How Hollywood has portrayed conspiracy theories | Film | DW | 08.06.2017
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Film

How Hollywood has portrayed conspiracy theories

Will former FBI Director James Comey's story be one day be turned into a movie? Here's a look at how Hollywood has portrayed past and fictional political scandals in the US.

Comparisons between the current state of US politics and the plots of Hollywood movies and television series are abundant. As Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek might say, reality has become virtual:  It is sometimes difficult to tell the two apart nowadays. So people turn to fictionalized events on television to help them better understand the world in which they live.

As controversy brews in United States politics, cultural critics have been looking closely at television series like "The Americans," a drama about Russian spies living in Washington D.C. at the height of the Cold War and "House of Cards," a thriller with Kevin Spacey as the US President. Others are turning toward Hollywood's reconstructions of major political events over the last century to get a better understanding of what's currently going on in the US executive and legislative branches.

Fidel Castro and Filmmaker Oliver Stone (picture-alliance/Mary Evans Picture Library)

Fidel Castro and filmmaker Oliver Stone, who has tackled many political figures

The FBI, according to Hollywood

One of the most prolific filmmakers tackling US political controversies has been Oliver Stone. The director has taken a brutal look at the biggest scandals in politics, making box office hits about former US presidents, with his films "JFK" and "Nixon." He has also covered the Vietnam War through a film trilogy and has made three documentaries on Cuba's former dictator, Fidel Castro. While Stone's films center on exploring the scandals, he does so by looking at the major players behind the scenes - which often means US intelligence agencies like the FBI and CIA.

The intelligence services hold a special place in Hollywood's imagination - perhaps because so little is known about what exactly the FBI does. In the unusual comedy "Wag the Dog," a US president, with the help of a media professional, makes up a fake war with Albania to distract from a burgeoning sex scandal. The plot is uncovered by a bumbling FBI agent.

While it's unclear how close to reality the film's plot comes - some of its fans drew parallels to US military involvement overseas in the late 1990s at the height of the Clinton impeachment trial - the movie ultimately had audiences questioning the role media plays in beating the war drums.

Filmstill Canadian Bacon (Imago/Entertainment Pictures)

Michael Moore's only non-documentary film, "Canadian Bacon," satirized Canada-US relations

Tall tales and true stories

That's a topic originally explored in director Michael Moore's 1995 comedy "Canadian Bacon," in which the US president decides to invade Canada. His humorous take on the differences between the two North American countries also looks at the role US intelligence services play in supporting politicians in the country.

Yet not all movies see the spy services as a barrel of laughs. John le Carré made a career out of writing spy thrillers set during the Cold War, a number of which were turned into blockbuster hits, including "Tinker Tailor Soldier."

"All the President's Men," a fact-based drama about how two "Washington Post" reporters broke the Watergate scandal also features an FBI agent - though that's not made clear in the movie. The true source who fed the reporters material - nicknamed Deep Throat - was unknown at the time the film was made. After his death, he was revealed to be an FBI agent eager to get the word out about wrongdoing.

For more films - based both on reality and fictional - that look at US political scandals and the role of the FBI, click through the picture gallery above.

 

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