With Hollywood trying unsuccessfully to turn Iraq and Afghanistan into Vietnam at the movies, I'm surprised we haven't seen a revisiting to political films of that era, when numerous 1970s movies tried to tell us what it's all really about, usually involving doomed protagonists up against an Establishment that doesn't care about individual freedom. Which brings me to the film "WUSA," a strange curio from 1970 starring Paul Newman and real-life wife Joanne Woodward about a right-wing radio station in New Orleans named WUSA involved in shady shenanigans and culimates in a hatefest that's being disguised as a political rally. Along the way Anthony Perkins shows up as a do-gooder social worker whose been duped into gathering information about welfare abusers which will be used as political ammunition against their opponents. While watching the movie, which is filled with dripping condemnation for conservative blowhards espousing the need to return the country to its roots, I couldn't help but compare this film's message on right-wing politics to that of conservative news commentator Glenn Beck's recent rally in Washington, DC, which his detractors have tried to paint as some sort of racist rally. And you know what? "WUSA" is full of crap. I could condemn the movie for its meandering plot, or the fact that morally ambiguous main character Newman, playing radio show host Rheinhardt, never really becomes more then just a cipher despite the film's two-hour running time, that even the supposed heroes are so bland or self-righteous you want to punch them or that the movie mistakes being cryptic about its messages with being subtle and thoughtful. But instead, as I watched the movie unfold, I couldn't help but realize that the vision of right-wing broadcasting that this film seems to have is matched by the views that the most vocal critics of the whole Tea Party movement seem to scream about today: that under the guise of patriotism, racism is the real motivating factor behind conservative ideology. Now of course, I'm not blind to the fact that a lot of racists have jumped on the Tea Party bandwagon. I'll even spot the opposition the argument that it seems highly suspect that this movement waited until a Democrat was in the White House to suddenly show disdain with government spending run amok, seeing as how George W. Bush never met spending bill he didn't like. But the Huffington Post crowd's attempts to paint a whole movement as some sort of Klan rally is disheartening at the very least, and eerily hateful at its worst. Getting back to Newman's nearly forgotten opus, I'd have to say that the world this movie seems to show as fact is thankfully that which only exists in the minds of our most paranoid society members. Of course, that's if you can really decipher the film's message at all. Almost all the film's arguments seem to be delivered by second- and third-hand sources. We never really see any of these shady political goings-on that are supposed to be happening, though some cops show up to threaten Perkins at one point. When the movie ends with Perkins and Woodward's deaths (hope I didn't spoil that for you), Newman is left to leave the Crescent City with a cinematically unearned sense of despair about the nature of things, returning to his near-meaningless travels in the world as a self-described "survivor." Even Roger Ebert came to despise this sort of movie ending. In his review of Stanley Kramer's equally obnoxious "Bless the Beasts and The Children," Ebert said:

I'm getting a little sick of movies that end gratuitously with the Old shooting the Young to give us the impression that a point has been made. I left the theater in a nasty mood."
I suppose if the film had bothered to actually show some of the evil speeches he supposedly was forced to deliver over the radio (which we for odd reasons never get to see) we might have had a greater understanding of his wounded spirit. But the movie doesn't even directly address the evil arguments the villains of the piece are supposed to be doing. I guess we're just supposed to figure it out for ourselves. You know, I would have respected this movie it it had at least have had the guts to point fingers at specific arguments. Yeah, it would have dated the movie like other films from that era such as "R.P.M.," "The Strawberry Statement" and "The Harrad Experiment," but at least it would have been a more politically honest story. We are left with a pipe dream about some evil right-wing conspiracy trying to do, well, something evil. That's about the level of argument you get these days from folks like Al Sharpton and "The Daily Show's" John Stewart, who spent last weekend clutching at straws trying to find something truly evil in Beck's rally. The best argument they got was the timing, which coincided with the anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech. So what is there to learn from "WUSA"? Sadly, very little from either side of the political aisle. Rheinhardt is no Glenn Beck, and FOX News certainly isn't WUSA. I guess the ultimate message is conservatism wishes destroy us all... that's a message I can't very well stomach.