[Quick Summary: A CA legal aid attorney attempts a senatorial campaign to talk about issues, knowing very well that he'll probably lose against the incumbent.]
Before tv was commonly used to shape public opinion in campaigns...
Before there was campaign finance (1972) and this film...
A journalist named Jeremy Larner was the speechwriter for McCarthy (1968). He wrote a book,* and this prescient script.
In this film, Robert Redford plays an attorney who wants to talk about issues...except no one else does. His campaign staff wants photo ops (that tell half the story). The media want sound bites (that sound better than his real responses).
He is worn down little by little, like a death by a thousand paper cuts.
I loved how we do not notice the candidate's gradual slide at first.
The writer creates situations where small compromises are required...and another...and another. Soon, the candidate is in a pit and doesn't know how.**
Here is one such innocent "paper cut":
ex."INT. McKAY HOUSE.
McKay comes in the front door and stops short. Photographer's lights are set up on a stand. Two men stand there.
McKAY: What you doing in my house?
WRITER: I'm having an affair with your wife.
WRITER: She said if you came in I should say I was a writer from Parade, but you don't believe that.
Nancy emerges from bedroom in riding pants, with crop and felt riding helmet.
NANCY: Oh Bill, this is Mr. Shearer, Bill, and this is Mr. Scott.
McKAY: (shaking hands) From Parade.
WRITER: I trust this is the beginning of a life-long affinity.
McKAY: It's the beginning of something, anyhow. Can you excuse us a minute, gentlemen?
WRITER: Certainly, certainly.
McKay and Nancy step to the side.
McKAY: What's going on?
NANCY: They want to photograph me riding.
McKAY: You haven't worn that stuff in years.
NANCY: You haven't worn that dark suit in years.
McKay starts to walk away, turns back to her.
McKAY: Just not in the house, Nancy. Get those guys out of the house.
NANCY: I was doing it for you.
Nancy starts to cry, turns away, walks back into the kitchen....
McKay follows her into the kitchen - takes her loosely in his arms, comforts her awkwardly. We can see by the way he touches her he is irritated and put off."
WHAT I'VE LEARNED: These small compromises really do add up.
The beauty is that they seem so inconsequential at the time...until we pull back to see the big picture
The Candidate (1972)
by Jeremy Larner
*Nobody Knows: Reflections on the McCarthy Campaign of 1968 (1970)
** It's like a frog in a pot. It doesn't notice the water is getting warmer, nor when it boils to death.