Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

Screening Room, Inside Out: Frost/Nixon and Milk Hold a Mirror to Our Fears

Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

Screening Room, Inside Out: Frost/Nixon and Milk Hold a Mirror to Our Fears

Article excerpt

Screening Room BY FRANK PITTMAN

Inside Out Frost/Nixon and Milk hold a mirror to our fears

We've all been outsiders at some time or other in our lives. (Remember first grade?) Back when I was growing up in the swamps of Alabama, all the boys knew that our little town wasn't the real world, but, try as we did, we couldn't imagine a workable idea of what was on the other side of the swamp. So like kids everywhere, we wove our fantasies of what the world might be like from the fantasy images we brought back from the movie theater two blocks away.

What we saw up on the big screen were heroes and tough guys and romantic lovers, the likes of Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, and Humphrey Bogart. Still, it was hard to bridge the gap. Real men on screen always seemed to know things we'd never been taught. We outsiders in the audience couldn't imagine a time when we'd know what insiders knew. After all, we couldn't rely on ourselves: we'd never been anywhere.

So how could we ever discover a way to navigate a world that seemed to lie far beyond our grasp? To step across the alligators and begin to tread confidently in the terra incognita of the great wide world, we knew we needed guides who could show us the way. In the darkness of the local movie theater, we tried to see life through the eyes of characters who, one way or another, we felt had been able to enter the charmed circle of real experience that seemed so far, far away from us.

Of course, we all come from a swamp of one kind or another, and ever since the invention of moving pictures, outsiders of all types have flocked to the movies to rise above their disabling social awkwardness and sneak over and under the fences with the members-only signs that separated them from embracing what they longed for in life.

Growing up, I especially admired the guys who were so tough and independent they didn't need approval and direction from anyone. I wanted to be my own man, but I knew I wasn't, and could only dream of ever becoming one. With the advent of the screen rebels of the 1950s, however, I found a new breed of hero to show me the way. I was in awe of Marlon Brando and James Dean and the other brooding, riveting outsiders who began to populate movie screens. However moody and miserable, I'd never seen characters on screen quite like the ones they portrayed. They seemed so completely themselves, without a need for the constant social approval I desperately hungered for. I tried to walk and talk like they did. I even had the strange notion that once I'd perfected my swaggering, outsider routine, a woman as knock-'em-dead gorgeous as Liz Taylor would fall in love with me.

Fifty years later, waves and waves of cultural and cinematic fashions have come and gone. We've been through the 1960s, the Vietnam wars, the Me Generation, and, now, George W. Bush. We're certainly less enthralled with the daring and the narcissism of the classic 1950s movie rebel, and we've learned that society isn't always wrong, and rebels aren't always right. But beyond that, as society has become more head-spinningly fluid, we're much less sure who exactly the outsiders and insiders are, from moment to moment. And what's more, as two recent movies have shown, outsiders needn't be charismatic or even particularly appealing to capture the attention of today's psychologically minded movie audiences trying to discover clues to their own sense of social exclusion up on the screen.

British screenwriter Peter Morgan, who wrote The Queen, The Last King of Scotland, and now Frost/Nixon, specializes in exposing the most private (and most complex) of the public figures of our time. Frost/Nixon is based on interviews videotaped in 1977 between disgraced, unapologetic ex-President Richard M. Nixon and deceptively lightweight British TV talk-show host David Frost, accustomed to interviewing the likes of Zsa Zsa Gabor and Muhammad Ali, who sets out to expose the tortured psyche of the most loathed of American presidents--at least at that time. …

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