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Election will end, but presidents live on through cinema

Courtesy of MCT

Tuesday is the day. The day that all the campaigning has led up to. The day that America chooses. The day that all those television ads finally stop. By the end of the night, we’ll either have a new president or we’ll be led by Barack Obama for four more years. Nov. 6 will be quite a day, either way.
The lives of our past presidents have long been fodder for the movies. As far back as D.W. Griffith’s nasty bit of racist propaganda “The Birth of a Nation” (1915), which depicts the assassination of former President Abraham Lincoln, actors have been bringing the leaders of our country to life on the big screen.
With Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” coming out Nov. 16 (keep an eye out for a review in The Lantern) and this election cycle coming to an end, here are some other presidential films to give you your political fix on Nov. 7 and beyond.
After “The Birth of a Nation,” Lincoln was present in numerous films. In 1939, John Ford, the prolific director of Westerns (including, but certainly not limited to “Stagecoach” from the same year, and 1956’s peerless “The Searchers”), directed Henry Fonda in “Young Mr. Lincoln.” The film fictionalizes Lincoln’s early days as a lawyer and, in 2003, was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”
This year, audiences have two big screen depictions of Lincoln. Though it remains to be seen how Daniel Day-Lewis will fair in Spielberg’s long-gestating passion project, anyone who sat through “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” knows he certainly can’t be any worse than Benjamin Walker in Timur Bekmambetov’s sloppy genre mashup. How a film about one of America’s most beloved presidents dispatching the undead with an axe came out so joyless is beyond me.
Later in the year, we’ll also get “Hyde Park on Hudson” starring Bill Murray as President Franklin D. Roosevelt. While reviews have been decidedly mixed, there’s a good chance someone in your extended family will suggest seeing it over Christmas break.
Fitting right in with the revisionist supernatural history of “Vampire Hunter,” if Bill Murray doesn’t do it for you, there’s always “FDR: American Badass!” also released this year. Starring Barry Bostwick, the film features a motley crew of B-grade actors playing historical figures, werewolves, Nazis, and sometimes all three. Frankly, it looks unwatchable.
Another former president who shows up in films often is Richard Nixon. Tricky Dick has been the subject of films ranging from Oliver Stone’s 1995 “Nixon,” starring Anthony Hopkins, to “Frost/Nixon” in 2008, in which Frank Langella played the president. Both he and Hopkins were nominated for Academy Awards for the respective performances, because if the Oscars love one thing, it’s famous actors playing famous historical figures.
Philip Baker Hall puts on a one-man show as Nixon in “Secret Honor,” from Robert Altman, the director of “MASH” and “Short Cuts.” In “Dick” (1999), Dan Hedaya does a suitably grumpy take on Nixon, as he’s pestered by Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams (the film also features an early supporting turn from Will Ferrell).
Stone once again returned to the presidential biopic with 2008’s “W,” chronicling the life and presidency of George W. Bush. Starring Josh Brolin as Dubya and James Cromwell as his father, George H. W. Bush, the film suffered from a rushed production and release, but was not without its virtues – notably, a surprisingly sympathetic turn from Brolin.
But who will embody Obama in the eventual film about his life? And will we ever see a film about Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, or will he be relegated to a supporting role, like so many Barry Goldwaters, George McGoverns and David Dukes, who all sought the presidency in vain?
Only time will tell.

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