An article about TCM and the African-American Film Critics' Association's (AAFCA) month-long programming initiative, The Black Experience on Film.
While it is one or two steps behind "Dr. Strangelove," "The President's Analyst" (1967) is a very good black comedy sniggering at Cold War paranoid. Maybe it's not as ruthless as that great comedy, but the movie romps cheerfully on its subjects with a take-no-prisoner attitude. And during this loony joy ride we eventually discover that the movie foretold something very accurate more than 40 years ago.
We have seen many psychiatrist whose lives become more burdensome than usual thanks to their unusual patients in the movies ("Analyze This") and TV series("The Sopranos" and "In Treatment"), but I think no one can top our hero Dr. Sidney Schaefer (James Coburn). His new patient is none other than the president of the United States, the most powerful figure in the world who incidentally does not appear on the screen.
In a Coen Brothers movie every pause and stutter, every "um" and grammatical (mis-)construction, every repetition and idiosyncratic pronunciation, is inscribed like a note on a musical staff. The composer-conductors write the music, indicate the pitch, tempo and duration of each passage, and the select musicians -- soloists and ensemble players -- attack their assigned parts with the virtuoso flair for which they are known. As composers have often written works specifically suited to the talents of their favorite musicians, so the Coens frequently write roles tailored to the individual actors they want to work with.
"Burn After Reading" is a deft little piece, directed with a straight face and performed with a roiling comedic energy that matches brio with precision. That's what makes it funny. Emmanuel Lebezki's cinematography, Carter Burwell's score, Roderick Jaynes' editing (yes, we all know that's a pseudonym) could proudly serve any modern espionage picture. All serve a ridiculously plotted absurdist farce, which is what the best spy stories usually boil down to, whether they're comic or tragic.
Who's that black guy in between the blonde Jack Black and the tattooed Ben Stiller? It's Robert Downey, Jr.
One of these days I'm gonna play it black Play it black One of these days... -- misquoted Elvis Costello song from "My Aim is True"
What will the Jim Crow "one-droppers" who didn't think Angelina Jolie was "African enough" to play Dutch-Jewish / Cuban-black-Hispanic-Chinese Mariane Pearl make of this? The actor in the center of the accompanying image is Robert Downey Jr., a white German-Scottish / Irish-Jewish actor. He's playing a white actor who is cast in a part originally written for a black actor, so he decides to play it black. The movie, "Tropic Thunder," is a satire of Hollywood actors making an epic war movie. It's directed by Stiller, co-written by Etan Cohen ("Idiocracy," "My Wife is Retarded" -- note that the "h" is not in the first name but the last; he's no relation to Joel) and Justin Theroux (who played a director in "Mulholland Dr." and an actor in "Inland Empire"). Nick Nolte, Jay Baruchel and Steve Coogan also star -- along with some big names in cameo appearances.
As Downey told Entertainment Weekly, "If it's done right, it could be the type of role you called Peter Sellers to do 35 years ago. If you don't do it right, we're going to hell." [...]
For the Close-Up Blog-a-thon at The House Next Door:
Someone is trying to kill Dr. Sidney Shaefer (James Coburn). Hell, it seems like just about everybody is trying to kill him -- or spy on him or abduct him or drug him or interrogate him or brainwash him or flip him or something. And it's no wonder. He knows too much. He's the president's analyst in Theodore J. Flicker's 1967 "The President's Analyst," one of the great unheralded movies of the '60s and one of the great paranoid political comedies ever -- part "Strangelove," part "Parallax View," part "Our Man Flint," part "Little Murders."
Poor Sidney -- or Sid, as his former patient and CEA (Central Enquiry Agency) agent Don Masters (Godfrey Cambridge) calls him. Even the President of the United States now has someone he can talk to. But Sidney can't trust anybody. So, for now, he has managed to slip away in the station wagon of the Typical American suburban Quantrill family of Seaside Heights, New Jersey: Wynn (William Daniels), Jeff (Joan Darling) and their son Bing (Sheldon Collins), tourists he picks up while they are taking a White House tour.
"Gee whiz, Dad. Why can't we take the FBR tour?" Bing whines. "I want to see the files."
"Sorry Bing," Dad replies. "We've got to get back to New Jersey as soon as we finish the White House.
"Now be a good boy and enjoy your heritage," says Mom.
View image "Yes."
The Quantrills are liberals. Not left-wingers or anything like that, but they're for civil rights. They've done some weekend picketing. As a matter of fact, they even sponsored the "Nigro doctor and his wife" when they moved into the development. Their next-door neighbors are fascists, though.
Stepping into the Quantrill's split-level home, Wynn flicks a switch on the living room wall and groovy Bacharach-esque Muzak begins to play. "Total sound," he explains with evident satisfaction.
"Want a draft beah?"
Dr. Sidney Schaefer slides off his sunglasses and beams ingratiatingly. "Yes."
I defy you to watch Coburn flash his killer pearly-whites here (can you tell Sid is maybe beginning to go a little off his rocker?) and not find yourself grinning, too. This is megawatt star-power, so bright you gotta wear shades.