramas and biographies celebrating the virtues of real-life Presidents. Apart from Lincoln and Washington, presidential portrayals included Woodrow Wilson, Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, James Madison, and others.

In the 1940s and ‘50s, only a few Presidents were seen on film. The meager number of films that were still produced included Chief Executives who, according to The Economist, were “depicted reverentially. Forceful, wise and selfless, they were stolid embodiments of republican virtue.”10 This is easily explained by the powerful position of the United States that resulted from the victory in World War II. As often the case in foreign crises, the nation had united behind their leader, and in the aftermath of the war, there were no significant domestic problems that caused people to question or criticize the power of the government.

The 1960s presented a radical change in the presentation of American political leaders. Early presidential characters were portrayed positively and simply. But movies reflect their times. Movie Presidents changed in the 1960s, reflecting a yearning for someone to make the government work right again: while the view of the President did not necessarily become negative, it at least became much more complex. In many films, there was a clear tendency to humanize the President, thus abandoning the usual mythical executive stereotype. Films started to show the private backgrounds of real Presidents, such as Franklin Roosevelt’s fight against polio, John F. Kennedy’s heroics during World War II, and other examples of the private lives of the chief executives. Thus, the Presidency was scaled down to human dimensions: usually, the President was seen as a good man, but, at the same time, hesitant and unsure. No longer were these men heroes of supernatural ability. In Sidney Lumet’s Fail Safe (1964), for instance, the President, on the eve of World War II, must make a conciliatory gesture after American bombers mistakenly blow up Moscow. This President was thoughtful, but also decisive, strong under pressure, quietly stricken by his decision, emphatically human, and not particularly gifted.

Other films dealing with Presidents, and American politics in general, became more grim and pessimistic. This was a result of the troubled political climate with events such as the Cuban Missile crisis, the murders of JFK and Martin Luther King Jr., the turbulent years of the Civil Rights movement, and the escalation of the Vietnam War. In 1964, with the nation’s citizens beginning to question what their leaders told them, several rather biting movies about the Presidency were released. The premise of Franklin Schaffner’s The Best Man (1964) is that a truly honest or even intelligent man could never be President; its liberal candidate does not have a chance against a hypocritical and ruthless opponent. Additionally, Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1964) presented the most ineffectual President in the entire history of film. Film critic Rita Kempley correctly notices that “by the late ‘60s, the Hollywood White House was no longer home to great and noble men; the commander-in-chief had shrunk in both esteem and moral stature.”11 A satirical and anti-establishmental tone for films about fictional Presidents had been set, and a wide variety of ineffectual, powerless, or unusual chief executives could be encountered in theaters.

However, the most serious blow to the Presidency was not dealt until the beginning of the ‘70s as a result of Vietnam and, above all else, the Watergate scandal. As writer Rob Edelman put it, “after the revelations of Watergate, no man is sacred - not even the chief executive.”12 “In America’s mind,” according to writer Allen Rostron, “the scandal took political corruption to new levels, from smoke-filled back rooms to the Oval Office, betraying the nation’s emotional and cultural investment in the institution of the Presidency.”13 With the tragedies of Vietnam and Watergate, accompanied by the imperial decline of the country, the public became more cynical than ever about the fairness of the American political process and the integrity of the men who run for and occupy political office. Accordingly, the screen Presidency suffered a downward slide in the 1970s and ‘80s. In the aftermath of Watergate, however, Hollywood did not produce a great many films depicting the Presidency, or any other branches of government or the political process for that matter. It seemed as if the disappointment in the office had reached a level where the film industry either did not want to present the President or simply did not know how to deal with it. Whenever a chief executive did appear on screen, however, it was not in a positive light. Instead, historian James Combs recognizes, the assertion of supralegal powers by a government that admired criminal illegality and secrecy inevitably led to the idea that government now was a conspiracy of an elite that has arrogated to itself great power against the citizenry. Conspiracy has always been a popular motif in the American popular mind, and in the Seventies the idea of conspiracies within the government took on a wide variety of forms. The revelations of Watergate (...) made movie audiences receptive to conspiratorial themes in films that accused elements of their own government.14

The few movie Presidents of this time were corrupt, criminal, or, at least, inept. Combs continues, “the country seemed adrift at best, and in the grip of fools and madmen at worst. There seemed to be a radical disjunction between power and justice.”15 Cinematic images of presidential weakness recurred throughout the Carter era. The disappointment in government was accompanied by a loss of confidence in both American imperial power and its domestic future. The difference between these films and those of the ‘30s is, according to Rob Edelman, “that the system as portrayed has become so corrupt and powerful that it is impossible for any Jefferson Smith idealist to give it back to the people.”16

Movies of the late 1970s and early ‘80s were political in varying degrees, but still rarely looked at the political process itself. As James Combs observed, there was “a yearning during this period for the reassertion of cultural heroism with somewhat more traditional and uncomplicated traits and satisfactions than those of the deeply antiheroic Seventies.”17 Resulting from the public disillusions about politics, however, these heroes were as far from the political arena as possible; Superman, Star Wars, and the Raiders of the Lost Ark presented the new generation of movie heroes. “These very old heroic figures were self-confident, light-hearted, and undaunted by the political tremors that had undercut political faith in the Seventies. They sought no political power.”18 Similarly, real Presidents used the public’s aversion to politics to their advantage: “The elections of 1980, 1984, and 1988 were won on the basis of claims to represent a kind of militant positivism about national values and destiny that was at once metapolitical and monarchial. The Presidency became an office that was ‘above politics’ in the sense of contempt for the process (Reagan left office condemning the politics of Washington as if he had never been President).”19

A few movies of this era did put politics and politicians at the center stage. Biographical films included some traditional depictions of early great Presidents, but others such as All the President’s Men (1976), JFK (1991) or Nixon (1995) concentrated on as realistic characteri- zations of Chief Executives as possible, including their flaws and mistakes. Although 1998’s Primary Colors, moreover, is supposedly based on a fictional story, even its cast does not deny that the film in fact is an exact bibliographical copy of the incumbent U.S. President, Bill Clinton. Of course, since a historical film about a President has never before been made while the leader was still in office, it is probably simply safer for the film industry to deny any intentional similarities.

Most President movies after Watergate, however, opted for fictional representations of Presidents, especially ones who have frighteningly little control over world events. Some of these are “Being There (1979), in which the President is an extension of big business; First Family (1980), in which the family consists of a dim-witted Chief Executive, inebriated First Lady, and sex-starved daughter; The Kidnapping of the President (1980), in which the Chief Executive is seized for ransom by third-world terrorists; and Dreamscape (1984), where the President is overwhelmed by nightmares of nuclear annihilation.”20 Interestingly, as historian James Deutsch observes, “while most of the presidential biographies of the post-1970s era gaze back nostalgically to the past, the fictional representations during this period seem to look ahead somewhat fearfully to the future.”21

As mentioned above, not many movies contained President characters after the revelations of Watergate. Therefore, it is even more remarkable that so many President movies have been recently released. Movie critic Jack Garner similarly notices that “the recent movies have come so fast after one another that production companies are even leasing sets from each other ( The American President used the same Oval Office set constructed for Dave ).”22 In the last five years only, so many films have appeared that the Hollywood Dream Factory literally lives up to its name by throwing out President films as if they came off an assembly line. Most of the recent screen Presidents have been fictional, and their stories take place in the present or in a not too distant future. The high number of films, however, cannot be attributed a certain sudden change in the public perception of the Presidency, as the characterizations are everything but monotonous.

Some films follow the tradition of negative representations of chief executives; plenty of political thrillers prove that the generic celluloid politician-as-villain remains alive and thriving: Absolute Power (1997) has its sleazy philandering President involved in a murder; Clear and Present Danger ’s (1994) chief executive sends illegal troops to another country; and Murder at 1600 (1997) as well as Shadow Conspiracy (1997) both concern conspiracies in the White House. Even in comedies, Hollywood’s latest corrupt Presidents stop at nothing to stay in power: In My Fellow Americans (1996), the sitting President orders the killing of two ex- Presidents; in Canadian Bacon (1994), the leader of the free world decides that a war against Canada will boost his popularity; and in Wag the Dog (1997), similarly, the President stages a fictional war on TV to sway public opinion from a sex scandal.

Furthermore, Hollywood has recently presented a number of weird and neurotic Presidents: The foolish characterizations of the Presidents in Hot Shots Part Deux (1993) and Mars Attacks! (1996) really explain why critics increasingly refer to the President’s residence as the ‘White Madhouse’.

On the other hand, more and more positive images of Presidents appear in theaters nowadays. Some are depicted in the more old-fashioned way, as decent men with the heart in the right place, in such comedies as Dave (1993) or The American President (1995). Deep Impact (1998) has in Morgan Freeman the rare appearance of an African-American as President, who gets burdened with the delicate task of providing responsible leadership when the Earth is threatened to be destroyed by an approaching comet. And still others have the chief executive occupy the role of the ultimate movie hero: in Independence Day (1996), the President is fighting against alien invaders, and in Air Force One (1997), he single-handedly takes on an entire band of terrorists. Contact (1997), moreover, became the first fictional movie ever to cast the incumbent President as one of its characters, even though it was originally done without his consent.

In the following paragraphs, a sample of these late President-films will be more thoroughly examined, in order to both establish possible similarities or trends in the characterization of the Presidency, and also to explain why these films have recently appeared in such a great number.

III. Characterization of the American Presidency in Recent Hollywood Movies

The following analysis is based on a sample of Hollywood movies produced from 1993 through 199723 and limits itself to films of theatrical release. The chosen films are definitely not the only ones that were produced picturing the U.S. President during this period; several more have been made during the last years, with the chief executive playing a more or less crucial role. This analysis, therefore, does not provide a complete portrait of the characterization of the presidency but produces a general insight of how the President and the presidency have been treated by Hollywood over this recent period of time. In order to find out whether a certain cinematic trend lies behind the presidential characterizations in the movies, a range of several examples have to be taken into consideration.

The films to be considered in this paper have been chosen partly because they belong to the most successful of President films and are thus fairly well-known. It is true that it might be very appealing to examine independent or low-budget productions as separate works as such films tend to present very peculiar views and conventions in filmmaking. However, box office hits, in our case, are the most interesting choice for the very reason that they do apply to the mainstream audience and therefore are more likely to reflect the general view of the public. The selection has also been based on the attempt to provide the broadest possible pattern of different kinds of movies. Thus, the genres of the following films range from comedies to science fiction to thrillers to action movies. By taking different genres into account, we deliberately evoke some problems in characterizing the presidency: characters in parodies, for example, cannot easily be compared to those in a more serious genre, such as thrillers. Therefore, when examining these films, one has to pay attention to the narrative conventions of the respective genres.

The following analysis will begin with a presentation of the films chosen as examples for Hollywood’s current view of the presidency. Also, in order to fully grasp the representation of the presidency, that is the office of the President, one must first take a closer look at the persons occupying that office, the Presidents themselves. The subsequent paragraphs will therefore include a comparative content analysis based on selected issues centering around the respective President characters. In addition to a thorough examination of the presidential characters, a closer look at the roles surrounding them, such as their family, staff, or political opponents, will result in a more complete understanding about the Hollywood presidency. Having established the characterizations of the various Presidents, attention can be turned to Hollywood’s general conception of the executive office.

Before introducing the selected films, I would like to mention that the interpretation of films is always a very delicate matter. An interpretation is generally a subjective way of discussing works of other people, but films, maybe more than other art works, tend to provide the critic with even more obstacles, since so many people and factors contribute to its completion. While it is easy to describe a film’s camerawork, editing, or even its effects upon the audience, it is very difficult to determine the filmmakers’ intentions or reasons for presenting characters, setting or effects in a certain way. Some features may be intended and thus serve a special purpose. Yet, many others might occur, or be left out, for other reasons, such as commercial interests or simply by accident. Many film critics consequently often spend their time trying to elucidate peculiarities which sometimes not even the filmmakers themselves had noticed as part of their films. In the following arguments, too far-fetched explanations will be tried to be avoided or at least kept to a minimum.

1. The Substance and Narrative Logic of the Films

The following paragraphs include a presentation of seven Hollywood movies, all of them with appearances of one or more American Presidents in their stories.24 Some of them show a President as the protagonist with the presidency and surrounding elements serving as the basic setting. Others only allow their President characters a background appearance but still make them indispensable for the story line. The selected movies include comedies: Dave, The American President, and Mars Attacks! ; thrillers: Absolute Power and Clear and Present Danger ; as well as action movies: Air Force One and Independence Day .

These films have not been chosen according to any special personal likes or dislikes. Each of the films has received both favorable and disapproving reviews from critics. Moreover, most film critics tend to favor dramatic and emotional films and disapprove of big-budget blockbuster movies while box office numbers prove the opposite opinion among the general public. Taken the example of Independence Day, the film received rather unfavorable reviews from most critics but belongs to one of the most successful films ever. Whether a film is classified as good or bad, however, is and will always be a subjective statement, and such a categorization is not of importance in this paper. How good a film is has nothing to do with the representation of its presidency. The goal of this paper, moreover, is to find out how the presidency is characterized and not whether it is a good or bad characterization of it. Suffice is to say that most of the selected films were relatively successful and have been seen by a large number of people. In describing the films, furthermore, the greatest endeavor will be made to avoid subjective evaluations of the filmmakers’ works.

The selection of films include a variety of different genres; in comparing and interpreting different aspects of these films, therefore, it has to be kept in mind that there are several differences between the genres which demand a different way of looking at the respective presentations. Keeping the various genre conventions in mind is of utmost importance for the following analysis, as the intentions of the moviemakers significantly vary with the genre selection. A satirical representation of the presidency can not be taken as seriously as a representation in a political thriller, for example.

Thrillers, as expressed by a film historian, do “not describe the subject, narrative style, or mode of the movie, like the ‘Western’ or ‘musical’ or ‘comedy’. Instead, it considers affect, describing films in terms of the audience’s psychological reaction.”25 The best way to arouse the public is to make the setting and plot of the thriller as real as possible; the thrill effect is the greatest when the viewer gets the feeling that the story could actually be happening in real life, and to any person. It can therefore be concluded that the thrillers Absolute Power and Clear and Present Danger present, or try to present, a rather realistic take on their stories, and, more importantly, on the presidency. Their filmmakers do not attempt to fool the audience, but offer a possibility of what the executive office and its incumbent might really be like.

Action movies often function in a similar way. They, too, are designed to thrill the audience, although plot elements include a lot more action scenes, thus serving more as visual entertainment and less as psychological elements of suspense. Action films usually feature a hero, who is equipped with supernatural physical abilities, honesty, and greatness. Some critics might suggest that the appearance of such an action hero is unrealistic, however, the setting and story are usually made to seem real. Consequently, action filmmakers mostly depict situations which they imagine possible in real life, but cast a protagonist whom they wish would exist in real life. Thus, if the President appears in an action film, it might be a serious characterization of a possible, real President; is he the action hero of the film, though, this presentation might rather be what filmmakers, or audiences, wish for as their incumbent President.

Comedies, on the contrary, have to be more cautiously examined since the genre may include everything from lighter comedy and slapstick to irony, satire, sarcasm and dark humor. Comedies can be taken seriously in some cases, but generally force the viewer to determine where the comedy lies, or what exactly the film is making fun of. Comedies can present everything from a realistic setting with likable characters and a rather intelligent humor to a complete distortion of reality with exaggerated, foolish characters and mostly dull dialogue. For this analysis, it is especially important to establish whether the discussed comedy, and its presidency, is presented in a realistic, utopian, ironic, or satirical light.

Many, if not most, movies do not belong to only one single genre. The immense variety of films has led to the creation of innumerable sub-genres and to various overlaps between genres. Consequently, there is often no definite classification of films into certain genres. Mars Attacks! and Independence Day, for instance, both include elements of science fiction but are classified as a comedy and an action film, respectively, as the characteristics of these two genres predominate their stories. Furthermore, while more serious genres, such as the thriller, might include comic situations or lines, comedies may be funny as well as very exciting. It would go too far, however, to concentrate too much on the different traits of specific genres and their problems. For this analysis, it is enough to mention only the genre basics that are relevant for the representation of the presidency and to keep a critical eye on the possible implications that come with the respective genres.

In the following paragraphs, each film will be introduced with a short summary of the plot. Even though this paper will concentrate on the characterization of certain characters within the stories, and ultimately on the office of the presidency, the plot descriptions are important to better understand different sequences or scenes used in the later analysis. The summary will be given more detail according to the genre of the film. A thriller, for example, with the building of suspense along the duration of the movie, depends more on the exact plot description than a comedy, the success of which lies more within the dialogue and characters. After each summary, the characters crucial to this examination will be more comprehensively presented and discussed. These include the Presidents but also other roles surrounding the Presidents such as the White House staff, the First Family, or other people who are closely related to the Chief Executive, as their reactions to the office and its incumbent are most important for the subsequent interpretations. A short analysis of the cinematographic traits of the films and the conventions of the different genres will also shed some light on how the presidency is treated. Due to their fast consecutive release, no interpretations about possible social and temporal developments between the release of the selected films are of importance; they will therefore be presented in alphabetical order.

1.1 Absolute Power(1997)

The political thriller Absolute Power shows a master jewel thief whose careful plans for one last break-in are interrupted after he witnesses a murder caused by the U.S. President. By escaping with a piece of evidence, a simple thief suddenly ends up with more power than the President of the United States. While the story is clearly centered around the burglar, the President is a crucial character to the plot, as the story plays on the power of the Executive Office.

Absolute Power is mainly the story of Luther Whitney (Clint Eastwood). Close to retirement after having spent years in prison, he has decided to end his career as a professional master thief with the plunder of the mansion of a wealthy Washington D.C. philanthropist, Walter Sulllivan (E.G. Marshall), who has planned to be out of town with his wife for the weekend. Whitney is among the very best at what he does because he is well versed in the art of deception. He has the benefit of experience and he is an expert at disguise. Well prepared to the very last, seemingly insignificant detail, he breaks into the house and penetrates a hidden vault filled with jewels and cash. In the middle of his work, however, Luther Whitney is interrupted by visitors; hiding behind a two-way mirror, he watches Sullivan’s wife Christy (Melora Hardin) enter with U.S. President Alan Richmond (Gene Hackman).26 The illicit couple starts kissing, but the drunken foreplay turns rough, then nasty. The man beats her, she stabs him with a letter opener, and the affair finally ends when two Secret Service men enter the room and shoot the woman dead. White House Chief of Staff Gloria Russell (Judy Davis) leads the cover- up and suggests a cover story of a burglar murdering Christy. Whitney escapes from the mansion, carrying with him his loot including the diamond necklace Christy was wearing and as a key piece of evidence, the letter opener that had accidentally been left behind after the cover- up.

After this set-up, the film turns into a deadly game of cat and mouse. Aware that they have been watched, the murderers want Whitney dead. The police, led by homicide detective Seth Frank (Ed Harris), quickly discover that only a uniquely qualified thief such as Whitney could have entered the premises. And finally, Walter Sullivan hires an assassin of his own to track down his wife’s killer. Whitney at first decides to leave the country but watching the insincere President embrace his old friend Sullivan on TV makes him change his mind and stay to fight the White House. He realizes that he cannot go to the police as no one would believe a simple thief over the President of the United States. Instead, he subsequently delivers pieces of evidence to the Chief of Staff which hint on his knowledge about the murder night, thereby successfully alarming the President’s protectors.

To Whitney, the relationship with his estranged daughter Kate (Laura Linney) is at least as important as the solitary battle with his persecutors. Although Kate has no contact with her father, their lives moving in completely separate directions, she is drawn into the case as both the police and the White House attempt to track down Whitney. Detective Frank persuades her to meet with her father in order to set him up, resulting in a pivotal scene where both the police and the Secret Service lie in wait for Whitney. Whitney manages to escape, however, and discovers that the Secret Service has now taken care of his daughter’s security. Realizing that she is in danger, Whitney hurries to her protection but arrives only after her car has been pushed over a cliff. She survives, but a Secret Service agent attempts to kill her in the hospital with a lethal injection. This time Whitney intervenes on time and injects the poison into the murderer. Whitney then visits Sullivan, reveals the truth about what happened to his wife, and hands over the letter opener as proof.

In a suspenseful series of shots, the enraged Sullivan is approaching Richmond’s White House room, crosscut with scenes of Frank leading the arrests of the guilty White House personnel, and ending with Sullivan entering the President’s chambers. The next shot shows a television story of the following day, revealing that the President has allegedly killed himself with a letter opener, and Whitney is reconciled with his daughter.

While Luther Sullivan is clearly the protagonist of this film, the entire story builds on the power of the President. In the opening sequence, the premise of a President without principles is set up. As Gene Hackman himself says about his character, “he seems to be burdened with numerous character flaws. He’s a drinker and a womanizer and he’s also driven by personal and political expediency.”27 He is also surrounded by people who are fanatically loyal to him and protect him, no matter what the cost.28 This aspect has led critics to note the similarity with the cover-up of the Watergate scandal and other presidential abuses of power. Moreover, in

Absolute Power, one scene featuring a conversation between the President and his Chief of Staff ironically takes place at the Watergate hotel. However, apart from some minor similarities like these, Absolute Power ’s Alan Richmond has no real equivalent among actual Presidents; as one critic puts it, he is “so venal and vicious that he makes Richard Nixon look like Mary Poppins.”29

The way in which the character of the President is introduced to the audience is striking. While he first appears during the long opening sequence showing the murder, it is never disclosed that the drunk person in question is actually the President of the United States, nor that the bodyguards in fact belong to the Secret Service. As seen above, the reactions of the other protagonists in the scene, including Whitney, hint on the general importance of his character. Yet, his name or status is not revealed until very much later in the plot, when Richmond has his second appearance during an official reception at the White House. This may be a way of the filmmaker to mock his audience, or stir its anticipation, or both. Yet, the first appearance also serves as the complete opposite of the conventional entry of a President, thereby hinting on the possibility of a difference between the President in public and the President in private. Accordingly, the duplicity of the character is more than emphasized in the reception scene; a long tracking shot closely follows one of Sullivan’s assistants as he walks through the crowd until he reaches the other end of the room. An announcement about the arrival of the President is heard from off-screen, followed by an applause, and the camera suddenly switches from the assistant’s back directly into a close shot of Alan Richmond’s smiling face. Only now is the spectator informed about the true background of the sleazy character of the opening sequence. The tracking shot leading to the close shot of Richmond stresses the surprise effect on the audience. By first letting the corrupt character come to light, the director here adds to the audience’s emotions of resentment toward the President when they recognize the insincerity in his second appearance at the reception.

The following scenes are set up accordingly: with Richmond putting on his overdone smile whenever appearing in public, and with the presentation of his unscrupulous side whenever surrounded by his trusted staff only. While the Secret Service agents are the ones guilty of the murder and the cover-up is led by Russell, it is clearly done simply out of fanatical loyalty for their Chief Executive, i.e. the illegal actions are driven by the President himself. At a later moment in the plot, for example, he even orders, if only by implication, the murder of Whitney’s daughter Kate.

With the extended opening staged slowly and methodically, the director has set up the premise for continuing suspense. Eastwood has directed the film with classical perfection and mastery of form. He has, on the one hand, kept within the bounds of the classical rules for making a thriller. Significant props, for example, are usually referred to at a moment when they yet have no meaning; the importance of the letter opener is implied when Luther first enters the bedroom of the mansion: Whitney walks through the dark, and the ray of his flashlight lingers on the letter opener for a few seconds, a shot which is not paid too much attention to by the average spectator but still hints on the significance of the prop.

On the other hand, some of the film’s practices of filmmaking are not specifically traditional to the thriller genre. One is the treatment of the Whitney character. Most thrillers do not pay much attention to dialogue or personal relationships but rather depend on chase scenes and shoot-outs. The story of Absolute Power, however, takes the relationship of Whitney and his daughter at least as seriously as the extra-marital escapades of the President. At the end of the movie, the audience is made to hope as much for a punishment of the President as for a reconciliation between Whitney and Kate. A film critic appreciates the weight that is put on Eastwood’s character and the father/daughter relationship:

By using this personal story as an arc to draw together the other elements in the film, Eastwood [the director] does a difficult thing: He makes a thriller that is not upstaged by its thrills. Luther Whitney is a genuinely interesting, complicated character - not just an action figure. What happens to him matters to us, and that’s worth more than all the special effects in the world.30

The importance of emphasizing the sympathy of the Whitney character, which is achieved mainly through the relationship with Kate, is obvious: How else could the audience be made to like a simple thief better than the President of the United States? Accordingly, only little effort has been made in identifying President Richmond. Almost no information is given about his life, neither private nor public; all that is known about him concerns the murder of Sullivan’s wife. Another critic has deplored that “once Absolute Power has introduced and discredited Mr. Hackman’s President Alan Richmond, it doesn’t know what else to do with him. Mr. Hackman languishes in the smallish role of a White House buffoon.”31

A further cinematographic trait is the filmmaker’s economy of shots in the handling of the action scenes. Most of Whitney’s tricks, such as escapes and costume changes, happen off screen. Following the murder, for instance, instead of a lot of hectic running around, anxious facial close-ups and fast cutting, there is the deceptive simple scene of Whitney casually walking into his local bar, thereby asserting “Eastwood’s near transcendent sense of calm: his absolute authority.”32 Similarly, the cafeteria scene, with Whitney meeting Kate while several hitmen and the police are waiting to catch him, omits the crucial scene of Whitney’s disguise act. After a shot has been fired, fast-paced cutting shows the police running around and people panicking but no sign of Whitney. Kate notices Whitney’s clothes lying on the floor, and the subsequent tracking shot follows a policeman through the cafeteria, and upon reaching the back entrance, he turns around and Whitney is recognized in the disguise as a cop. This economical handling of Whitney’s escape scenes is not only an example of great filmmaking. Rather, it stresses the fact that Whitney is one of the best in his profession; for not only does he manage to deceive his persecutors, but he also misleads the audience.

1.2. Air Force One (1997)

In Wolfgang Petersen’s action thriller Air Force One, the President’s plane, with the First Family on board, is hijacked by Russian terrorists. This film’s President, whose courage and convictions in standing firm against terrorism are put to the ultimate test, hides within the plane in order to defeat the terrorists single-handedly, and thereby save both his family and the honor of his country.

The plot begins with a prologue in which American and Russian forces collaborate in a commando raid to abduct fascist leader General Radek (Jürgen Prochnow) from his command post in Kazakhstan. At a subsequent state dinner celebrating the success of the joint mission, U.S. President James Marshall (Harrison Ford)33 boldly announces that, in the future, the United States will no longer give in to, or negotiate with, terrorists34 and inform them that “it’s [their] turn to be afraid.”35 Following the banquet, Marshall meets with his family in Air Force One, in order to take off for the trip back to the United States.

Radek’s followers, however, clearly have no intention to surrender without a fight. Disguised as Russian journalists, a gang of terrorists make it aboard the aircraft, led by the fanatical Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman) who blames the U.S. for the destruction of his Mother Russia. No sooner has Air Force One taken off than they hijack the plane with the help of a member of the U.S. Secret Service. Before securing control of the plane, the terrorists kill a considerable number of passengers. Once the course for Kazakhstan has been set, Korshunov realizes that his plan to take the President hostage has been thwarted, since Marshall seems to have been ejected from the plane with an escape pod designed to float him to safety in case of an emergency. However, unknown to the terrorists, Marshall has launched the pod empty and stayed on the plane in the hope of rescuing his family. With a large number of passengers in his control, Korshunov establishes contact with Washington in order to announce his intentions: He tells Vice President Kathryn Bennett (Glenn Close) that he will execute a hostage every half- hour until Radek is released from prison. Without knowing of the whereabouts of the President, Bennett is forced to make monumental decisions while being pulled in different directions by White House advisors.

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1. Hijack mastermind Korshunov (Gary Oldman) and President James Marshall confronting each other in Air Force One (Columbia Pictures, 1997)

Hiding in the fuselage of the plane, Marshall emerges as a guerilla fighter on board his own aircraft, succeeding in a number of acts to foil the plans of the terrorists. Using a mobile phone, he contacts Bennett and tells her not to negotiate despite the execution of hostages. For quite a while, Marshall manages to keep his identity a secret from his adversaries, while succeeding in killing one terrorist and shed the plane’s fuel. Bennett agrees to mid-air refueling when Korshunov threatens to kill a member of the First Family. This operation, however, is used to the advantage of the hostages as Air Force One is forced to go down to 15,000 feet, thereby helping most of passengers to escape using parachutes. When the terrorists discover their escape, another action sequence results in a fiery explosion of the refueling aircraft and the final capture of the President. As Korshunov is still holding his wife and daughter, Marshall is put in the terrible dilemma of either saving his family or sticking to his principles. Meanwhile, in Washington, the Secretary of Defense is urging the Vice President to relieve Marshall of his presidential powers, as he is seen unfit to make sound decisions in such a situation. Bennett declines, however, and Marshall, overwhelmed by his personal feelings, eventually accedes to Korshunov’s demand; he instructs Moscow to release General Radek and thereby sets an international incident in motion.

While Radek’s release is being prepared in Moscow, Marshall manages to subdue his captors and engage in a one-on-one fight with Korshunov. With a forceful one-liner, “Get off my plane!,”36 Marshall finally strangles him and throws him out of the parachute exit. Marshall calls Moscow just in time to prevent Radek from getting out of prison. However, the few passengers left in Air Force One are not saved as of yet. The plane has reached the airspace of Kazakhstan and is attacked by hostile fighter jets. Marshall, a former Vietnam pilot and Medal of Honor winner, manages to fly the plane and avoid being shot down until U.S. jets come to the rescue. Since Air Force One has been severely damaged, it is rapidly losing altitude and threatens to crash into the sea. Evacuation is performed by a risky venture involving a cableway to a cargo plane, and one after one, the last passengers are transported to safety. A final one-on- one confrontation between Marshall and the traitorous Secret Service Agent follows before eventually the President is also rescued in the nick of time.

The movie is well-served by the quality of the performances. Glenn Close is convincing as Vice President, and Gary Oldman has many effective scenes as a believably dangerous and fanatical criminal. The viciousness of Korshunov is a natural prerequisite to the suspense of the film; it is effectively established by having him cold-bloodedly execute unarmed hostages.

Nevertheless, the entire story of Air Force One is built around one character: the President of the United States. James Marshall is not only theoretically the world’s most powerful man, as derived from his position as the U.S. President, but also has the chance to prove his personal powers. By standing up for his principles, and single-handedly rescuing both his family and the world from terrorists, he becomes the ultimate action hero. The movie thus demonstrates “what it would be like to have a Chief Executive (...) who can deal Die Hard -style with international terrorists when they make the mistake of commandeering his plane.”37 In Hollywood fashion, the action hero is supplied with extraordinary knowledge and capabilities; President Marshall seems to master anything he does. Being a Vietnam war hero, he knows how to fly a plane and how to fight man to man. He knows how to speak Russian, and he seems to know more about the capabilities, features, and hiding-places of Air Force One than even the pilots themselves. Film critics notice that “the physical ordeals overcome by [the] President (...) would require a level of physical fitness found only in the rarest Olympic champion,”38 and that “this is a President who can take a punch that would break Mike Tyson’s jaw.”39 One critic even cynically asked himself if “there [is] nothing this President can’t do? Yes, and how heart- warming it is to see him take out a mobile telephone and immediately turn to an instruction manual on how to use it. Of course, this being President Harrison Ford, it doesn’t take him two and a half hours to learn how to get results. This being President Harrison Ford, he does it in 3.5 seconds.”40 Harrison Ford’s star power41 helps to make the audience recognize President Marshall’s capabilities as an action hero. Wolfgang Petersen states, “there was never anyone else but Harrison Ford for this role. (...) He has the charismatic persona the President must have. He also has the intelligence and sense of humor that makes him likeable. And, of course, he is totally believable when he has to fight back and get physical.”42 In order not to seem ridiculous, the film depends on the believability of Marshall’s capabilities; in Harrison Ford, it finds the one actor who can fully inhabit two kinds of grandeur: action movie bigness and the aura of the presidency.

One film critic noted that “one of this film’s most likeable, incongruous aspects is the hint of everyday detail that leavens this earth-shaking crisis.”43 Despite the skillful escalation of suspense, these details provide not only a realistic tinge to the story but often also a humorous touch. In this sense, for example, it turns out that even the President of the United States can have as much trouble with telephone operators, manuals or cell phone batteries as anybody else.

Authenticity, furthermore, is always important for the suspense of a film, and especially of an action thriller; “from a pure entertainment point of view,” says Petersen, “a movie that looks real gives you more chills than a movie that doesn’t.”44 Convincing performances are very important for making the film seem credible; yet, the story and setting are mostly as crucial, especially in action films that entail a good deal of special effects. The visual effects of Air Force One are plenty; innumerable shooting scenes and elaborate explosions and stunts. One has to agree, that “no one expects an action picture to be altogether believable.”45 Hollywood rules dictate that “no big-time action film can conclude without an orgy of special effects,”46 and accordingly, Air Force One piles an excess of climaxes which seem rather too fantastic to be true.

Yet, nevertheless, Petersen does bring a great deal of reality to his film by his attention for detail and by drawing its inspiration from a very real contemporary dilemma. As the director himself mentions, “Air Force One starts with a realistic premise and then (...) creates thrills by heightening the reality. (...) The reality of international terrorism has, unfortunately, become something we accept as part of modern life.”47 In the beginning of the film, moreover, while establishing the emotional bonds of the First Family, Petersen does something equally crucial; he lays out the geography of the plane. By having the Press Secretary tour the aircraft with the alleged Russian journalists, the audience is informed not only about the exact body of the plane, but also about its peculiar features, such as bullet-proof windows, high-tech communications center, and the like, thereby setting up a solid framework and also justifying the realism of future scenes. Consequently, despite many rather unbelievable aspects, “this tale of the hijacking of the world’s most security-laden airplane,” as one critic points out, “nonetheless comes off as far more ‘realistic’ than the majority of this summer’s big-budget attractions simply because everything in it is meant to be physically possible in the real world.”48

Fast cutting and intricate camerawork further heighten the tension of the film. The camera often fluidly follows the protagonists through the narrow corridors of the aircraft, and more than often takes the point of view of the characters, thereby adding a kind of claustrophobic tension to the action. The director sometimes even teases the audience by withholding information for a few shots, as in the case when the escape pod is being launched; both Washington and the terrorists assume that Marshall has escaped, and a lot of time and action passes by before the escape pod is found empty on the ground somewhere in Germany. Not until now is the audience allowed to see the President hiding in the baggage deck of the plane.

In short, despite several rather incredible special effects, the film has enough suspense to keep the audience thrilled. This is also crucial for the believability of the characters, and in our case the President; by establishing the gravity of the situation, their reactions seem authentic and not overdone.

1.3 American President(1995)

The American President is a delightful romantic comedy which poses a most compelling dilemma: How does the widowed leader of the free world balance his many obligations to his country with the ordinary demands and everyday rites of courtship? As implied by the film’s title, the protagonist in this movie is the President himself; the entire action is centered around him, and his presidency is what creates the real stakes along the plot.

The U.S. President, Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas), heads into his reelection campaign with high approval ratings in public opinion polls, and a delighted staff which is looking forward to the forthcoming battle with his likely opponent, Senator Bob Rumson (Richard Dreyfuss).49 Then Shepherd, widowed just before his election, meets Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening), a spunky lobbyist for an environmental organization. Taken with her almost immediately, he invites her to be his date at a state dinner, his first date since he has been in office. Problems arise as both the scandal-hungry media and the President’s political opponents use the White House romance as a means to sway public opinion against the Commander-in-Chief.

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2. Michael Douglas as widowed President Andrew Shepherd in The American President (Castle Rock Entertainment, 1995)

Conflicts occur on two fronts. The unfolding of a romance with the difficulties imposed on it by the presidency clearly is in the foreground of the movie. On the other hand, the subplot of the film deals with political problems; Shepherd has weakened an environmental bill in hope that it will more likely be passed by the House of Representatives. Wade wants him to restore the bill to its original strength, and in a private conversation, he promises to do so if she can convince sufficient members of Congress to support it. Out of fear of alienating the voters, however, the President is determined to hold the middle ground and decides that having a watered-down crime bill passed is the best thing he can do before the next election. When Shepherd’s domestic-policy advisor (Michael J. Fox) reminds him of his commitment to the environment and the fact that his crime bill eliminates the handgun controls he promised during his campaign, Shepherd brushes him off: “We’ve gotta fight the fights we can win.”50 A crucial plot point therefore involves trading congressional votes to pass an anti-assault weapon crime bill and an anti-global warming bill. In the end, the President is faced with a terrible choice: embrace the shining idealism of his girlfriend or shun her and stick to his old legislative agenda, the feel-good but toothless crime package concocted mostly to have him re-elected. After first having betrayed Wade, he finally decides to let his sleeping integrity take over in the film’s pivotal scene: Shepherd’s improvised speech at a White House press conference, in which he renounces the political pragmatism which has been his most serious shortcoming, gives the public an unaccustomed taste of candid discourse on controversial issues, and defends the woman he loves. In the last scene of the movie, Sydney returns to the White House and the two lovers reconcile just before Shepherd’s State of the Union Address.

Most of this, however, is secondary to a movie that focuses on two likeable persons who mostly want to do the right thing. The political subplot of the movie mainly serves as a backdrop for the main story of the film, namely the unfolding of the romance between the President and the lobbyist. With the modern presidency as the monumental barrier between them, Shepherd is trying to separate his office from his private life, a task which seems difficult if not impossible. Many comic situations occur just because the presidency, in a sense, comes between them.

Wade as a regular career woman is awed by the dignity of the White House from the first moment on and also represents the person with whom the audience can identify; many of her reactions to the splendor and greatness surrounding the President are similar to how any person would respond in the same situation; with a mixture of humbleness, honor, and nervousness. She continuously has problems to separate the person whom she is dating from the leader of the world. The subservience that one might feel is humorously captured in the first encounter of Wade and Shepherd. After having insulted the President as “the Chief Executive of Fantasyland”51 without knowing of his presence, Shepherd escorts the blushing lobbyist through a side room where he suggests that they “talk in private some place less intimidating.”52 While the spectator, as well as Wade, might expect the next scene to take place in a smaller, cozier location than the meeting room they just left, the next shot is the complete opposite to what would be less intimidating: All of a sudden, Wade finds herself standing in the middle of the Oval Office, the working place of the most powerful man in the world. Instead of a regular shot, moreover, a crane shot is used to underline the intimidating situation, showing the room in its entirety from above with a large presidential seal on the carpeting in the middle of the frame. The result: To Wade, as well as to the average citizen, a more intimidating place to talk is hard to imagine. Later, Shepherd furthermore describes the White House as having “the single greatest home court advantage of the modern world.”53

Many of the film’s big laughs come from the President’s difficulties in doing simple things in ordinary ways. Shepherd appears to be a great political leader - with integrity, honesty, and political skills - but when it comes to handling regular issues, such as ordering flowers on the phone or going out on a date, he faces more problems than any ordinary person would. These problems derive mainly from the power and influence that come with the office. People have problems viewing Shepherd as a regular person, and therefore behave accordingly when he approaches them with regular issues. On the way to a business meeting, Shepherd decides to hop out at the flower shop to buy some flowers for his date, thereby putting his bewildered entourage in an uneasy situation: “You are going to ‘hop out’, Sir? - No, he’s not ‘hopping out’. No hopping, Sir!”54

While many problems like these occur because people do not know how to handle the regular needs of the President, several scenes suggest that even Shepherd himself has difficulties in acting and living his life like a normal person. Oddly enough, while he has only been in office for about three years, he does not seem to remember these everyday procedures. Shepherd tries hard to be a regular guy and realizes the constraints the presidency has on his love life; several occasions emphasize this dilemma and the impossibility for a President to have a normal life. In one scene, Wade visits the busy President in his office after their date at the state dinner in order to discuss her legitimate concerns that their relationship might harm his good standing with the public, as well as his chances for reelection. Shepherd, who sees his presidency as just a job like any other, states that he is “just a regular guy asking a girl out for dinner.”55 In this moment, the off-screen noise of a helicopter is heard, and Wade interrupts the conversation to ask where that sound comes from. The next shot shows them both facing each other with the presidential helicopter seen through the rear window, landing on the White House lawn. Shepherd replies “That’s my ride”, making it sound like having a helicopter pick him up from his backyard would be the most ordinary thing in the world.

The director, Rob Reiner, has created the movie according to the general rules of the classical Hollywood cinema. Everything in the movie is logical; the characters are everything but complex, and the story is built around an easy cause-and-effect plot with a happy ending. In order to avoid having his movie work as a sit-com or slapstick comedy, Reiner has made his key players appear both realistic and sympathetic; both Douglas and Bening are believable in their roles. As a movie critic fittingly describes, the trick to romantic comedy is to invent plausible (or, in the screwball variation, hilariously implausible) obstacles to the course of what the audience instantly perceives as true love. The obstacle in this picture is the presidency itself. These lovers have no privacy: they’re intruded upon constantly by the huge and overbearingly attentive White House staff, hounded by voracious journalists, and scrutinized maliciously by the President’s political opponents, who are salivating at the opportunity to raise a ‘character’ issue that might chip away at Shepherd’s daunting sixty-three-percent approval rating. (...) [This premise] creates enough crises to keep the lovers from achieving their destined bliss until an hour and fifty minutes have passed.56

The regular comedy audience, moreover, is not primarily interested in how the movie might end. As in most Hollywood productions, the ending can be rather easily foreseen. Instead, the movie is meant to entertain its spectators along the plot, by creating a number of comic and entertaining situations.

Not only the characters are believable in their roles; the filmmakers have put much effort in making the story believable as well. The comedy of the movie can only work if the power and bureaucracy of the White House is realistically established. Reiner has therefore focused on political issues which have certain resonance in the current political climate. The opening scene, however, is the most striking part of the movie when it comes to evoking the magnificence and dignity of the American presidency: the elegant opening credits, combined with reverent music, feature a montage of paintings, statues and photographs of Presidents from George Washington to Lyndon B. Johnson, interspersed by maps of the United States, seals of office, historic documents and American flags. It is noticeable that no recent Presidents are portrayed here, but considering the growing suspicion of the presidency since Vietnam and Watergate, this is probably intended by the filmmakers to avoid possible mockery.

The American President, as any standard Hollywood movie, is produced to please a mainstream audience which is why controversial issues are mostly avoidedAlthough the film is thoroughly liberal, the filmmakers have consciously concentrated on political issues that most people agree upon anyway; who would, for example, not want to support the environment? Or reduce crime? A film critic therefore agrees that this romantic comedy “will entertain most of the people most of the time. Wittily scripted, engagingly sappy, completely implausible and unabashedly Capraesque.”57

1.4 Clear and Present Danger (1994)

Clear and Present Danger is the third Tom Clancy novel ( Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games ) about CIA agent Jack Ryan to be adapted to the screen and a study of the abuse of power at the highest levels of government; the thriller describes what can happen when the American President attempts to launch an illegal military venture into a foreign country. As one critic put it, “it is a meticulously well-developed tale of political deception, abuse of power, and self-righteous international crime, laced with rich characterizations, taut suspense and eye- popping action sequences.”58 Although CIA agent Jack Ryan is clearly the most important protagonist and the President only has a few appearances throughout the film, the Chief Executive is still crucial to the plot, since it is his actions that both trigger and create the preconditions for the development of the story.

The very intricate plot starts with a murder of an old friend of the President of the United States, Edward Bennett (Donald Moffat). The CIA investigation is first led by Admiral James Greer (James Earl Jones), but due to a serious illness, is soon taken over by agent Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford). When Ryan and his people find out that the victim had been in league with the Colombian drug cartel, the President indirectly authorizes his national security advisor, James Cutter, (Harris Yulin) and CIA Deputy Director Ritter (Henry Czerny) to conduct covert retributions in Colombia. Ritter consequently orders a field agent named Clark (Willem Dafoe) to assemble a band of soldiers for a serious, all-out offensive; Clark’s little army creeps through the Colombian jungles, wiping out drug-processing factories and assassinating cartel big shots. Their ultimate target is the drug lord responsible for the death of the President’s friend, Ernesto Escobedo.

Due to his loyalty and honesty, Ryan is kept in the dark about the clandestine military operation. Leading the investigation in Colombia, he meets with the FBI director at the airport, but their car is attacked by Escobedo’s assassins; only Ryan survives the assault. Meanwhile, Escobedo’s intelligence chief Cortez, a former Castro aide who harbors ambitions of replacing his boss as top dog in Colombia, uses an FBI secretary as a source of information to find out about the U.S. government’s plans. After an American jet bombs a mansion where a cartel meeting is taking place, Cortez makes a deal with Cutter, pledging to cut drug shipments to the United States by half in exchange for details about the location of Clark’s commando team. Consequently, while President Bennett is giving a graveside speech at Greer’s funeral, the American strike force in Colombia is thus betrayed and placed into the hands of Escobedo’s men.

In the meantime, Ryan finds out about the conspiracy through secretly tape-recorded conversations. Without authorization, he travels to Colombia on a personal rescue mission. He joins with Clark, confronts Escobedo and provides convincing evidence that Cortez has betrayed him. A final action sequence of conventional shooting scenes follows, ending with the deaths of both Escobedo and Cortez while Ryan and Clark escape after a successful mission. Back in Washington, Ryan finishes off the conspiracy by confronting the President. Forced to choose between covering up for the men who have misled and lied to him, or embarrassing the country by standing up for the truth, he finally decides to do the latter by revealing what he knows to a congressional subcommittee.

The President’s role in this film is small, and one might suggest that he is primarily a moving target, a plot point, a reason for the protagonist to become a hero. Yet, while other characters are seen more often on screen than the President, he is certainly as crucial to the story. There is never a doubt about Bennett’s integrity standards as he determines to abuse his power to avenge a friend. Even though he does not work out the details of the military operation and is never seen or heard directly ordering troops to be sent to Colombia, he is constantly well aware of what is going on and knows that he can rely on his advisors to carry out his thoughts without having to express them in words. A writer consequently notices that Donald Moffat’s President “captures the right combination of democratic bohommie and imperial, above-the-law willfulness.”59 His dishonesty is best expressed in the cross-cutting sequence between Bennett’s oration at Greer’s funeral and the slaughter of the U.S. military unit in Colombia which has been betrayed and abandoned by the government. The camera cuts back and forth between the two locales, on the one hand showing the President praising Greer’s admirable life as “he lived through tumultuous events in his country’s life. He participated in them. He made them clearer to the rest of us, with his knowledge, his honesty, his integrity.”60 On the other hand, the audience is confronted with the scenes of the ambush of the U.S. troops and their desperate attempts to save their lives. The brave soldiers fighting for their country embody the spirit of patriotic principles which defined Greer’s life, and through crosscutting, Bennett is put on the very opposite end of the integrity scale. Bennett’s oration is, in addition, accompanied by ceremonious background music, which, as contrasted with the shooting heard in the interspersed jungle shots, only enhances the absurdity of hearing the corrupt President speak of honesty, preservation of ideals and living by principles.

The presentation of such a corrupt version of a chief executive as Edward Bennett literally calls for a hero like Jack Ryan to step in and save the day. Ryan complies with Hollywood perceptions of the great and infallible hero. In order to emphasize Ryan’s integrity, the complexity of the President’s character had to be sacrificed and appear as a simple crook. Critics have noticed that “the President, Cutter and Ritter are made to be simply wrong and Ryan to be simply right.”61

Interestingly, however, almost none of this film’s characters are as simple and easily assessed as usual Hollywood roles. This is even literally suggested in the movie by Ritter, who toward the end suggests that “the world is gray,” and that “there is no simple black and white.”62 As intricate as the plot is, with innumerable deceptions and conspiracies, similarly complicated are the presentations of many characters. Thus, while Bennett, Cutter, and Ritter play secret games on the American side, Escobedo’s advisor Cortez, similarly, deceives his boss on the Colombian side. The fact that Cortez’ ultimate enemy is a criminal himself does not make him a better person. Even more interesting is the attempt of a rather positive depiction of the worst criminal of the movie, the drug lord Ernesto Escobedo. While the filmmakers have not spent any time at all on putting the American President in a better light, the humanizing of Escobedo’s character has been given very much effort. Instead of showing him committing appalling atrocities, his sensitive side is accentuated by constantly showing him together with his family.

As hinted on above, the complex plot and the double-edged characters in Clear and Present Danger not only create a dramatic ambiguity but also provide for elemental thrills. Thus, despite Ryan’s moral uprightness and the presence of some undiluted villains, many of the issues are painted in shades of gray rather than simplistic black-and-white. As one critic aptly describes it, “the story piles deception upon deception, with dozens of characters all working at cross-purposes.”63 What results is a pleasantly complex story line in which these numerous strands, both in Washington and Colombia, twist and turn as they combine and recombine in unexpected ways. This consequently forces the audience to consistently pay attention to the intricate unfolding of the plot.

The film has a sweeping, confident narrative style, and the staging of many scenes are not new to Hollywood action thrillers. However, the film does present some unusual traits for the thriller genre. While the jumps between locations in the United States and Colombia are realized mostly by establishing shots, the film tends to cut away seconds sooner than customary. This ingenious cutting, combined with flawless timing and unerring camera placements and angles, creates an unwavering sense of atmosphere. Unlike the typical action movie, which is usually trampling over narrative logic in order to rush on to the next explosion, the writers take the time to keep their audience in the picture. A climactic moment in the plot is the quiet, non-violent computer duel between Ryan and Ritter when Ryan is trying to break into Ritter’s secret files while Ritter is frantically trying to erase them. This scene of two battling bureaucrats even led one movie reviewer to refer to the film as “the first espionage thriller to climax in a mouse-to- mouse cyber-feud.”64

The intelligence with which the plot is presented makes both the characters and the story believable and realistic. Naturally, the average viewer does not know whether anything similar has ever occurred in real drug wars. Yet, as another reviewer has mentioned, “we do know about several Gates - Water and Iran - so the film doesn’t seem utter fantasy.”65 The political relevance to recent American history therefore immensely helps the authenticity of the story. The film gives the impression that this is the way government really works; it seems especially convincing how a few meaningful glances and ambiguous words, such as Bennett’s “the course of action I’d suggest is a course of action I can’t suggest,”66 can set all sorts of mayhem into action and even start a small war thousands of miles away.

1.5. Dave(1993)

Ivan Reitman’s charming comedy Dave tells us what happens when an ordinary guy gets the opportunity to be the President of the United States. The film has the incumbent President suffer a heart attack, and lets his double (both played by Kevin Kline)67 temporarily take his place. The entire plot is thus centered around the executive office and mostly takes place in the White House.

Dave Kovic, a good-hearted common man, runs a small temporary-employment agency in Baltimore. Due to his uncanny resemblance to the U.S. President Bill Mitchell, the Secret Service picks him up and takes him to Washington. Dave is hired to stand in for Mitchell at a social event while the President enjoys horizontal recreation with an attractive secretary.

His impersonation is suddenly extended, however, when Mitchell suffers a stroke in bed and lapses into a coma. Chief of Staff Bob Alexander (Frank Langella), immediately sees this misfortune as an opportunity for a coup. Together with the reluctant Communications Director Alan Reed (Kevin Dunn), he explains to Dave the reasons for the deception to be in the interests of national security, and Dave innocently accepts his new full-time job while the comatose Mitchell is secured away out of sight. Alexander’s conspiracy involves removing Vice President Gary Nance (Ben Kingsley) from office by implicating him in a savings-and-loan scandal, and then having Dave appoint Alexander as his Vice President. After staging a second stroke of Mitchell (impersonated by Dave), the insidious chief of staff would consequently maneuver himself into the presidency. Fortunately for Alexander, the relationship between President Mitchell and his First Lady, Ellen, (Sigourney Weaver) is long dead, and since Ellen detests her husband, they are only together when appearing at public events.

After an almost overnight education in the basics of government, names of officials and cabinet members, and other important details that the new occupant of the Oval Office has to know, Dave continues the hoax that fools the media, the White House executives, and, initially, even the First Lady. He nervously accepts the role as an opportunity to serve his country, and settles into the routine of presidential duties. In his innocent and decent way, he begins to transform the President’s image by captivating the public’s affection in a way the cold, aloof Mitchell never did. In addition, he even manages to charm the First Lady by taking interest in her efforts to help the homeless, which becomes the first step in the unfolding of a romance.

When Alexander dismisses a funding project in the name of the President, Dave discovers that he has been manipulated and starts to question Alexander’s actions being taken supposedly on his and the nation’s behalf. In order to reverse the veto, he calls on his old friend, the accountant Murray Blum (Charles Grodin) to help him cut the federal budget by the $650 million needed to preserve the funding project. The two work out a solution, and to everyone’s astonishment and Alexander’s outrage, Dave presents a number of budget revisions to the cabinet members which help him reinstate the welfare program. Ellen has by now figured out that Dave is an impostor and forces him to confess to her and explain the situation. Unwilling to stay at the side of a fake President, she decides to leave the White House, and also Dave has had enough of his impostor job. However, after realizing what they might yet achieve through the power of the presidency, they decide to stay on a while to enact a new jobs program, help save the Vice President’s reputation, and doublecross the power-hungry Alexander.

Consequently, Dave summons a press conference, fires Alexander, and announces a new employment program to the startled media. Vice President Nance returns from an Africa tour and refutes the allegations that were made against him by Alexander, whereupon Dave confronts the repentant Reed and learns that the comatose Bill Mitchell was in fact the one guilty of the scandal. The revengeful Alexander discloses Mitchell’s malpractice at a news conference, and prepares for his upcoming presidential campaign. In front of an assembled Congress, however, Dave responds to the accusations by both admitting to a shared guilt with Alexander and whitewashing Nance. While speaking to Congress, he collapses from another apparent stroke, thereby paving the way for Nance to smoothly take over the presidency. On the way to the hospital, Dave is exchanged by the comatose Mitchell and walks away from the hospital and back to his normal life.

Vice President Nance is sworn in and, a few months later, Mitchell dies. After the funeral, Ellen turns up in Baltimore. At Dave’s employment agency, she finds Dave and his friends campaigning for his entry into politics, and gives him her loving support.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

3. First Lady Ellen Mitchell (Sigourney Weaver) and Dave Kovic, impersonating President Bill Mitchell in Dave (Warner Bros., 1993)

Dave mainly concerns the situation of a regular nice guy thrown into the shoes of the President. The presidency is thus the main theme of the movie and its occupant the main protagonist. What is significant here is that the movie has two presidential characters, both played by the same actor (Kevin Kline). Even though President Bill Mitchell soon suffers a stroke and is put out of action for most of the film, a great deal about his character is subsequently learned through the other characters.

Wearing frameless glasses and dark-blue suits [Kline is] exceptionally funny as the hollow, power-mad Bill Mitchell, forty-fourth President of the United States, who hacks the air vertically with his palms. Mitchell’s presidency is in decline, and he’s become a sour, reactionary fellow; Kline makes him, literally, a stiff, a man so rigid with calculation that he seems alienated from the movements of his own plank-like body. Everything about him is willed, flat, abrupt.68

Mitchell is presented as sleazy and indecent as possible in order to create an effective counterbalance to the purity and innocence of Dave. The comedy of the story lies within the attempts of the common man, and his final success, to master the highest office of the nation while at the same time being as awed by its power and symbolism as any other person. His decency seems to be all that is needed to take over the office, and even do a better job than the real President. Similar to how most people would react in the same situation, Dave is full of childlike awe toward the presidency, which even leads him to constantly steal White House souvenirs such as towels, pens, ashtrays, and other items bearing the presidential seal. Dave enjoys the experience immensely - who would not enjoy getting a standing ovation simply for existing? Kevin Kline himself remarks about his role: “Dave is amiable and decent; he’s a little bit shiftless, but in staying true to himself he becomes a man.”69 Kline brings wit and presence to his roles as both Mitchell and as Dave. The subplot of presenting the unfolding of a romance between Dave and the First Lady adds to the positive characterization of the impostor. The two main characters are never parodied or foolishly depicted: “Both Kline and Weaver are good at playing characters of considerable intelligence, and that’s the case here.”70 Consequently, they are depicted as both likeable and believable characters, and the audience is led to feel close to them.

Dave features a third presidential character: Even though Vice President Gary Nance is not sworn in until the last minutes of the film, and consequently nothing is shown about his tenure, a little is still revealed about his character. Like Dave, he started out as a common man, and worked his way up in politics. Similarly, he is presented as a decent, honest man worthy of the presidency, which is why, eventually, Dave clears the way for him to take over. While the audience does identify with Dave and with the idea of having him as President, it is still even more satisfying to see Nance take over in the end, since he was, after all, properly elected and surely a more experienced politician than Dave.

Comic lines and situations are created in an intelligent and careful manner in order to prevent the story from turning into a farce. A few slapstick situations add to the comedy, but never goes beyond a certain level. For instance, when Dave first goes into the Oval Office, he’s trying to convince everyone that he’s the President. But when he leans back in the President’s chair, it suddenly tips over backward, sending the Leader of the Free World sprawling on his back. Director Ivan Reitman adds, It would have been easy to get carried away and go for the cheap joke, especially when you’re dealing with something like the government. (...) It’s easy to broadly satirize a story like this until it’s completely beyond reality, but that wasn’t my interest. My interest was basically to tell a great story of the common man who steps up to the plate and triumphs through his own decency. To pull that off, you have to maintain a very careful tone.71

Thus, most of the comedy in the film is built on the premise of having an average guy in the Oval Office. The humor in Dave is human; his charming insecurity about how to act as a President causes a large number of funny situations.

Dealing with the presidency, the film is necessarily political, but it is striking how little it actually deals with politics. Even though the film’s screen writer, Gary Ross, was a Kennedy delegate at the 1980 Democratic Convention and speechwriter for Michael Dukakis,72 there are only few political issues to be found in the plot. Dave’s duties as the President consist almost entirely of public appearances. By thus making “uncompromised innocence and virtue triumph over disillusionment,”73 the film recalls the populist idealism of films of the ‘30s, primarily Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington . Similar to Capra’s films, Dave fosters the notion that the mythology of American social and political existence is, or can be, the reality. The film’s view of America, its politics and people, is, like that of Capra, composed of its strong belief in the individual’s common sense, small towns and patriotism. As one critic suggested, “the message of Dave is no deeper than you’d find in the average fortune cookie.”74 A reviewer adds, Don’t go into Dave expecting a comic knee-slapper. (...) The movie’s got heart. A romantic comedy set in political Washington, it’s an updated Capra fantasy that goes for the sweet rather than the tart. Don’t expect a knowing Potomac Feverish satire either. (...) Dave stays surprisingly apolitical. The movie is simply about a Dave (...), a really nice guy who - after topsy-turvy circumstances throw him into the presidency - turns into an even nicer guy.75

And it is in the film’s stunning simplemindedness where its charm lies. “After confirming our worst fears about who’s in charge and the utter unreliability of public image, it goes on to reassure our childish faith that what’s wrong can be rectified quite easily, by the ever-available pure in heart.”76


1 HANDY, Bruce: “Acting Presidents“, in: Time, vol. 149 (Apr 14, 1997), p. 99

2 Since this paper frequently refers to films which contain President portrayals as ‘President films’, ‘presidential movies’, and the like, it should be mentioned that such expressions do not hint on the existence of a separate film genre but merely hints on the appearance of a Chief Executive within the cast.

3 Although the term ‘filmmaker’ mostly refers solely to the director of a film, it here includes both the directors and the screen writers.

4 BUSCOMBE, Edward: “America on Screen? Hollywood Feature Films as Social and Political Evidence”, in: CLARK, M. J.: Politics and the Media: Film and Television for the Political Scientist and Historian, Oxford, 1979, p. 27

5 WALKER, Martin: “Clinton’s Hollywood”, in: Sight and Sound, vol. 3 (Sep 1993), p. 13

6 For a more comprehensive description of chief executives on film, please refer to: DEUTSCH, James I.: “Presidents in Film”, in: LEVY, Leonard W. & Louis FISHER (eds.): Encyclopedia of the American Presidency, vol. 2, New York, 1994, p. 626-628; MASON, M. S.: “The Presidency in Films“, in: The Christian Science Monitor (Feb 14, 1992), p. 12; and ROSS, Nathaniel L.: “Portraying Presidents. How Hollywood has Presented, And Rated, Our Chief Executives As Characters In Films”, in: Films in Review, vol. 23 (Oct 1972), p. 482-488. Politicians and politics in general have been treated by: CHRISTENSEN, Terry: Reel Politics. American Political Movies from The Birth of a Nation to Platoon, New York, 1987; COMBS, James: American Political Movies. An Annotated Filmography of Feature Films, New York & London, 1990; EDELMAN, Rob: “The Politician in Films”, in: Films in Review, vol. 27 (Nov 1976), p. 531-538; and EDELMAN, Rob: “Politicians in the American Cinema“, in: CROWDUS, Gary (ed.): The Political Companion to American Film, Chicago, 1994, p. 322-330.

7 ROSS, Nathaniel L.: “Portraying Presidents”, 1972, p. 482

8 ibid.

9 MASON, M. S.: “The Presidency in Films”, 1976, p. 12

10 “Nuke the Wife”, in: The Economist, vol. 344 (Aug 16, 1997), p. 66

11 KEMPLEY, Rita: “Hollywood Puts Some Character into the White House“, in: Washington Post (Nov 1, 1996), p.

12 EDELMAN, Rob: “The Politician in Films”, 1976, p. 537

13 ROSTRON, Allen: “Mr. Carter Goes to Washington”, in: Journal of Popular Film and Television, vol. 25 (Summer 1997), p. 58

14 COMBS, James: American Political Movies, 1990, p. 78-79

15 ibid., p. 81

16 EDELMAN, Rob: “The Politician in Films”, 1976, p. 536

17 COMBS, James: American Political Movies, 1990, p. 87

18 ibid.

19 ibid., p. 89

20 DEUTSCH, James I.: “Presidents in Film”, 1994, p. 628

21 ibid.

22 GARNER, Jack: “Playing Mr. President”, in: Get Reel, (downloaded on Dec 18, 1997)

23 For an overview of the release dates of the selected films, please refer to appendix C, table 1.

24 See appendix A for an outline of the respective film credits; an overview of the selected movie administrations supplied in appendix C, table 2.

25 SILBERMAN, Robert: “Political Thrillers“, in: CROWDUS, Gary (ed.): The Political Companion to American Film, Chicago, 1994, p. 319

26 See illustration on p. 70

27 Absolute Power, press kit, Castle Rock Entertainment, USA, 1997, p. 9

28 It is worth mentioning that the film’s script writer, William Goldman, also was responsible for the screenplay of All the President’s Men, a film which in 1976 depicted the Watergate incident.

29 COMBS, Richard: “Shot by an Old Master”, in: Times Literary Supplement, no. 4915 (June 13, 1997), p. 23

30 EBERT, Roger: “Absolute Power”, in: Chicago Sun Times (Feb 14, 1997), ebert_reviews/1997/02/021403.html (downloaded on Oct 25, 1997)

31 MASLIN, Janet: „A Whole New Meaning For Executive Privilege“, in: The New York Times (Feb 14, 1997), p. sec: C/p. 5

32 TUNNEY, Tom: “Absolute Power”, in: Sight and Sound (June 1997), p. 44

33 See illustrations, pp. 17, 65 & 74

34 See appendix C (2) for the entire length of the so-called ‘Be-afraid-speech.’

35 President James Marshall, in: Air Force One, Columbia Pictures, USA, 1997

36 President James Marshall, in: Air Force One, 1997

37 HANDY, Bruce: “Acting Presidents”, 1997, p. 99

38 BAKER, Russell: „Fanatics, Terror, $6.75”, in: The New York Times (Aug 5, 1997), sec. A/p. 19

39 ibid.

40 BAKER, Russell: „Fanatics, Terror, $6.75”, 1997, p. 19

41 This film, especially, is a good example of the importance and advantage of star power. The choice of Harrison Ford as the heroic President facilitates the effort to make the audience believe in his physical and intellectual abilities, as he has been seen in innumerable previous action roles, such as the Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies, and other action films such as Blade Runner, The Fugitive, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger . With remarkable consistency, in each of these films, Ford uses a mix of brains and brawn and accepts the call to adventure to fight for honor, country, family, or the like. In Air Force One, there is consequently never a doubt about the authenticity of having President Harrison Ford defeat the terrorists on his own. There are simply not many other actors who could say ‘Get off my plane’ as forcefully and convincingly, without letting it sound overdone or ludicrous.

42 as cited in: Air Force One, production information, press kit, Columbia Pictures, 1997, p. 3

43 MASLIN, Janet: “Just a Little Turbulence, Mr. President”, in: The New York Times (July 25, 1997), sec. C/p. 1

44 HOCHMAN, David: “The Plane and Simple Truth“, in: Entertainment Weekly (July 25, 1997), p. 36

45 McALLISTER, J.F.O.: “On the Real Thing, No Pods and No Parachutes”, in: Time, vol. 150, no. 4 (July 28, 1997),p. 69

46 SCHICKEL, Richard: “The Ultimate Hijack“, in: Time, vol. 150, no. 4 (July 28, 1997), p. 69

47 as cited in: Air Force One, production information, 1997, p. 3

48 McCARTHY, Todd: “U.S. Prexy as Last Action Hero”, in: Variety (July 21, 1997), p. 37

49 See illustration on p. 54

50 President Andrew Shepherd, in: The American President, Castle Rock Entertainment, USA, 1995

51 Sydney Ellen Wade, in: The American President, 1995

52 President Andrew Shepherd, in: The American President, 1995

53 ibid.

54 as quoted from: The American President, 1995

55 President Andrew Shepherd, in: The American President, 1995

56 RAFFERTY, Terrence: “Lover-In-Chief”, in: New Yorker, vol. 71 (Nov 20, 1995), p. 116

57 HOWE, Desson: “The American President”, in: Washington Post (Nov 17, 1995)

58 MATHEWS, Jack: “Clear and Present Danger”, in: Newsday (Aug 3, 1994), part II/p. B2

59 PAWELCZAK, Andy: “Clear and Present Danger”, in: Films in Review, vol. 45 (Sep/Oct 1994), p. 57

60 President Edward Bennett, in: Clear and Present Danger, Paramount Pictures, USA, 1994

61 TUNNEY, Tom: “Clear and Present Danger”, in: Sight and Sound, vol. 4 (Oct 1994), p. 37

62 CIA Deputy Director Robert Ritter, in: Clear and Present Danger, 1994

63 RAFFERTY, Terrence: “Repeat Performances”, in: The New Yorker, vol. 70 (Aug 15, 1994), p. 76

64 KEMPLEY, Rita: “Clear and Present Danger“, in: Washington Post (Aug 3, 1994), p. B1

65 KAUFFMANN, Stanley: “Being Responsible”, in: The New Republic, vol. 211 (Sep 19/26, 1994), p. 38

66 President Edward Bennett, in: Clear and Present Danger, 1994

67 See illustrations on p. 29 & 50

68 DENBY, David: „Dave”, in: New York (May 17, 1993), p. 78

69 WETZSTEON, Ross: "Kevin Can Wait", in: New York, vol. 26 (May 10, 1993), p. 40

70 EBERT, Roger: “Dave“, in: Chicago Sun-Times (May 7, 1993) 1993/05/ 856135.html (downloaded on Oct 25, 1997)

71 as cited in: Dave, production notes, press kit, Warner Bros., 1993, p. 2-3

72 cf. ibid.

73 ROSTRON, Allen: “Mr. Carter Goes to Washington”, 1997, p. 66

74 BERNARD, Jami: “Dave”, in: New York Post (May 7, 1993), p. 27

75 HOWE, Desson: “Dave“, in: Washington Post (May 7, 1993), p. 50

76 BROWN, Georgia: “Dave”, in: The Village Voice (May 11, 1993), p. 60

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The Representation of the American Presidency in Recent Hollywood Movies
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