Maryland pols and reel life

November 18, 1998|By Barry Rascovar

YOU KNOW that old saying "you can't judge a book by its cover"? Well, maybe you can tell a politician by the films he or she likes.

That was the premise behind a question posed to candidates for state and local offices this summer by The Sun's editorial board. We sent out a typical election-year questionnaire seeking candidate answers to public policy concerns. We also asked politicians to list their five favorite movies.

The responses were hardly grist for editorial commentary. But it did show that Maryland pols seem to favor the same types of movies as their constituents. More often than not, there was a yawning gap between film critics and the film-going pols.

No elite, intellectual snobs among our elected leaders! No siree. Our pols like the common-man (and common-woman) approach.

AFI's list

Take the five greatest films of all time, as measured by the American Film Institute's poll of 1,500 experts in the field. Only two ("Casablanca" and "Gone With the Wind") made the pols' list. But when The Sun asked readers to send in their top film list, it pretty much dovetailed with the film favorites of Maryland politicians.

Here were the top pols' top picks: "Sound of Music" (1); "Gone with the Wind" (2); "Casablanca" (3); "To Kill a Mockingbird" (4); -- "Schindler's List" (5).

Interestingly, the No. 1 pick for politicos, Robert Wise's 1965 musical about the Von Trapp family, ranked well among Sun readers (No. 7), but fared poorly among film experts (No. 55). All three groups loved Bogie's best-remembered film and the big-screen love story of Scarlett and Rhett.

The pols' second-tier choices included "Star Wars," "Rocky", "High Noon," "Dances With Wolves," "The Ten Commandments," The Way We Were," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "Gettysburg" and "Citizen Kane."

Note the absence of recent film hits. Perhaps the pols were too busy campaigning this year to take in an occasional flick.

Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening's choices covered a range of genres. Only two, "Schindler's List" and "Star Wars" were in sync with other pols. But then, that's what legislators have been saying about Mr. Glendening for four years. His other choices: "For Whom the Bell Tolls," "Out of Africa" and "Aliens." A little sci-fi, a little quasi-history and biography.

You might call him a man for all seasons, but he didn't name that film. Only one pol did, Richard D. Bennett, who ran for lieutenant governor on the GOP ticket. He also chose "Gettysburg," "To Kill a Mockingbird," "On Golden Pond" and Tom Clancy's "Clear and Present Danger."

A Kennedy's choice

His opponent, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, chose a favorite of mine (and AFI's), "Lawrence of Arabia," "The Sound of Music," and three disparate films -- "Desperately Seeking Susan," "Surprised by Joy," and Kenneth Branagh's "Henry V" -- rounded out the list.

How about unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey? She listed "The Ten Commandments," and an old political movie, "Advise and Consent," but then the GOP candidate for governor chose three old musicals: "The Sound of Music," South Pacific" and "Oklahoma." She apparently liked to whistle a happy tune between campaign stops.

Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski likes tear-jerkers, a bit of social justice and some fantasy: "The Way We Were," "Love Story," "To Kill a Mockingbird" and the "Star Wars" films. Her fifth choice was "anything with Paul Newman, Harrison Ford, Cary Grant, Roy Rogers or Tom Hanks."

Comptroller-elect William Donald Schaefer, or an aide with a RTC sense of humor, selected "High Noon," "Patton," "Citizen Kane," "And Justice for All" and "The Comeback Kid."

Among Maryland members of Congress, Republican Rep. Connie Morella proved the most film-savvy representative. Her picks: "The Sound of Music," "Casablanca," "Citizen Kane," "It's a Wonderful Life," "Rocky."

Other knowledgeable film-pickers included the next Howard County executive, James Robey; Senate President Mike Miller; GOP comptroller candidate Tim Mayberry; and outgoing Harford County Executive Eileen Rehrmann and Howard County Executive Chuck Ecker.

What can we learn from this salmagundi of movie selections? We all have differing tastes, even pols who try to reflect their constituents' desires. And, judging from the high caliber of the movies chosen by the pols, our top candidates know good film-making when they see it.

Barry Rascovar, deputy editorial page editor, is the author of "The Great Game of Maryland Politics."

Pub Date: 11/18/98

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