For this week's Flashback Friday, I wanted to write about a movie that I first saw in the early 1990s, Eddie Murphy's "The Distinguished Gentleman." When I saw it way back then, I thought it was dumb and completely forgot all about it.
After my internship experience in D.C., especially since I worked in the Vice President's office in the U.S. Capitol building (by far the most exciting office environment I've ever worked in), I watched everything about D.C. that I could find. I even watched the Frank Capra classic "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" for the first time in my life. A funny thing happened between the time I first watched "The Distinguished Gentleman" in the early 1990s and the second time I watched it in late 2000: the film was brilliant and hilarious! I finally got a lot of the inside jokes and was impressed how well the makers of the film pegged our government. I saw Senators and members of Congress up close and personal. Some of them, you wonder how they even got elected (I was wondering that about Senator Evan Bayh, who seemed clueless at a special dinner for Senators the night of the State of the Union. He kept asking Feinstein and another Senator what they had to do next and where he needed to stand). Some were so corrupt, you could feel the sleeze ooze off of them if you stood really close (cough, cough, Delay).
What I loved about "The Distinguished Gentleman" is that it's about a conman (played by Eddie Murphy in full comedic glory) who discovers that Congress is the biggest racket of all time and wants in. His name happens to be similar to a longtime Congressman who conveniently dies (in a manner most appropriate for a Republican politician) so he runs on name only and wins. In his victory speech, he shows himself to be so intellectually vacant that all he can offer are lame soundbites from other politicians ("the only thing we have to fear...", "ask not what your country can do for you...", "read my lips"). He arrives in Congress just as clueless, bringing along his entourage of fellow con artists and they proceed to do a con job, until they stumble upon an important issue and realize that real American lives are affected by decisions made on Capitol Hill. Thus, we see the transformation of a con artist who only sought ways to line his own pocket into a person witty and sly enough to con the biggest con artists in government: corrupt politicians who smile for the camera while making deals that go against their public image.
If you've never seen this film, I highly recommend it with a personal guarantee that a lot of what the film portrays is exactly the kind of shit I saw in my time as an intern in D.C. It shouldn't surprise anyone, really, because that's the way the game is set up when you have big money able to influence policies and politicians who require money to run for office. Nothing will change until America gets serious about campaign finance reform (my big issue, which I wrote my final college term paper on).
Most of all, the film's poster is one of my favourites of all time. It's a brilliant rendition of what goes on in Washington...the idea of the Capitol Dome as a dish cover, beneath which lies the specialty: oodles of cash.
I also liked Eddie Murphy in this film. Similar to "Coming to America", he speaks with many accents and voices, which adds to the hilarity factor. One role his con-man plays is speaking as a black minister in which he sounds almost like Martin Luther King himself. A decade ago, when I attended a booksigning by Andrew Young (former Atlanta mayor and a lieutenant in Dr. King's SCLC organization), Young told the people gathered there that he wanted to see Eddie Murphy play Dr. King in a movie someday. The audience laughed at that suggestion, almost as though they thought it sacriligious to say so, but he claimed that Eddie Murphy came close to having the same sense of humor that Dr. King did. After seeing him speak as a black minister in "the Distinguished Gentleman", I have to agree with Andrew Young. Eddie Murphy is the best actor to play Dr. King (if Hollywood is reading this, please make it happen!).
What this film reflects to me is not only how my first impression can change (I can't believe I didn't like it when I first watched it), but also how a movie can come so close to reflecting what I experienced or saw, especially in a place like the U.S. Capitol building. Even though its a comedy and a satire, I would say that it probably hits closer to the truth than any documentary ever could.