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Hollywood Shoots Itself: Sullivan's Travels

Pick:  Sullivan’s Travels

Details: Saturday, July 30, 2 p.m., at ImaginOn. Admission: Free.

Viewpoint: Glib, motor-mouthed and unscrupulous, Donald Trump would be the perfect Preston Sturges character. In fact, the rude and casually cynical Hollywood Studio public relations man played by William Demarest in Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels seems to be a model for Trump. Indeed, much of Sturges’ comic masterpiece, released in 1941, seems strikingly modern. Ostensibly a lampoon of Hollywood, the film skewers the daily pretensions we as Americans embrace everyday – the smug assurance that we are well informed about everything, and that we always know what’s best for others. The plot hinges on John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrae), a film director who specializes in light comedies (much like Sturges) who wants to break out of the rut he’s dug with popular hits like Ants in Your Pants of 1939 so he can lens a stirring document of human suffering called O Brother, Where Art Thou. (Yes, this is where Joel and Ethal Cohen cribbed the title for their 2000 George Clooney comedy.) As research,Sullivan hits the road disguised as a hobo to see how the lesser half lives. Enforced hardships, comic high jinks and unexpected pathos ensue. It’s curious that Sturges, who ran a hot streak of critical and commercial successes from 1940 to 1944, is little known today outside of film-geek circles. Even his notorious tone shifts, veering from comedy to drama with disconcerting ease – witness the effect that the screening of a 1934 Walt Disney cartoon Playful Pluto has on members of a hardened chain gang – seem cut from today’s cloth, and not a revered cinematic relic from 75 years ago. At the core of Sullivan’s Travels beats a soft, compassionate heart. Sullivan may be a well meaning fathead, too self-important for his own good, but he’s open to learn and grow, and above all he wants to do the right thing. Maybe there’s a lesson there for us all in the age of Trump.—Nicole Fisher

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