The James Clayton column: White House movie-watching

The US President gets a free home cinema as part of the gig! But what have the leaders of the free world been watching?

In case you weren’t aware, last week the United States of America officially got a new President. On the portico steps of the Capitol Building, Washington D.C., Barack Hussein Obama took the oath and ascended to ‘the highest office in the land’ in a moving ceremony that echoed with emotion and historical importance. It was the definitive end of the Bush era in American politics and the point of progress to a fresh optimistic age, all hailed in on Capitol Hill on a cold January day under the eager anticipatory gaze of the planet’s population.

Barack’s big day was, unsurprisingly, big news and as was appropriate for an event of such magnitude, the mass media descended upon Washington D.C. with the waves of well-wishers and jubilant Obamalites to gauge the atmosphere and bear witness to the forging of history, ready to beam it around the globe and give their own on-the-scene analysis. As such, the inauguration dominated the news agenda for the next few days and the Obama-related content continues to command column-inches as the 44th President makes his first moves in the Oval Office.

One feature that I found of particular interest amidst all the post-inauguration coverage came from an article listing the first actions of Obama as President. Looking to leisure time entertainment options available to the ‘Leader of the Free World’ following the regimented schedule of inaugural balls, meet-and-greet sessions and document-signing procedures, I discovered a perk of the job that hitherto I hadn’t been aware of.

Up to this point, I thought that the best thing about living in the White House was the prospect of encountering Abraham Lincoln’s wandering ghost, but now I’m certain that the private theatre was the clincher that ultimately convinced Barack Obama to run for office. “Considering all the stress, turbulence, pressure and political bullshit I’m going to have to grapple with, is this Presidency gig really worth it?” the Illinois senator must have asked himself as he flicked through the job description. Upon finding that an ever-available private cinema is part of the White House package occasion, I’d say that Obama’s mind was made up; that was the factor that tipped the scales and motivated the man to march on Washington.

Ad – content continues below

Having a luxurious home cinema set-up with supersized comfy seats and a giant screen is the dream of every movie buff, and when you’re in such a pressure position as that of the President, having such a facility is essential. Simply ambling down to your local multiplex incognito for a quiet night of film-viewing when you’re an internationally-recognised political figure just isn’t possible. Furthermore, with that kind of responsibility, I’d say that the President deserves such luxury when looking to catch a flick and cast aside the concerns of the world for a couple of hours.

The private theatre is also a prominent feature of the White House in that it presents, through the many screening sessions that have taken place there, a portal into the personalities who’ve inhabited Washington’s most-famous residency.

It was in the cinema room that Jimmy Carter watched All the President’s Men (the first film he saw in the White House), that Bill Clinton was astounded by American Beauty and George W. Bush imitated Dr. Evil and Mini-Me as they appeared on screen. It’s also the room that westerns-obsessive Dwight Eisenhower stormed out of anytime Robert Mitchum came into shot (Eike didn’t approve of the actor after he got busted for possessing marijuana). There’s also a story in Norris-lore that a Senate vote was delayed by a screening of The Delta Force that Bob Dole couldn’t tear himself away from. There’s a Chuck Norris fact confirmed right there: Chuck Norris runs the American legislative process…

Considering that Obama is in touch with culture, has said he likes the movies and has a story that comes straight out of Hollywood, I’d guess that he and his family are going to get a kick out of such a handy on-site home entertainment facility. But has Barack dimmed the lights and settled down with his happy brood to take in some home cinema yet? If so – and he’s not really had much free time lately – what movie will they have watched? Has America’s saviour been psyching himself up to deal with the multitude of disasters facing him by watching Paul Blart: Mall Cop, or has he been wisely considering Frost/Nixon to look at what people don’t want to see in their leader?

Regardless of what takes the Obama family’s movie-night fancy and what political commentators might gather from gleaning such exclusive info, the choice of movies points to another privilege granted to the President. As Commander-in-Chief, you can view the latest Hollywood motion pictures before they’ve been released to the general public, all in the comfort of the White House private theatre.

This perk is prestigious indeed and, as a figure with immense influence, you wonder whether the authority of office could be utilised to demand unsatisfactory endings are altered. This “first among equals” opportunity also places an immense amount of spoilerific power in the hands of one individual. Just imagine if Jimmy Carter had decided to watch The Empire Strikes Back ahead of its official global release. Wielding the knowledge that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father, Carter could have ended the Cold War ten years before it was due to fizzle out by bombarding the Soviet Union with the brutal truth. That’s true shock and awe tactics: Star Wars in US foreign policy before Reagan started talking about laser defence systems in space.

Ad – content continues below

Back to reality, such “if only” moments probably got no more melodramatic than Dubya wondering whether he should sneak a peak at Oliver Stone’s W. to see whether Josh Brolin did a decent job at mimicking him.

As for Obama, in the next few months he’ll have the opportunity to see if the Watchmen adaptation is acceptable or a total abomination before it’s unleashed onto an apprehensive audience. Whatever the President picks to watch in the private plush confines of the White House’s private theatre, I enviously wish him many hours of enjoyment. Let’s just hope that, unlike his predecessor, he doesn’t take Austin Powers as the ultimate source on which to base foreign policy…

James’ previous column can be found here.

30 January 2009