As I settled into the cool dark cocoon of a movie theater on two separate nights this week, I had no idea that I was stepping into a time machine that would send me back into my own past.
It happened first in the film “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S.Thompson.” I knew Thompson slightly for a brief time in the 70’s. The giant screen seemed particularly appropriate for his persona which was so much larger than life. I expected to feel a bit of deja vu seeing him in a movie; what I never expected was to experience the same feeling about myself. In that film was a sequence so memorable that I found myself looking for my own image onscreen. The moment was the euphoria of standing on the floor with a visitor’s pass at the 1972 Democratic Convention in Miami Beach that nominated George McGovern for president.
At the time, the euphoria was so overpowering that it carried me from being a spectator to being a participant. I went from Miami Beach directly to Washington, D.C. to the McGovern campaign headquarters–where I worked fulltime as a volunteer until I woke up the morning after the election with an emotional hangover from losing every state except my then-home state of Massachusetts. The pain of that loss also had its poignant moment in “Gonzo”–if only a fleeting glimpse of the small size of the early Watergate articles in the Washington Post from the fall of 1972, dwarfed and swallowed up by the Nixon juggernaut.
My own life in politics ended at that instant–but my frustration led to my next life covering politics as a local TV reporter. That part of my past came alive again while watching “Swing Vote” with Kevin Costner.
“Gonzo” is so real; “Swing Vote” is so unreal. Yet they entwine so perfectly.
What stood with me and everyone else on the convention floor that night in 1972 was hope. The nourishment that fed our generation. The same emotion I could sense stirring in me as I watched “Swing Vote.”
What also leapt from the screen in both of these films was the belief in the ability of an individual to take part and change things. Which is something that has been absent, for me, in the decades between these moments–and now.
At least those feelings once existed for me. Which is more than I can say for my children’s generation–nourished on the cynicism that has spread like a cancer ever since Watergate.
Long ago I left politics and covering it on television to settle into a life completely out of the loop–and maybe that distance is the reason things came into such sharp focus in the dark of the theater. Not only was Hunter S. Thompson a visionary who accurately imagined the downward spiral on our nation’s path from the days of one George (McGovern) to another (must I even write it?) Watching both films gave me a jolt because I saw not only my own past—but the future. In the messages from both films is the same thing that I can sense and feel in the hearts and minds of the generation that is swarming for the first time into political rallies and hopefully into voting booths.
They are embracing not only the hope…not only the feeling that they have the power to take part and make changes. They are also embracing what we feel watching this fictional film about an election that could never happen–the truth buried inside the heart of every moviegoer: the wish for a happy ending.