CinemaDope: A Secret History

One of the most amazing things about the recent Occupy Wall Street protests (including the vast number of impromptu solidarity protests that have sprung up around the country) has been the widespread attitude of acceptance among civic leaders. It may not be universally welcomed, but by and large the movement seems to have been allowed to flourish in a way that the country—or more specifically, those in control of our country—would not have allowed not very long ago.

Now, I won’t go so far as to suggest that our leaders particularly agree with the demonstrators, and certainly not that all the demonstrations have been without incident. But that seeming tolerance—of tent cities and all that comes with them—may well mask a less conspicuous means of opposition, one that uses misinformation instead of fire hoses, whispers instead of shouts. Or maybe I’m just being paranoid. Either way, it’s a scene-setter for the arrival of J. Edgar this week.

Director Clint Eastwood’s new bio about the infamous FBI director—arguably the most powerful man in America for much of his career—tells a story that in many ways has more in common with The Godfather than it does with most stories of lawmen. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the long-ruling chief (between the FBI and its predecessor, Hoover ran the outfit for nearly five decades; DiCaprio undergoes some remarkable late-act makeup transformations). Time and again, Hoover’s penchant for secrets led him to deceit and blackmail in the name of protecting the nation.

It’s interesting, for a moment, to consider the pair of Eastwood and DiCaprio—opposite ends of the political spectrum in many ways—working together on a script by Oscar-winner Dustin Lance Black (Milk). But it’s obvious that, for these two at least, political issues are trumped by the art of a compelling story. And for a story of one man in America, it touches down on an amazingly wide swath of history: just a few of the supporting roles include Robert Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, Franklin Roosevelt, Emma Goldman, Charles Lindbergh, Richard Nixon, and Shirley Temple.

It’s difficult to imagine our country producing another Hoover. Or, to be more precise, to imagine he would be able to maintain his own secrecy; in our modern world, where nothing is ever truly erased, it seems impossible that anyone in politics could do that for so long. That he did it—and was allowed to get away with it—speaks to the era he helped create, one that leaves us with a remarkable story that is both biography and cautionary tale. It’s screening now at Pleasant Street Theater in Northampton.


Also this week: Speaking of our modern world, one of our cultural juggernauts comes giggling and squealing to the area when Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn comes to screens. In this installment, the vampire Edward Cullen and his human bride Bella find themselves with an unexpected pregnancy on their hands—and angry packs of vampires and werewolves out to get the child. Hadley’s Cinemark theater shows the film just after midnight on Thursday—tickets are on sale now, and you’d better believe it will sell out—but the true fans will be there for 4 p.m. Why so early, you ask? Because four is when the screening of the first Twilight movie gets underway. That’s right: the brave souls at the Hadley movie house will show all four films in the series back to back; following Twilight will be New Moon at 6:45 p.m. and Eclipse at 9:20 p.m., and then the grand finale will go off as the clock strikes 12. To sweeten the deal, the theater is offering some discounts at the concession stand, presumably because moviegoers will be sitting in a theater during the dinner hour, and even vampires need to eat once in a while.

Jack Brown can be reached at

Author: Jack Brown

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