Sometimes you get more than you ask for. That’s what happened to Anthem Film Festival organizer Jo Ann Skousen when she polled a panel at the Anthem Film Festival for their top libertarian films. There are more than 10.
Both the panel and the audience had lots of suggestions.
The panel, “Top 10 Films Every Libertarian Should Know,” part of FreedomFest , July 8-11, 2015 at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, consisted of Hollywood insiders and libertarian gurus: Stephen Cox, editor of Liberty Magazine; Gary Alexander, Senior Writer at Navellier.com; Doug Casey, best-selling author; and, Marc Eliot, “Hollywood’s Biographer.”
Skousen chaired the panel. She gave “libertarian film” a broad definition. “Libertarian films are not necessarily about fighting the government,” she said. “They can be about the importance of the individual and the struggle to achieve. Also, films about the unintended consequences of government action or problems with Libertarian philosophy should be included.”
Skousen began the list with her picks, 42, the story of Jackie Robinson, and Winter’s Bone. “I picked 42,” she said, “because it shows it was a businessman who ended segregation in baseball, not the Supreme Court or government. Robinson was brought onto the team because people valued what he had to offer. Winter’s Bone, Jennifer Lawrence’s big break, is about a young girl who protects her family and home when her father disappears. Also, she teaches her younger brother self-reliance.”
She then asked each panelist to name his or her top two favorites.
Stephen Cox was up next. “I like His Girl Friday,” he said, “with Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant. It’s a romance on the surface but it’s also about a newspaper fighting a corrupt city government and trying to free a man unjustly imprisoned.” Second, he chose Auntie Mame, with Rosalind Russell and Forrest Tucker. “It’s not political,” he explained, “but it shows the impact a single individual can have in the world.” Can we say Rosalind Russell fan-boy?
Gary Alexander liked Elia Kanzan’s America America and Shenandoah. “Kazan tells the story of his uncle in the 1890s and his struggle to escape Turkish persecution in Anatolia and come to America,” he said. “Shenandoah shows that even after they get here, people have to struggle to keep their independence and avoid being pulled into wars they want nothing to do with.”
Doug Casey went anti-establishment with his choice V for Vendetta, with Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving. It’s the story of a freedom fighter working against an oppressive future English government. “I also like Lucy,” he said. Lucy stars Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman. “She revolts against captivity and the film explores the ultimate potential of a human being.”
The “just two rule” went out the window here as Casey continued, adding Watchmen to the list. “When I grow up,” he said, “I want to be Dr. Manhattan.” Casey also nominated High Noon for its focus on individual responsibility and integrity.
Marc Elliot picked A Face in the Crowd and High Noon. “A Face in the Crowd was inspired by the intersection of the careers of Arthur Godfrey and Elvis Presley,” he said. “It shows how a libertarian personality can affect politics and everything else in the lives we live. It also cautions us to be wary of the veneer we see in media, because what goes on behind the scenes can be very different.”
Elliot’s choice of High Noon was for a different reason than Casey’s.
“When Gary Cooper’s character finds out that a man he sent to prison years before is coming back with a gang to seek revenge, he goes to the townspeople for help,” Elliot explained. “He reminds them that he saved the town, and asks them for help. The people begin to respond, but then the mayor, played by Thomas Mitchell, gets up. He tells the townspeople, ‘The fellows up north are watching us.’ The ‘fellows up north’ are the politicians who can influence the town’s future. So, to avoid upsetting politicians, everyone deserts Cooper’s character.”
Elliot also cited Shane as a film for libertarians. “There is no law in this picture,” he said. “Shane, played by Alan Ladd, is a drifter who wanders into a fight over land rights. He takes sides in a fight between the rich landowners and immigrants.”
Eliot thought the final scene of Shane was particularly symbolic. He said, “When the young fatherless boy who idolizes Shane runs after him at the end of the film, yelling his name, he is the next generation trying to call back its heroes, but that time is gone forever.”
The panel generally agreed that in terms of genres, libertarian themes most often appeared in westerns and science fiction. Skousen summarized it this way: “Both the classic American West and the worlds of many science fiction films are wildernesses. In the wilderness people are free. In the ‘city’ there is regulation and duty. Conflict is inevitable.”
Questions and suggestions from the audience extended the “top 10 list”.
Cox agreed with an audience member that Citizen Kane belonged on the list. “It was a tragedy of individualism,” he said. “It was about people with good values who can’t seem to get everything right.” This reminded him of The Red Shoes and All About Eve. “These films have absolutely nothing to do with politics or government, but people still have problems. They show me that you can have a rich, full world beyond government.”
An audience member asked about Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Alexander commented that it fit into the libertarian model because it was not about people going to Washington for a handout. “All they wanted was a loan to build a boys’ camp,” he said. “They intended to pay it back.”
Elliott also shared a story about the film. “When Capra finished it, he arranged to have it previewed in Congress. He thought they were going to tell him what a great film he had made. Instead, they screamed that he was showing how corrupt they were. They almost lynched him.”
One audience member asked the panel what their most reviled films were. Cox nominated Mission to Moscow. “It made Joe Stalin a hero,” he said. Alexander put West Wing on the bad list. Casey said of the 1960s favorites La Chinoise and I Am Curious Yellow, “Boring, totally unwatchable, and commie through and through.”
Elliot went into more detail about his reviled film, The Graduate. “It is a totally anarchic film. The hero rejects the material world in favor of floating around in his parents’ pool and making love to his father’s partner’s wife. The ending also goes for anti-religious symbolism as, after stealing the bride away from the wedding ceremony, he traps people in the church, using a cross to lock the door.”
The most surprising person to walk up to the audience microphone was FreedomFest founder and chairman, Dr. Mark Skousen.
Skousen asked the panel, “What happened to Disney?” He recalled how King John, the villain in the animated Robin Hood, railed “We’ll double and triple their taxes.”
Eliot answered saying, “Disney had a lot of problems with his father. You see this is in a lot of the cartoons where fathers are missing or causing problems. Later, the Disney brand morphed into a world of innocence and youth, but while Disney was really in charge it was more focused. His father was a socialist and Disney hated big government.”