Archive for May 30th, 2017


By J.D. Lafrance

The rise of media consultants in the 1970s and 1980s changed the way political campaigns were run and how politicians were sold to the public. Make no mistake; this is an expensive practice with costs to run a successful campaign increasing every year. It is the job of the media consultant to create the most attractive image of their client to present to potential voters while creating a negative image of their opponent. This is nothing new, but back in 1986 when Sidney Lumet directed Power from a screenplay by David Himmelstein, the notion of a media consultant wielding influence was a novel concept. So novel that the film received mixed reviews by critics and was virtually ignored by audiences (it failed to recoup its modest $16 million budget). With hindsight one can see that the film was ahead of its time with a slick, charismatic protagonist that anticipated real-life counterparts like James Carville. Power asks some fascinating questions about the nature of power and influence and its effects. It also remains one of Lumet’s sorely under-appreciated films.

The consultant’s job is to create a positive image of the client and this is evident in the film’s opening scene where a South American political leader is making a speech to hundreds of people in a crowded town square. A bomb goes off and the man springs into action, rushing to the aid of a woman injured in the blast. He cradles her head in his arms, making him look like an instant hero until we see a camera crew documenting the entire event. Successful media consultant Pete St. John (Richard Gere) coaches the leader once he hustles him into a waiting van, telling him to wear his now bloody shirt for the rest of the campaign. Pete proceeds to tell the man what to say, how to act, and so on. We’re left wondering if the whole thing was staged or did he brilliantly capitalize on the moment?

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