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Bob Roberts, Tim Robbins paranoid comic masterpiece

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“Bob? Ain’t that a bitch!” – Prince

Tim Robbins was condemning the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy before Hillary made it cool. He wrote, directed and starred as the titular Bob Roberts in 1992. Bob Roberts was a smiling, good looking and charismatic fount of pure, twisted hilarious conservative Republican evil.

Politics aside, Robbins made a really outstanding and clever movie with a strong vision, and no small number of laughs. He took every bad or bad sounding thing from the original Reagan-Bush years, and rolled it into one almost believable conspiracy arch. You see, the damned conservatives were looting S&Ls to invest in drug running from Central America to raise money to support the Contras- and enrich themselves, naturally. These couple of sentences may not sound that promising for a movie comedy, but the skill of the writing puts it all across.

Particularly, he created an exceptionally clever and comedy worthy frame for the whole thing. Bob Roberts is a pop star, writing folk style songs to express his fanatical and callous right wing views- which form the basis for a candidacy for the US Senate. This gives him endless opportunities to invert Dylan, the classic model for this stuff, for example his album “The Times Are Changin’ Back.” He also has a video parodying the famous cards-in-the-alley video, in which Bob Roberts now advocates making millions “by any means necessary.”

One big aspect that makes the whole thing work is the quality of the songs that Tim and his brother David Robbins wrote. Just as songs, they are more interesting than anything Dylan himself has done in 20 years. They’re pretty catchy, have fairly simple but effective and wide ranging arrangements, and the stench of sulfur from hell emanating from every single one. For example, he really embodies the war on drugs in “Drugs Stink” in which he encourages the literal lynching of drugs users and sellers. “Be a clean living man with a rope in your hand.” Not only that, it’s a catchy little tune.

Putting it in another context, I’d rate the songs from Bob Roberts notably superior to the actually good songs from the classic Spinal Tap. Both movies feature songs specially written as parodic content in character. Tap had some grooves, but the brothers Robbins wrote much more intricately clever songs. This not surprising in that Tap songs were Zen songs written in the voices of stupid people. Roberts is a wicked smart dude, much more interesting. The tunes are more developed, the arrangements not purposely cheesy. The words of “Complain” are more sophisticated than those of, say, “Sex Farm”. Not only are all the songs strong, but individually distinctive. Each one is a unique stylistic creation, not quite like any other.

Another thing that makes the flick great is just how far Robbins is willing to go, which is pretty far the hell out there. Specifically, the guy is conniving enough to stage an assassination attack on himself. Damn, but that’s a HARDCORE Republican bastard.

The climax of the plotline kicks in on a guest musician appearance on the Cutting Edge Live television show- a doppleganger for Saturday Night Live. As a writer, Robbins took the time to make a nicely unsympathetic swipe at SNL as self-deluded corporate sell outs, nothing but glorified faux-progressive PR flacks for the military-industrial complex. He explained this directly in a monologue being rehearsed by the guest host. Then he demonstrated it with the inanity of the cast and material of the show. For this little subplot, I’ve never seen a harsher or better drawn criticism of this iconic show. This segment alone about justifies the effort of watching the movie.

Note how he plays the puds at the show. As a matter of artistic integrity, he insists on performing a brand new song live on the air, a patriotic statement that he had written just that very afternoon. Then he reached over to play the reel-to-reel tape of the pre-recorded orchestral arrangements for what turns out to be essentially a campaign song. The perfect cynicism of this gesture shows precision and careful thought in the writing.

Look, if you have any taste at all for political movies, then you really HAVE to see this, to own a DVD. If Dr Strangelove, Wag the Dog and The Manchurian Candidate rate high on your list of groovy movies, this one is absolutely for you, even if you don’t necessarily buy a lot of the left wing politics.

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