Mr Smith Revisited on Trailers From Hell

Here is an excellent link to Michael Lehmann providing a fascinating commentary on the trailer for the classic Frank Capra film Mr Smith Goes To Washington. Go see it now and come back.

Lehmann makes some excellent points there but I’m not sure to what extent I agree with them all. The one statement of his that I have a problem with is that he half jokingly suggests that he hopes nobody ever sees the film again. This would imply to me that this seventy year old film could be politically dangerous if viewed by people, that in some way it could turn us all into Sarah Palin supporters; which is a bit rediculous really. To an extent I can see his point, however. I would hate to see this film adopted by the far right and used to support their fraudulent claims of working for the working and middle classes. That would truly do a disservice to all involved in this fabulously entertaining film.

As an outsider looking in to the American political system I see the films message being something more like this. Power breeds corruption, we have known about this for centuries. In this film a small town man named Jefferson Smith is taken for a ride by a government he previously respected and trusted. His country betrays him but Smith fights back not with a campaign of violence or by toppling the system of which he is a part. His strength comes from his words and through his ability and willingness to learn a new role and make a stand. He reminds those at the top that their power is a privilege and not a right and that they have a duty to everyone in the country, not just those who can afford to have a say.

I don’t see this as a parallel to Palin. I see this as a rallying call for the American people to take a greater interest in their political system. If they want to make a difference and put a halt to what they see as an injustice they can, but only by engaging with the system and making a stand that is in line with the principals of democracy they are hoping to defend. This is Jefferson Smith’s legacy.

Regardless of whether you agree with Michael Lehmann or me on this topic I think it’s fantastic that, almost seventy years after its release, a film can still inspire debate and challenge our ideas about the world.


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