Bill Clinton and Roger Ebert Geek Out

Check out this conversation between Ebert and Clinton from 1999, actually one of the more candid interviews I’ve seen with the president, and he’s mainly just geeking out on movies he likes.

RE: You know, here’s Bogart who wasn’t very tall, wasn’t very handsome, had kind of a lisp, needed a hairpiece, smoked too much and is just about the most popular movie star of the century just ending.

WJC: He’s just fabulous. I was thinking about The other day I watched “African Queen” again, the other day just to see it, because it’s just an unbelievable movie. You know, and he just There was something about him.

RE: There was.

WJC: And he was magic. He was great in the dramas, he was a great comedian, he was really funny in the funny roles he had and in the movies where he played a bad guy he was a compelling bad guy, but it didn’t destroy his box office appeal. And he could do things, he could get away with anything on the screen because he was so authentic. I don’t know enough about his life to know, but he was gangbusters. And the range he had was stunning.

RE: He was great. You know, I have a theory that the real movie stars for me are the ones who were movie stars when I was still growing up at home. In that, the movie stars I meet now as a movie critic are just other people who are about my age. In other words, when I met John Wayne for the first time I was in awe, because he was John Wayne, but if I meet Al Pacino well he’s Al Pacino. Is there anybody living who you’ve met who strikes you in the same way as the movie stars of your childhood.

WJC: Yeah. DeNiro and Streep. I think they’re of that quality.

RE: So that even when they’re in the room with you they have the star quality that let’s say Bogart had on the screen.

WJC: Yeah. They both I’ve been friendly with them, Hillary and I have, and they’ve been uncommonly kind to us and they’re my contemporaries in age, Meryl’s younger than I am a little, but they’re just They’re gifts and they’re range are so extraordinary. Look at all the different roles DeNiro’s been in, he’s a Jesuit in 16th century south Brazil and he’s a Jake LaMotta and he’s great in all those Italian mobster movies, but he’s got a real range you know. And I think Meryl Streep’s one of the two or three greatest female actresses ever on the screen.

RE: Oh, she is.

WJC: I think that there are very few actresses ever in the movies with the range and power she has.

RE: People talk about her accents, even in “Music of the Heart” as a music teacher, that’s really an accent, that’s not the way she talks.

WJC: No. She did great as Roberta Guaspari (sp). She was great. That’s a great movie. But you know, how did she develop the accent for “Sophie’s Choice?”

RE: I don’t know.

WJC: And she also is the best actress when she’s not talking of anyone I’ve ever seen. When they make her in “Sophie’s Choice,” she’s got to make a decision between which one of her kids to give up. You know, the most inhuman thing, just about, the most sort of non- physically violent, inhuman thing ever on the screen, you know just the picture of her face. And I remember those in “The Deer Hunter,”
which is my favorite Vietnam War movie, the guy comes back to their little Pennsylvania town to tell her that her, the love of her life was killed in Vietnam and she’s working in the grocery store and he keeps following her around and he’s trying to tell her and she’s fooling with the merchandise. I mean there’s a long period of time where she doesn’t say a word, it’s one of the most effective scenes I’ve ever seen in the movies.

Read on, it’s great. They geek out on everything from Blazing Saddles to Fight Club. It’s easy to forget what a brilliant guy Clinton is, especially underneath his faux-folksy veneer, but the guy is brilliant. It’s a fascinating read.


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2 responses to “Bill Clinton and Roger Ebert Geek Out

  1. Ted

    that is an awesome interview. it’s amazing to see him talk about “fight club” though. it’s as if he understands that movie is an indictment of that clinton-era late-capitalist consumerist mindset. the arrogance, the dangerous privilege, the fakeness… he suddenly gets all political there and starts talking about his achievements with the poverty rate.

    i suppose the poverty stats are a good thing to keep in mind, but that movie – and “american beauty” to a lesser extent i think – portray the anxiety beneath the surface, the fucked-up reality-show mentality that has only gotten worse since the 90’s (except now the desperation is setting in). but yeah, clinton must know that his administration was a serious enabler to all that shit.

  2. Mafoo

    Ha, yeah I noticed that! He’s smooth and pretty open the whole time, but at that point he mutters an “um” and hops on the propaganda train for a moment. He has a point when he says that “it’s simply not true that this that the material advances we’ve had are inherently bad or empty”. I agree that money or comfort in itself isn’t inherently bad, but ironically it’s that very comfort that led to the Bush administration. America felt all fat and dumb and thought, ‘how much worse could Bush be than Gore?’.
    I remember reading an interview with Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club) around that time in which he revealed that he was planning on voting for Bush, because he thought things had to get a lot worse before they could get better. That idea has stuck with me, although it’s hard to imagine where we go from here…

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