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Drexel Theater launches a series of political films to see us through Election Day 2024

"The Manchurian Candidate" (1962) kicks off the Drexel Theater's series "Voices: A Century of Political Cinema", which will run through November 13th.
Criterion Collection
"The Manchurian Candidate" (1962) kicks off the Drexel Theater's series "Voices: A Century of Political Cinema", which will run through November 13th.

Ohio's primary is one week from today, but the 2024 election season began months ago. The tempo and the rhetoric will continue to build to a crescendo that may - or may not - end with the general election in November.

Tuesday night the Drexel Theater is launching a monthly series of political films that will run through election day, beginning with the original 1962 version of "The Manchurian Candidate".

The movies in the series were drawn from a New Republic article on the "100 most significant political films of all time", and New Republic editor Michael Tomasky will open the series, which will also feature guest speakers.

Drexel Theater director Jeremy Henthorn says the movies selected don't reflect a particular political viewpoint, and they focus as much on the art as the politics.

"I think that "The Manchurian Candidate" even today holds up with some of the techniques it uses to tell the story. And I think that even today it resonates, in terms of the way people will view politicians, or the way people *think* things are happening. You know, a kind of paranoid thriller that dealt with the Cold War.... There still a lot of - when people think about politics - they always think that these things are happening behind the scenes, sometimes nefariously. And the [film makers] played into the suspense of that. And of course, having Michael Tomasky there to talk about that was one of the reasons that we wanted to open with that one."

You talk about how people suspect that there's a lot going on behind the scenes in politics, and your final selection is all about that. "Wag the Dog" may not have been the first film to focus on how the media is manipulated to sway elections - but it's probably the funniest!

Years ago, I had the opportunity to work at the Ohio Statehouse. And one of the things that you get to see behind the scenes is actually a positive thing, not a negative. You get to see a lot of people that you may see on television, opening arguing or something to that effect. But when you are there, you see how many of them are friendly with each other, how many of them are trying to work together.

Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman in "Wag the Dog"
New Line Cinema
Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman in "Wag the Dog"

There are two sides to politics, and I think a lot of the movies we picked try to show that. Obviously, they are not going to show the camaraderie that I saw as much; you're going to see a little more of the intrigue, but I still think that it does give the side that we see, the media side, the public side - as well as the behind the scenes."

Increasingly, even off-year elections are being billed as "pivotal for the future of democracy", and the rhetoric has become more and more strident. How do movies help Americans process what's going on in elections, and in the political landscape?

"So, one: humor! Humor can help. A lot of films about politics are going to to kind of poke fun at the system. But I think that a lot of films are very good when they show you behind the scenes, how the sausage is made, so to speak. That might give you a different perspective on what you're seeing.

The Great McGinty
Paramount Pictures

When you go into the voting booth, you're voting for issues that are in front of you. But you may not fully know everything that is going on, to get those to the ballot, to get those in front of people, the campaigning that takes place to try and sway to opinions of people... and I think that film can really take a subject, and really get into all of those aspects of the political system. And I think that it really does give people an insight on what it might be like to be on the other side."

The Drexel Theater series "Voices: A Century of Political Cinema kicks off tonight at 7pm with "The Manchurian Candidate". The remainder of the series includes:

April 10: A Face in the Crowd (1957)
May 8: Being There (1979)
June 12: Milk (2008)
July 10: The Great McGinty (1940)
August 14: Harlan County, USA (1976)
September 11: No (2012)
The Lives of Others (2006)
November 13: Wag the Dog (1997)

All films are at 7pm. More information is available at Drexel-dot-net, under special events.

A native of Chicago, naturalized citizen of Cincinnati and resident of Columbus, Alison attended Earlham College and the Ohio State University. She has equal passion for Midwest history, hockey and Slavic poetry.