Politics, Politics, Politics: BlacKkKlansman (2018) + The Last Hurrah (1958)

November 5, 2018 | By

According to film historian & screenwriter Lem Dobbs, Edwin O’Connor’s 1956 novel The Last Hurrah is still regarded as one of the best novels about American politics, which is proof human nature – especially its most prickly aspects – doesn’t evolve much.

Politics are the life-blood of any civilization because the impact of whomever wins the top municipal, regional, or country seat will impact everyone to some degree, and most likely for a decade or more, which is why the value of a vote is important. Staying home and doing nothing is an insult to the sacrifices made by prior generations that gave every citizen the right to vote for the lesser evil, the lesser idiot, or the best person who may well be suited to run a city, a province, or the country.

Canadian politics is much less bellicose than the U.S. but the importance of casting that ballot is no less vital to a society’s evolution. Sometimes a hatchet man gets in – like Ontario’s new Premier Ford (aka DoFo) – but by not voting, you’re not allowed to blame others for allowing a twit to seize the chaise of supreme power. To the other end, if you tried to get the better person in by casting a ballot, your conscience is clean.

The Last Hurrah (1958) was directed by John Ford, making it a bit of an anomaly in the western-heavy filmography of the renowned crankypants director whose love of filmmaking was rivaled only by a special devotion to a sinewy (and reportedly very funky) handkerchief. LH’s message is about the natural hunger for change among citizens, and a city’s progression from a boss mayor form of leadership to a leader more reflective of the populace, and driven by a need to commit positive change.

Fred “Big Daddy” Gardiner was perhaps Toronto’s closest version of a boss mayor – the legacy of his eponymous expressway still divides the population among right and left leaners, and the physical boundaries between glass towers and our access to the lakeshore – but he was before my time, so to me, his impact is more structural than social.

As a kid I grew up with Mel Lastman, one of the country’s longest-serving mayors who survived the 1997 amalgamation of surrounding municipalities and boroughs into the ‘megacity’ of Toronto, as ordered by twit Mike Harris.

Lastman endured for a number of years as bigwig of borough and later city of North York (1973-1997). As controversial as Lastman may have been – his comments about ‘no homeless people in North York,’ calling in the army for a snowstorm, and a crack about being boiled in a pot if he visited Africa were exceptional boo-boos – he was approachable and fallible.

Both Harris and Ford (and twit Prime Minster Stephen Harper) share a special hate-on for Toronto – its supposedly wasteful spending, left-leaning, selfishness, and politicians doing daily breast-strokes in a grand pool of sweet gravy – but Lastman truly loved Toronto. He had a monthly call-in show on the city’s community access Channel 10 and took calls on every kind of topic and grievance, major or petty. He was also a businessman, and transformed the Yonge Street corridor from Finch to Sheppard into a small metropolis, albeit featuring ugly condos, a lack of green, and the eventual erosion of North York’s small town feel from those classic 1930s and 1940s lines of brick stores.

Yes, Megacity Mel of amalgamated Toronto (1997-2003) was a bigmouth and eccentric, but His Melness voiced constant outrage at Harris’ downloading of formerly provincial services, and fought to preserve some aspect of the Sheppard subway line – not so his backyard could enjoy a 5-stop stubway, but ultimately enable the rest of the line to be completed when the political regime at the provincial level changed.

That didn’t happen – the west extension tunnels were filled in, and the eastern most chunk never built – but Lastman was arguably a better man than current Mayor John Tory; the latter might be a pragmatist and play safe instead of shouting back at Premier Ford, but Mel didn’t take shit, and he used his big mouth to voice a veiled Fuck You to Harris instead of standing at the podium, uttering a polite ‘Well, this is not right’ into the media scrum, and letting other people do the real fighting.

Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman (2018) chronicles the surreal, true life police investigation of a black detective infiltrating the KKK by phone, and with a white colleague, posing for in-person meetings to gain valuable information.

It’s also a loose docu-drama with initially slight commentary on the current Trump administration, but Lee’s coda is unsubtle, and more than suggests the value and weight of one person’s vote being the one act that can redraw the power lines, and maybe replace a poseur and populist with a progressive and risk-taker.

Coming next: a film that unexpectedly popped up on video a while ago after being unreleased for several years. What film, your ask? Tobe Hooper’s feature film finale, Djinn (2013).




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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