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Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington  

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  1. 1. Does Mr. Smith Goes To Washington belong on the AFI list?

    • ūüĎć Guilty as charged.
      7
    • ūüĎé Guilty as FRAMED!
      2

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  • Poll closed on 11/23/18 at 08:00 AM

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Amy and Paul filibuster through Frank Capra's 1939 political fable Mr. Smith Goes To Washington! They learn about Jean Arthur's initial impressions of Jimmy Stewart, compare Capra's visual style to Michael Bay, and explore the film's pop culture legacy in depth. Plus: Jon Lovett of "Pod Save America" and "Lovett Or Leave It" weighs in on the lessons this film can offer today's politicians.

 

Next week is Sophie's Choice and we're asking you to make a terrible choice; would you cut Spielberg or Scorsese from the AFI list? Call the Unspooled voicemail line at 747-666-5824 with your answer! Follow us on Twitter @Unspooled, get more info at unspooledpod.com, and don’t forget to rate, review & subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts.

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(That one also has a little High Noon reference, with the badge toss at the end.)

 

simpsons_mr_smith_goes_to_washington_hom

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I haven't listened yet, but I couldn't wait to see that Mel Gibson Simpsons clip.

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Did anyone else think the scene where Jefferson goes on a rage-punching rampage was a fantasy montage? 

And speaking of montages, I felt like they missed out by not including a makeover sequence with Jefferson and Saunders, where he's the one coming out of the dressing room in various tweeds and Saunders sitting in a chair, judging the outfits with a thumbs up/down.  

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49 minutes ago, AlmostAGhost said:

Well I sort of think the whole thing is a fantasy montage haha

Is this a Jacob's Ladder scenario ahead of it's time? Say, Jefferson gets bitten by a snake out on a hike with the boys and it's a all a fever dream and when he collapses on the Senate floor, he finally dies. Maybe?

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I was glad that Jon Lovett pointed out how silly it was for the Liberty Bell to be included in the DC montage.

And I think he nailed why this film ultimately works so well:  Jean Arthur's Saunders acting as an audience avatar, acknowledging the corniness of it all, but getting swept away by it anyway.  She does similar heavy lifting in You Can't Take It With You and she's great in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, but this might be her best achievement, because she absolutely holds this together.

At any rate, this is reasonably high on my list, but I look forward to hearing from detractors.  Is this movie actually great, or are we all just won over by its charm?

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I don't think Lovett's comparison to Trump works, because Smith doesn't campaign on a platform of shaking things up (like the "reformer" demanded by the populace, whom the governor chooses Smith instead of). Instead he's more like a Rex Tillerson, someone who never sought ought any kind of public office and only served because he was asked to (despite knowing virtually nothing about his job and not being particularly good at it). He even got undermined by the people who appointed him!

I really liked how Senator Paine is depicted as being a mostly decent person who has made compromises for what he sees as the greater good. Smith's filibuster fails to achieve the aims it was intended for, so it all comes down to Paine having that shred of decency (foreshadowed earlier) which means he can't stomach the lowest depths of what he's signed on to.

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11 hours ago, WatchOutForSnakes said:

Is this a Jacob's Ladder scenario ahead of it's time? Say, Jefferson gets bitten by a snake out on a hike with the boys and it's a all a fever dream and when he collapses on the Senate floor, he finally dies. Maybe?

Wouldn't it be, Jacob's Ladder is just one big Mr. Smith's Yield (of the floor)?

ETA: that doesn't work as well as I wanted to, since he doesn't yield. Or technically, does he?  Does collapsing during a filibuster technically end it?

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2 hours ago, bleary said:

I was glad that Jon Lovett pointed out how silly it was for the Liberty Bell to be included in the DC montage.

And I think he nailed why this film ultimately works so well:  Jean Arthur's Saunders acting as an audience avatar, acknowledging the corniness of it all, but getting swept away by it anyway.  She does similar heavy lifting in You Can't Take It With You and she's great in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, but this might be her best achievement, because she absolutely holds this together.

At any rate, this is reasonably high on my list, but I look forward to hearing from detractors.  Is this movie actually great, or are we all just won over by its charm?

If a movie is charming and wins you over, then isn't charm a valid merit of the film?

I say as someone who has only watched this for the first time now, and am not sure if I even liked the movie.  I am not entirely sure why.  I think the cartoonish character types were just something I couldn't emotionally get on board with.  Maybe because I listened to the podcast first and instead of being swept away by it, I found myself more seeing Lovett's criticisms.

Saunders and Dez (Diz?) were definitely the strong point of the movie for me.  Or all the random violence against boy rangers at the end.  That was just so random and wacky, though it didn't feel that was intentional.

Since it was the first time I saw it, I might be able to get more organized thoughts on it, but right now, I don't know if I have much more in terms of organized thoughts.  It might just ultimately be, it's a simple story, somewhat archetypal, and I just wasn't on board with it.

 

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2 hours ago, FictionIsntReal said:

I don't think Lovett's comparison to Trump works, because Smith doesn't campaign on a platform of shaking things up (like the "reformer" demanded by the populace, whom the governor chooses Smith instead of). Instead he's more like a Rex Tillerson, someone who never sought ought any kind of public office and only served because he was asked to (despite knowing virtually nothing about his job and not being particularly good at it). He even got undermined by the people who appointed him!

I really liked how Senator Paine is depicted as being a mostly decent person who has made compromises for what he sees as the greater good. Smith's filibuster fails to achieve the aims it was intended for, so it all comes down to Paine having that shred of decency (foreshadowed earlier) which means he can't stomach the lowest depths of what he's signed on to.

I think Lovett's comparison was based more on the idea of the outsider shaking things up, which is what Stewart's character does.  And then candidates campaign on that outsider myth.  I will point out, that the insider vs. outsider campaign strategy is nothing new.

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6 hours ago, bleary said:

At any rate, this is reasonably high on my list, but I look forward to hearing from detractors.

I wouldn't call myself a detractor, I do enjoy the movie for sure, but I don't think it's near the quality of most of the other films we've done so far.  It goes a little to what I said earlier about it being fanciful, there's just these little touches that I find ridiculous which hurt it for me.  Like, why was Mr. Smith nominated in the stupidest way possible (the governor's bratty kids and a failed coin toss).  Wouldn't this be more powerful if he was elected by the people, or nominated for some legit reason?  And the kids ran some sort of national media presence?  What is that?

I thought Lovett made a good point though about confusing awe with being patriotic, or awe with being a good Senator, and how that's not a good thing.  I'm trying to separate my pragmatic progressive political beliefs from viewing this movie but it's hard.  I take the government and legislators seriously, and follow it pretty closely, and have worked in politics, and I feel like this waters the whole world down in a way I'm not particularly willing to stand behind.

That said, I loved the acting (both Arthur and Stewart), and I loved his depiction of a man being disillusioned contrasting with Arthur becoming non-disillusioned.  (Sorry it's late I can't think of a better word.)  I liked that Paul & Amy focused on some of the darker aspects of the tale too, which are interesting and less a part of the cultural memory than the more feel-good basics.

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I liked that Paul and Amy focused on how dark this movie is, and how much it offended real Senators at the time. The popular imagination of "Capra-corn" doesn't quite track when you actually sit down and watch some of these movies. He earns the happy fantasy ending by first depicting a dark, corrupt world. As I've often mentioned before, until that last sequence, It's a Wonderful Life is about why a decent man with a wife and young children would want to commit suicide.

Personally, I think Lovett's comments are maybe missing the point a little bit, in that he's asking this movie to better resemble the real world. It's not trying to do that; it's trying to depict an ideal we as Americans ought to aspire to. That ideal comes into sharper focus because of the darker side of our politics that it does acknowledge.

I think it belongs on the list because of its distillation of this idea, which seems quintessentially American.

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8 hours ago, AlmostAGhost said:

Wouldn't this be more powerful if he was elected by the people, or nominated for some legit reason?  And the kids ran some sort of national media presence?  What is that?

For me, no, it wouldn't have worked if he was elected into office, because that would've meant he had some kind of political ambition to begin with to run a campaign and perhaps had to learn to compromise on his ideals to win endorsements.  Jefferson's gee-golly earnestness seems authentic because he's the ultimate Washington outsider.  I could see how it might be too much to swallow for some people, but this movie works for me  precisely because it's a fairy tale about American politics, not because it's a realistic look at the power of democracy or due process.  

No, the kids' paper wasn't a national paper or anything like that.  Before Jefferson went to Washington, he ran the Boys' Stuff paper - I guess it was more like a newsletter - about important boy stuff I think?  Since the Boys' Stuff was independent of Taylor, they were able to get the truth out locally (before they were discovered by Taylor).

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24 minutes ago, tomspanks said:

or me, no, it wouldn't have worked if he was elected into office, because that would've meant he had some kind of political ambition to begin with to run a campaign and perhaps had to learn to compromise on his ideals to win endorsements.

Yea I get the outsider angle.  Maybe something happens where people just write him during an election in because he's a great guy, and he happens to win.  It doesn't have to imply campaigning or ambition at all, it can just imply popularity, which would still make the same ultimate point.  Why does it have to come from such a ridiculous set-up?  I guess they wanted to show the governor as a dummy too.

For me the fairy tale angle is a complicated balance. Like, they chose to make this story in Congress, with real Congress history and sets (like Daniel Webster), and took work to make it all realistic and to make a real point about America. So I still think those fanciful ideas that prop this story up feel slightly off for me. I like them, but feel like, maybe they slightly de-fang the story, as reminders to 'don't take this seriously' when maybe I think we should?  I mean, if only our Senators were all so noble.

Anyway I dunno, that's just how I'd make this story stronger and more meaningful. But maybe that wasn't the point.

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16 hours ago, ol' eddy wrecks said:

Wouldn't it be, Jacob's Ladder is just one big Mr. Smith's Yield (of the floor)?

ETA: that doesn't work as well as I wanted to, since he doesn't yield. Or technically, does he?  Does collapsing during a filibuster technically end it?

Collapsing would definitely end it since you have to stay on your feet the whole time. 

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Thinking through the core issue(s) I'm having with the movie, I'm coming back to a question I had, if the boy scout event isn't going to require funding, then why does he need to pass a bill? Why does it need to be state sanctioned?

I'm guessing because of the corruption smear they were running against him, did he need the Senate to reserve the land for this?  Which would require the government to buy or reimburse the owner of the land, right?

Which would cost the taxpayers money.

It would also divert a lot of the children of the country towards his state during the summer.  This would presumably be akin to tourist money being diverted into his state (probably not large amounts, since they aren't supposed to be in commercially active parts of the state for large portions, but realistically, they are going to need supplies). 

What I'm saying is, yeah Payne and Taylor were engaged a legitimate scandal, but Smith's own gosh-good-feeling bill isn't removed from a lot of the pork that people demonize the government from engaging in (just on a smaller scale).

But I'm not joking on the part about, "why did he need a bill for this?" Apart from the Senate bill that was about to destroy the campsite, which he didn't know about, why did he need a bill?

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23 minutes ago, ol' eddy wrecks said:

if the boy scout event isn't going to require funding, then why does he need to pass a bill?

It's like the border wall.  Sure, Mexico will pay for it eventually, but Trump needs U.S. money for it now.

(I hope the sarcasm was apparent.)

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16 minutes ago, bleary said:

It's like the border wall.  Sure, Mexico will pay for it eventually, but Trump needs U.S. money for it now.

(I hope the sarcasm was apparent.)

Then his whole line of, "it'll pay for itself, America already has enough on its plate to worry about"...

Why, that may not have been gee-gosh-golly truthful, if not with others, then at least with himself. Both now and it's ability to stay within budget in the future.

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Just now, ol' eddy wrecks said:

Then his whole line of, "it'll pay for itself, America already has enough on its plate to worry about"...

Why, that may not have been gee-gosh-golly truthful, if not with others, then at least with himself. Both now and it's ability to stay within budget in the future.

Yeah, I was absolutely not buying the fiscal neutrality of his plan.  Nor did I really understand why his camp couldn't be taken of through state legislature instead.  But in terms of the story, his "bill" is a red herring anyway, in that it's just a means through which he finds out about the corrupt machinery.

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States can definitely set up something like that, but if Congress wants to legislate in this area, the Supremacy Clause allows their legislation to have precedence and to be the minimum threshold for the States to follow.

And a national boys program would be allowable under the Constitution which gives Congress power to legislate the "general welfare" of the country, which certainly this is.  They may also have to claim the land as federal property first, which I can't remember if they were trying to do in the film?  Probably. 

Generally the film was pretty accurate about the law, which, believe me, is rare.

 

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I'm currently ruminating on whether this whole camp is feasible. To walk through some of this out loud: 

The land/fixtures - apparently the land was privately owned, so this would effectively be a taking and the government would have to reimburse the land owners. I assume the cost of purchase would be part of this "loan" to the kids. (Of course that's where the scandal for Mr. Smith comes in saying the purchase price ultimately comes from the coins of little boys). Then, the government would have to pay the contractors for the labor to put it in, and it would need continued funding for the people who will run it. That brings up a question - do the boys have to pay for this in perpetuity? 

The "loan" itself - what are the terms of this "loan?" How many boys are contributing? What if there isn't a critical mass of boys who CAN contribute? Are we binding these kids into a certain base-level contribution? Do you go after their scout leaders if there's not enough money? Do you require some kind of contribution based on income? Are these to be one-time contributions? Or are they recurring? And, for how long? Like above, this isn't just some monument that you can leave alone, we're talking about an ongoing public program. Will these boys, and all boys thereafter have to continue to pay for running the camp? And these are minors! I'm not up on contract law at the time, but I don't think minors can enter into contracts. 

But yes, this needs legislation because no federal money can be moved without a law providing for it, and because they're not just forking up cash, they will be responsible for oversight as well. (or will they? That's another problem with this bill). 

Also, as an aside, this whole movie deals with those dreaded earmarks that became such a public pariah after the "bridge to nowhere" that I think has played a role in the breakdown of bipartisanship. Legislators used to bargain with each other over money going to their home districts, i.e. "you vote for my bill and I'll support funding for your park/bridge/dam." Since the banishing of earmarks, there are fewer incentives to work across the aisle, and the cost-benefit calculation changes. 

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13 minutes ago, AlmostAGhost said:

States can definitely set up something like that, but if Congress wants to legislate in this area, the Supremacy Clause allows their legislation to have precedence and to be the minimum threshold for the States to follow.

And a national boys program would be allowable under the Constitution which gives Congress power to legislate the "general welfare" of the country, which certainly this is.  They may also have to claim the land as federal property first, which I can't remember if they were trying to do in the film?  Probably. 

Generally the film was pretty accurate about the law, which, believe me, is rare.

 

I got a nerdy glee out of the scene when Saunders goes on about Committees and Conferences. 

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I mean some of those holes, I assume, are because we weren't told every bit of the bill. But maybe it's because some rube with no experience wrote it. Haha

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33 minutes ago, WatchOutForSnakes said:

AlsoÔĽŅ, as an aside, this whole movie deals with those dreaded earmarks that became such a public pariah after the "bridge to nowhere" that I think has played a role in the breakdown of ÔĽŅbipartisanship. Legislators used to bargain with each other over money going to their home districts, i.e. "you vote for my bill and I'll support funding for your park/bridge/dam." Since the banishing of earmarks, there are fewer incentives to work across the aisle, and the cost-benefit calculation changes.¬†

I think if we dropped this whole Taylor/Payne corruption plot and just focused and the realities of passing Senator Smith's bill and how his good intentions had consequences that, which may have been justified, would have made his wholesome, simple Americana idea actually more complex that have to be figured out and reckoned with - I think I would have liked this movie more.

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