The Spirit of America
December 22, 2001
BOB GARFIELD: On Friday, after multiple meetings with the Bush administration, Hollywood answered the president's call to patriotism and released the 3 minute film The Spirit of America, a montage of American movie clips that reflect many aspects of the American character including diversity. [SONG FROM FILM WEST SIDE STORY "IN AMERICA"]
BOB GARFIELD:The Spirit of America's director Chuck Workman is a master of the movie montage. He's created special film sequences for the Academy Awards and won an Oscar for his 1987 short documentary on favorite flicks from the last 50 years. While The Spirit of America has a Capra-esque quality to it, some of its selections, such as the Deerhunter and Born on the Fourth of July were not exactly the patriotic feel-good hits of their respective summers. Still, Workman says, their spirit is undeniably American.
CHUCK WORKMAN: Born on the Fourth of July, even though it was about an anti-war activist, there are scenes that could have been in the most heroic John Wayne movie when this poor guy is shot and paralyzed and becomes a quadriplegic and that the fact that he becomes an anti-war activist is even more American than if he were not, and that's part of our culture is to be this kind of defiant person who basically follow our own instincts, so to me that was as American as, you know, the Green Berets movie itself.
BOB GARFIELD: So you didn't cheat? I mean it's not out of context, taking someone that was meant ironically and presenting it as-- earnest?
CHUCK WORKMAN:No, it's not earnest. I think if you don't feel the irony of the film, then you miss the point of the film. The film is surprising to people because it has those scenes -- it has One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. It has Easy Rider. What could be more American than Easy Rider now when in '68 it was thought of as, you know, some sort of radical hippie movie.
BOB GARFIELD: Well I guess the idea of the reluctant hero is as significant a Hollywood archetype as there is.
CHUCK WORKMAN:And that kind of reflects on America's political situation right now in that we're kind of the reluctant aggressor or the reluctant revenge-taker or whatever you want to call it. You know, like don't mess with us.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] The, the reluctant revenge-taker. [LAUGHTER]
CHUCK WORKMAN:But you know, you even look at Erin Brockovich or characters like that -- modern characters -- Big Daddy -- we have a scene from - we have a section about family -- these are people that didn't necessarily -- they were going about their own lives; then suddenly something is thrust upon them, and what the American movie does is the American movie says okay. This character is about to be-- do something heroic or do something that they're pushed to the edge and they succeed and as melodramatic as that may sound and as artificial as that may sound, it's very much like life in that these things are thrust upon us, and we're all not heroes, but if we have to be, we can be. And, and I think that's another thing that came out of September 11th is that there are a lot of heroes that we didn't even think about.
BOB GARFIELD:The White House has been pro-active in dealing with Hollywood and has some interest in keeping the American public on message with respect to the War on Terrorism and the whole post-September 11th mood, and I think there has been some discomfort, including on this program, about some slick government propaganda campaign. Did you have this on your mind as you made The Spirit of America?
CHUCK WORKMAN: Actually I was trying to ignore it. I didn't want to be involved in the content skewing a certain way, and I think that's why you're noticing these films that are not necessarily the, the flag-waving films. The president's committee is encouraging this film and they're certainly behind it, but it wouldn't have been the film that they would have made.
BOB GARFIELD: Chuck Workman, thank you very much.
CHUCK WORKMAN: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD:Editor, writer, director Chuck Workman is the auteur behind The Spirit of America debuting this weekend on 10,000 screens across the country. Coming up, an actor who plays terrorists makes a film about real ones, and the Queen's Christmas speech has become a royal bore.