Children of Men, 28 Days Later, The Postman: The cinematic influences of RickPerry's latest campaign ad
Lucas Baiano creates epic blockbusters of two minutes or less. It takes a bit longer than their running times to put these films together, it's true, but not by very much. Baiano is the twenty-three-year-old Canadian-American auteur behind the most impressive tentpole movies of 2011: the Republican presidential campaign ads of former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and Texas' own Rick Perry—currently airing all over the country in advance of the forthcoming primary season and making their way around the world as the web's hottest viral videos.
Elevating the negative political cliches that traditionally dominate campaign discourse to something like approaching art, Baiano, who in the past created ads for both Hillary Clinton's and John McCain's 2008 presidential bids, is possessed by a cinematic flair that's credibly on par with some of Hollywood's biggest action directors. To see his work instantly calls to mind the works of filmmakers like Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay; his latest opus, released on Wednesday by the Perry campaign, is perhaps his greatest achievement yet.
In honor of this stirring achievement in the field of political campaign video arts, let's take a few moments to examine the cinematic touchstones whose influence has ingrained itself in "Rick Perry: Proven Leadership"'s DNA.
The ad's opening montage features scenes of an empty American-everywhere, depicting urban depots and small towns alike as devoid of any people whatsoever. There is no wreckage, no evidence of some form of mass-destruction that would have killed everybody off, just quiet streets and the impending gloom of a thunderstorm. This isn't a post-apocalyptic wasteland, it's a mid-apocalyptic event that has everybody abandoning their lives and seeking shelter somewhere, anywhere safe. In this regard, "Proven Leadership" most readily calls to mind a recent landmark in "where is everybody" movies, 28 Days Later. In mere seconds, flashes of rider-less train cars and shuttered homes and businesses mirror the infected England of Danny Boyle's 2002 film, with an abandoned Times Square the perfect stand-in for London's own Piccadilly Circus. As a bonus, the Obama "Hope" poster shown at the :16 mark corrodes and degrades the president's face in an almost zombie-like fashion. (See also: AMC's ">The Walking Dead)
The established US-wasteland then transitions to a frenetic intercutting of Obama campaign iconography with talking head stats and figures touting phrases like "zero job creation" and "zero change," pinning the current state of a teetering economy and related issues such as poverty firmly on the current administration, as we see additional shots of city life—this time populated by innocent people left homeless and begging in the present day.
While the temptation exists to attribute any "political figure on a virtual screen" aesthetic to George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and Michael Radford's subsequent film adaptation, a more recent and perhaps even better comparison can be found in Alfonso Cauron's 2006 dystopian sci-fi New Classic, Children of Men. Clive Owen navigates a London of the not-too-distant future where government propaganda is seamlessly embedded right on the periphery of a modern citizen's daily routine. Owen buys a coffee, watches a news report, and carries on normally in a world where his nation's ongoing state of war and recession cause society to crack all around him.
Almost subliminally, Baiano's ad also suggests new external threats to American stability, inserting split-second shots of Chinese-language advertisements and a scene of Chinese and American diplomats shaking hands right at the :40 mark. This kind of panic-mongering at the prospective rise of a Chinese superpower has become more common in both far-right American politics and mainstream popular culture in recent years. Until recently, the soon-to-be-released re-make of Red Dawn featured an invading China (that antagonist has since been changed to North Korea in post-production, in an effort to—you guessed it—sell more movie tickets in China).
Then, the turn, at the :43 mark. A brighter day (literally) for America is ushered in on a slow-motion-galloping horse. The country/city dynamic is reconciled in a single candidate with consecutive shots of a besuited Governor Perry and a silhouetted of good old "Rick" in cowboy denim. "A New Name in Leadership" will guide us back to the United States of America that we once knew but have apparently forgotten. The "Rustic Messiah" figure gladhands with workers on job-sites and commands the podium as he reminds us of an America that lives up to its promise.
I can think of no better contemporary film companion than part-time Austinite Kevin Costner's 1997 epic boondoggle The Postman. Which is kind of ironic, considering that mainstream Republican sentiment has recently favored the dismantling of the US Postal Service, but the western-motifs alone are too rich a commonality to ignore. Perry might as well be riding that on horse himself, straight out of the Texan sunrise and carrying in his saddlebags the hopes of millions for a restored central government with leadership that can stand-up to the trials ahead. And maybe some mail, while he's at it.
In "Rick Perry: Proven Leadership," Lucas Baiano has given us another American savior figure worthy of the multiplex, only already sized-down and formatted to fit your screen for convenient home viewing. Assuming Governor Perry's campaign will maintain enough momentum to carry into next summer's nominating convention, the RNC might want to make sure they're all stocked up on popcorn.