Wednesday, December 8, 2010


The President's Analyst doesn't have as much Christmas in it, but give it some time. Once we get there, it'll be worth it.

It didn't see it when first came out. I wanted to see ultra-cool James Coburn in another Derek Flint movie, saving the American Way of Life from absurd, comic book-style threats while surrounded by all the near-naked women my junior high school eyes could stand. What was this? Coburn running around looking uncool, with hippies?

By the time The President's Analyst came to television, I was in high school, the Seventies had begun, and the American Way of Life was seeing threats that even Derek Flint couldn't defeat. By then, I could identify with Dr. Sidney Schaefer, and his freaking out at the consequences of taking on a job too big for any one human being.

The film's basic plot could have been a standard secret agent movie -- but instead, it deconstructs the genre, going satirical beyond the jabs of the Flint movies, charging into sci-fi. It could be considered one of the few New Wave science fiction movies, and for my money, it out- does the entire French New Wave, except for Godard's Weekend. The ending can only be described as pre-cyberpunk.

It begins with a black man in a DIZZY GILLESPIE FOR PRESIDENT sweatshirt stabbing a white man on a New York street in broad daylight. Godfrey Cambridge then brilliantly performs a speech about the N-word. This was years before the blaxploitation craze.

After Sidney Schaefer accepts the presidential analyst job surrounded by modern art – the DVD I have doesn't have the Warholian underground movie sequence – he goes on a walk through New York to a bossa nova soundtrack by Lalo Schifrin, who also provided the rest of the fantastic score. Bits of “Joy to the World” and “Jingle Bells” are sampled. But this is not the mind-blowing Christmas connection. Not yet.

It's both funny and disturbing to see James Coburn blow his trademark cool. He escapes through the world of conspicuous consuming, gun-toting, white middle-class liberals, into hippieland. His roll in the tall grass with Snow White while spies from all over the world kill one another, and Barry “Eve of Destruction” McGuire sings about changes re-arranging his mind, captures the appeal of wanting to escape into a counterculture. And such dreams eventually come crashing down.

Once Schaefer is back in the hands of spies, it gets futuristic. The end of the Cold War through developments in telecommunications, and the East getting more capitalistic as the West gets more socialistic, is predicted. It seemed like far-out satire at the time.

In the days before cell phones and the Internet, when the phone company was monolith, computers were room-sized monsters, people like Marshall McLuhan said strange things about how it would all change how we all live. The President's Analyst offers an idea of where it could all go. Remember, it warned of the Cerebrum Communicator long before the word “nanotechnology” was coined.

And it all ends with a Christmas celebration, news of the president negotiating with the phone company while, through hidden cameras, a horde of androids watch as “Joy to the World” plays. Let Earth receive her King . . . buzz . . . click!

But I wonder if the younger generation wouldn't think that the Cerebrum Communicator isn't such a bad idea. Would they want it for Christmas if it was available? And who would they trust to inject it into their waiting carotid arteries?

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