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Unnecessary Presidential Biopics

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Warner Brothers is trying to sign Leonardo DiCaprio up for a biopic on Woodrow Wilson. Why do we need a biopic on Woodrow Wilson? I have no idea. Maybe it will center on Wilson holding a screening of Birth of a Nation in the White House. More likely it will center Wilson and the Versailles Treaty and neoconservatives will be excited. The AV Club brings the proper snark:

It’s likely the film will also cover some aspect of Wilson’s post-presidency, as he spent the rest of his life pushing the victorious Allies to form a League of Nations, only to see the U.S. Senate reject membership. It’s probably less likely that the film will spend a lot of time on Wilson’s history as a white supremacist who re-segregated most federal institutions for the first time since Reconstruction, and either demoted or fired as many African-American government employees as he could.

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  • brad

    … why do we need Leo Dicaprio?

    Yes, he’s progressed from “god awful” to “doesn’t fuck it up”, but I just don’t see the appeal.

    • rea

      Possibly because he’s the contemporary actor who looks most like Wilson . . .

      • Roger Ailes

        DiCaprio does look like a volleyball.

        Earl Hindman and Walter Matthau were decent Wilsons, but they’re both dead.

        • wjts

          Angus Scrimm circa 1979 in the part he was born to play!

        • rea

          That supporting turn with Tom Hanks in Castaway might have been DiCaprio’s best role–but that was a different Wilson.

      • Plus, he’s a good actor. I haven’t seen a lot of his films, but I’ve seen some–plus I’m untainted, since I’ve never seen Titanic–and I thought he was really good in Blood Diamond and even better in The Departed.

        • TribalistMeathead

          As far as biopics go, I thought he was great in The Aviator and Catch Me If You Can.

          Did a fine job in Django Unchained as well.

      • EH

        I think you’re thinking of Hoobert Heever.

    • GoDeep

      I used to be a big Leo hater… But ever since he did The Aviator I’ve really grown to like him. As Dana says he was great in The Departed and (IMO) Inception, and just magnificent in Django. He’s earned my respect at least.

      • Tristan

        He’s suffered from the same ‘pretty boy’ typecasting that dogged Brad Pitt until shortly after Se7en (you have to spell it with the ‘7’).

  • Probably one quarter will be about the death of his first wife and how shortly after that he met and fell in love with his second wife and married her while President.

    I’m serious, they’ll probably make it partly a “survived a tragedy but found love in the end” story.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      not to mention “she ran the country after he ruined his health trying to sell the League of Nations”

      • Yup.

        The producers are probably trying to get Reese Witherspoon to play Tracy Flick to play Wilson’s second wife. Or maybe Cristina Ricci could do it.

      • Tristan

        Yeah, honestly a biopic about the second Mrs. Wilson would be a lot more interesting.

    • max

      Probably one quarter will be about the death of his first wife and how shortly after that he met and fell in love with his second wife and married her while President.

      Will we get long stretches of Wilson in a coma/on his sickbed?

      max
      [‘That would be exciting!’]

      • The Diving Bell and the President Dies

    • bexley

      Probably one quarter will be about the death of his first wife and how shortly after that he met and fell in love with his second wife and married her while President.

      I’m serious, they’ll probably make it partly a “survived a tragedy but found love in the end” story.

      I’ve seen a sneak preview of the script:

      There’s a love triangle with Ben Affleck as Wilson’s best friend and rival for the girl. He survives when the Lusitania is torpedoed and signs up when the US declares war in response in 1915. He dies tragically while leading an airship raid on Berlin leaving Wilson with the girl.

      Directed by Michael Bay.

      • BigHank53

        What, Uwe Boll wouldn’t return the producers’ calls?

  • JMP

    Of course they’re looking at DiCaprio; apparently there was a law passed sometime after the success of Titanic that all period pieces must now star Leonardo DiCaprio.

    • joe from Lowell

      …and the trailer must feature a voiceover that begins, “In a world where…”

  • LeeEsq

    Isn’t there already a Wilson biopic from the 1940s? I saw a little of it on TCM, it was pretty boring. The problem with a Wilson biopic, beyond the racism part, is that while Wilson simply did not have a dynmaic personality. That makes any fiction about him boring even though he was arguably a very important President.

    • Hogan

      Yes indeed. Apparently Winston Churchill walked out on it.

    • Lev

      Yes indeed. Only reason I’m aware of it is because FDR watched it shortly before his death. Irony!

      • LeeEsq

        Were his doctors trying to make FDR’s death as painful as possible? A reverse mercy-killing?

        • njorl

          Maybe FDR wanted his life to at least seem longer, like Dunbar in Catch-22.

    • Edward Furey

      It was called “Wilson” with Alexander Knox in the title role. It emphasized his attempt to get the League of Nations approved in the Senate, and suggested that U.S. refusal to join contributed to the Second World War, then in progress. It cost more than “Gone With the Wind” and lost money for Fox. The lesson being that they should leave biopics to Warners and Paul Muni. Although MGM’s “Madame Curie” wasn’t bad….

      Not sure why a studio would want to take take a second run at the story, although we are living through the centennial of the Wilson administration.

      • LeeEsq

        If I’m remembering it correctly, it was a bit of a pet project for either the producer or the director.

      • John F

        The lesson being that they should leave biopics to Warners and Paul Muni.

        I saw Juarez awhile back, why would you make a film on about Benito Juarez starring Paul Muni as Juarez, and give more on screen time to Brian Aherne’s sideburns (he played Emperor Max…)?

        (That wasn’t the worst part, the worst part was the portrayal of Porfiro Diaz as a kind-hearted simpleton (who was nevertheless described by other characters as being a military genius, the character as portrayed could not have been perceived as one, so other characters had to continually assert he was one) who was a devoted follower of Juarez and in Juarez’s call for equality and social justice (Porfiro effing Diaz?!?!?!?)*

        The scenes starring Muni as Juarez and the scenes starring Maximilian, his wife and Napoleon III (i.e., the real Napoleon’s nephew) didn’t look like they took place in separate movies, they looked like they took place in separate universes (I could see doing that deliberately to make a point- but not how this movie did it)

        Oddly entertaining movie though, despite being a train wreck as both serious drama and history

        *I’m serious the portrayal of Diaz in this film is the worst portrayal of any well known historical film in any movie ever, the thing that could be worse would be to portray Hitler as a devoted John Stuart Mill reading pacifist

    • njorl

      Perhaps he could slay some supernatural beasts. Lincoln has vampires (and a lesser known flick where he kills zombies). FDR fought werewolves in another low-budget movie. Nixon spent a few years hunting witches. Maybe Wilson could hunt down the Jersey Devil.

      • Fox new reporterbot

        Nixon spent a few years hunting witches.

        “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.”

  • LeeEsq

    They could make the Wilson movie about his time as President of Princeton in order to tie it into the current mode regarding education reform.

    • Harry Bingswanger

      I’d pay money to see a biopic of Wilson packaged as a remake of Horse Feathers.

      Not a lot of money. But money.

    • Waiting For Superwilson? That sounds wretched, but Maggie Gyllenhaal might pay them to be in it. She could fire Viola Davis.

    • Jordan

      As a grad student at Princeton, I must say that I enjoy playing beer pong in Wilson’s old office. That is all.

  • Manju

    Why do we need a biopic on Woodrow Wilson?

    Because Byrd totally apologized back waaaaay back when and the rest of them followed Strom Thurmond out the door.

    • Manju

      Actually, rereading Erik post, I genuinely regret this comment. I was snarking because I thought Erik didn’t want Wilson’s White Supremacy covered…but as it turns out he is snarking because he thinks it won’t be.

      • NonyNony

        Why would you think Erik WOULDN’T want Wilson’s racism covered? Do you ever read anything Erik actually writes?

        • Rigby Reardon

          At least he apologized. All the actual trolls would have just doubled down on their inability to parse a simple sentence.

        • djw

          Because he thinks anyone who doesn’t agree entirely with his theory of the trajectory of racism in party politics in the last 40 years must surely wish to suppress any discussion of racism in the Democratic party for the last 100 years.

          • If anything the prior racism of the Democratic party makes the Southern Strategy a triumph for the democrats, as much as it was a loss of political power. I don’t get the notion that we as a party need to protect the legacy of democratic racists–we transcended them and more power to us for doing so.

            • joe from Lowell

              …which brings us to me pet peeve, the inclusion of American’s genocidiest President in the “Jefferson-Jackson Dinners.”

              • witless chum

                I see your pet peeve and double it. What’s so great about Jefferson that we have to include him? FDR Day or nothing! Or hell, call it the Real Lincoln Day, just to troll.

              • EliHawk

                Alliteration covers a lot of sins.

          • I’m convinced there’s a wall in Manju’s house covered with pictures of politicians connected by color coded twine.

            • Manju

              Where does Paul Krugman fit in?

            • Murc

              The plastic tips at the end of shoelaces are known as aglets.

              Their true purpose is sinister.

              • David Hunt

                There was a magic bullit. It was forged by Illuminati mystics…

                • Walt

                  The Illuminati forged the trillion dollar platinum coin. And now they are waiting, and watching…

            • wjts

              I bet it looks like this, but with Robert rather than Larry.

              • Manju

                Wait! Which one where they talking about in “Do the Right Thing”?

        • Manju

          Well, that would be because of the 2 narratives I was snarking about. But, come to think of it, while I could easily pull quotes from LGM commentators and other left wing bloggers pushing these false memes, I don’t recall hearing this from Erik.

          So maybe I stereotyped him and read his post as if he held views that he doesn’t. Anyway, its clear that I misinterpreted him and I apologize.

          • Well, that would be because of the 2 narratives I was snarking about.

            So you’re done with those now, right?

            • Manju

              If you’re done with them, I am.

          • NonyNony

            Wait – which false memes are you talking about? That racists have gradually been moving away from the Democratic Party and into the Republican Party since the 1950s is not, in fact, a false meme – it’s what’s been happening. That Robert Byrd apologized is actually documented fact (suggesting, in fact, that the Democratic Party that Robert Byrd was in when he apologized was a damn sight different party than it was when he joined it because if it wasn’t he wouldn’t have needed to apologize for what he had done). What is false about any of that?

            I honestly love your trollery around here Manju but I never have understood exactly where you’re coming from with this. Can you, without referencing DW-NOMINATE or anything else like that, explain in 2 or 3 clear English sentences exactly WHAT false memes you are talking about here and why they’re false?

            • Manny Kant

              I believe Manju’s argument is that the idea that there were liberal Democrats who were pro-civil rights and conservative Democrats who were anti-civil rights is inaccurate – that, in fact, the segregationist southern Democrats were more liberal (on non-civil rights issues) than “liberal” Republicans, and that very few of them left the Democratic Party over civil rights.

            • Manju

              Can you…explain in 2 or 3 clear English sentences exactly WHAT false memes you are talking about here and why they’re false?

              I’ll start with the first one: the Strom Thurmond meme. I’ll pull 3 quotes. First from an (exceptionally well informed) lefty-blogger. In a takedown of Hermain Cain, Ta-Nehisi Coates spread this falsehood:

              Southern Democrats who voted against the 1965 Civil Rights Act. They long ago switched parties and joined Herman Cain’s party

              Now, from an (exceptionally ill-informed) LGM commentator, DrDick:

              [Dixiecrats] either shifted to the GOP or left politics after 1968

              Lastly, a Professor:

              …all the Southern racists moved into the welcoming arms of the GOP, creating today’s lineup.

              http://www.samefacts.com/2013/07/watching-conservatives/democrats-republicans-and-civil-rights-lets-look-at-the-record/

              I linked you up to the last one, because, after I dropped in with the data, Mark Kleiman conceded the point and amended the sentence.

              The amended sentence is also wrong, and Marks original sentence is technically different from the other two. But put that aside for the moment. The fact that he saw it necessary to amend his sentence (after I provided lists of Dixiecrats) demonstrates that the other two sentences are inaccurate.

              Or you can review the lists I provide yourself. It will soon dawn on you that hardly any of these Dixiecrats became Republicans.

              • witless chum

                The bait and switch you always want to pull is to talk about politicians, rather than voters.

                • Manju

                  1. Its my opponents bait and switch. “voted against the 1965 Civil Rights Act” and “shifted to the GOP or left politics” are clear references to politicians.

                  2. The party-affiliation of segregationist politicians is pretty good evidence of where segregationists voters are.

                  3. When I challenged Coates on the statement, he did not deny the fact (that he was referencing politicians). He asked for more evidence. I’ll link you up if you want to see the exchange.

                  4. Either did Kleiman, even though his statement is the most ambiguous…but he must have realized if the politicians didn’t switch, then his claims about the electorate are pretty far-fetched.

                  5. Only Dr.Dick pulled that bait and switch

                  6. I do reference the electorate. Last time I did this, 2 commentators complained that i wasn’t talking about politicians.

  • DiCaprio’s role in Django Unchained was a good warm-up for this.

    • Captain Bringdown

      +1

    • Bobby Thomson

      Not as cartoonishly evil, though.

  • dan

    There’s already been a Wilson biopic. Can’t we have our Franklin Pierce pic before we do another one?

    • wengler

      Profiles of terrible Presidents, the miniseries?

      • William Henry Harrison

        I died in 30 days!

        • wjts

          I’d love to see a Harrison biopic. Thirty minutes covering his presidential campaign, a two-hour reading of his inaugural address, thirty minutes dying of pneumonia. OSCAR GOLD!

          • Harry Bingswanger

            And multiplex airconditioning turned on past the max, with Uniformed Nurses Standing By!!!

          • N__B

            Daniel Day Lewis!

      • JMP

        They’ll have to air the profile of Grover Cleveland on two seperate non-consecutive occasions.

        • Frank Somatra
        • And it will be filmed with a non-union crew. Because he was that kind of Dem.

      • Warren Terra

        What about banal Presidents? Where are our Hardings, our Hayeses?

        • homegrown

          This is a future superhero movie.

          • wjts

            If they can make a movie about Ant-Man, they can damn well make one about Zachary Taylor.

            • witless chum

              Zach’s response to sucession threats would be pretty good in a tight closeup, I’d think. (He threatened to personally lead an army to march on South Carolina.) His climatic battle with cholera, less so.

        • Lee Rudolph

          If whatsisname could make a movie out of Whitewater, surely someone can make a movie out of Teapot Dome.

        • JMP

          We are the mediocre presidents.
          You won’t find our faces on dollars or on cents!
          There’s Taylor, there’s Tyler,
          There’s Fillmore and there’s Hayes.
          There’s William Henry Harrison,
          I died in thirty days!
          We… are… the…
          Adequate, forgettable,
          Occasionally regrettable
          Caretaker presidents of the U-S-A!

          • I want to divorce my wife and marry this comment

            • Arnaud de Borchgrave

              Uh, are you aware this is a quote from “The Simpsons”?

      • Lev

        I personally think a high farce treatment of the Carter Administration is the way to go. The fuckups of President Peanut probably can’t be done justice in any other style.

        • President Carter had issues, primarily due to the Traitor Party trying to get revenge for Nixon.
          But he made the Israel-Egypt peace happen, put solar panels (immediately torn down by President Traitor Wilson Traitor) on the White House roof to serve as an example of how we should work on greening our country, only lost because of the deals Candidate Traitor Wilson Traitor cut with the Iranians, and was the last genuinely decent man in the White House.
          I will defend President Carter to anyone – great fucking man.

          • Ros

            Jimmy you need to get off the computer.
            We are building trusses this afternoon.

          • witless chum

            Why? He’s been a decent guy post-presidency, but he was a bad politician and not exactly from the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party. He accomplished very little given majorities in both houses of congress.

            • You can’t really call someone who got elected “a bad politician”. Jimmy made a lot of mistakes, but his chief mistake was in thinking that he could change the culture of Washington. As Rocket J. Squirrel has observed, “That trick never works”.

            • Warren Terra

              I think it’s fair to say he was a poor politician, not effective at selling himself. And his presidency is not fondly remembered, partly for global reasons that aren’t his fault. But there is a problem: whatever you think of the actual Carter presidency, it’s fairly unlike the one that’s remembered to us these days. Carter is remembered as a peacenik, but he initiated the military buildup that Reagan continued, and he backed anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan (not that either was necessarily a good idea!). Carter is remembered as some sort of cartoon lefty economically, but all sorts of deregulation (airlines, trucking, telecoms) happened under his watch. Etcetera …

              • Rigby Reardon

                I’d still take him and all his imperfections over what we got after he was gone.

          • Manny Kant

            What on earth did Carter’s failures have to do with the Republicans?

    • Joe

      He already was in a movie: The Great Moment, which is a “biography of Dr. W. T. Morgan, a 19th century Boston dentist, during his quest to have anesthesia, in the form of ether, accepted by the public and the medical and dental establishment.”

      http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0036880/

    • efgoldman

      Chester Arthur, dammit! Our least relevant president except the one who died just after his inauguration.
      We drew random assignments for reports on presidents when I was in 5th or 6th grade (mid-1950s), and I drew old Chet. Two paragraphs in Britannica. No shelf of biographies, no big essay in a book about presidents. Some fun.

      • Johnny Sack

        It’s funny to consider how most men who have held the office didn’t really matter. Also funny to think how we’ve gotten to the number 44-every assassination, jackass like Nixon, nonconsecutive terms. If every president had served two full terms we’d only be on 29 by now. And yet the 29th president was Harding. That’s not really an intelligent point, or deep, or even interesting, but I think it is.

      • Strong Thermos

        Is it ok to assume that any President who hasn’t been picked over by historians and received the bio treatment didn’t really matter too much?

        I’ve been interested in the post-Civil War 19th century (Reconstruction and after), which unfortunately was the period of our most forgettable, useless presidents (with the exceptions of Grant and McKinley I guess). I’ve been trying to find a good book on the Cleveland presidency (er, presidencies) but there doesn’t seem to be much (there’s a book called The Forgotten Conservative, and one in The American Presidents Series. Neither look particularly good, though I’m not always a good judge of this stuff).

  • wengler

    Or they could focus on how Wilson lied to the American people and promised them peace and then turned around and went to war. Or the criminalization of speech during that war. Or the labor strife.

    Biopics aren’t usually big money earners and are produced to push Oscar nominations. So the real question is, why does DiCaprio want to make Woodrow fucking Wilson his best chance for an Academy Award. Surely if Howard Hughes and J. Edgar Hoover failed, this will fail as well.

    • witless chum

      It’ll end in 1916 with his triumphant reelection using the slogan He Kept Us Out Of War.

    • Or the criminalization of speech during that war.

      Yeah, can we find a way to prosecute the producers of this movie and jail them for 20 years a la Eugene Debs? That would seem like the appropriate poetic justice here.

      (Folks, I’m kidding. I think.)

    • Lee Rudolph

      Or they could focus on how Wilson lied to the American people and the Kurdish people and, oh, LOTS of peoples!

  • osceola

    My faves from the AV Club piece: Grover Cleveland Part 1, Taft’s Big Score

    • Keaaukane

      Who’s the white President who’s a sex machine with all the chicks? Taft!
      You’re damn right.

      • CJColucci

        If Cooper’s recent bio of Wilson is to be believed, ol’ Woodrow had it going on in his Presbyterian way. Nothing to compare with the oral passions of William Howard Taft, though.

        • Keaaukane

          EXCELLENT! I thought no one remembered the National Lampoon article on the Oral Passions of WHT. I was looking for a link.

  • Lev

    I actually think Wilson’s life could make for a pretty epic movie. The rise-and-fall arc is so neat and exact there, and the same exact things that allowed him to rise–his appeals to morality, his rigidity and self-righteousness, his primary focus on morality as a political principle–were also the key ingredients in his downfall. It’s sort of amazing just how hated Wilson was by the time he was done–1920 essentially annihilated the Democratic Party outside the South, and Republicans even made some inroads there.

    So, there could be a movie there. However, given that U.S. political fiction tends to suck (primarily because it rushes to judge, rather than to examine) and that Wilson’s racism makes any screen treatment awkward (can’t just ignore it, but it’s a theme that would be awkward unless you’re downright trashing the guy, which is not what we do to our presidents except Nixon).

    • LeeEsq

      A William Jennings Bryan would be fascinating for similar reasons; from champion of liberal causes in the 1890s to laughing stock during the Scopes Trial.

      • Lee Rudolph

        Monkeykind shall not be crucified upon a cross of gold.

      • Bryan is an absolutely fascinating political figure– and I actually think a proper biopic on him would be interesting to people both left and right (especially the Christian right).

        • Anna in PDX

          Totally agree. I have always wondered why the film industry does not pick more of these 19th century crazy visionaries.

          • LeeEsq

            Its too hard to work in explicit sex and violence. The film industry sees to think that relatively explicit sex and epic violence is necessary to sell movies. The social mores of the 19th century and historical fact makes it difficult to work either into a story. One reason why the BBC show Copper has so many prostitutes is that its one of the few ways to work in fan service and sex into a show that takes place in the 1860s.

            • Anna in PDX

              Well, they could probably have fun doing a film about Richard Francis Burton.

            • Djur

              Not in biopics, really, unless I missed all the nude slayings in Ray.

              The real answer is that people don’t go to biopics about people they’ve never heard of, simple as that.

              • LeeEsq

                During the 1930s and 1940s, Hollywood seemed to be willing to put out biopics of relatively obscure or at least not likely to draw in the crowds people. There was even an Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., biopic. There was also a Louis Pasteur biopic, and anthrax makes for such a good movie, and a Marie Curie biopic.

            • witless chum

              It’s interesting that you believe the relatively prudish American film industry is all about working in sex.

              • LeeEsq

                The key word is relatively prudish. Hollywood does know that sex sells even if they aren’t willing to go to European levels in depicting it. Its positively pornographic compared to Bollywood.

            • LisaH

              But — where’s my Victoria Woodhull biopic? Lots of sex, lots of soap. Yeah, okay, obscure woman, small market film. But — I want it! She did, after all, run for President. (Didn’t win, as the Denzel Washington character remarks in Glory.)

        • LeeEsq

          Bryan is interesting because he believes in the same theology as the Evangelicals for the most part but it led him to a completely different place politically. Many of the ideological ancestors of the Christian right were much more liberal than their descendents. Even Bryan’s hatred of evolution had something of a liberal slant towards.

          The 1896 Democratic convention and the Cross of Gold speech would make for a really great movie scene.

        • osceola

          I’d like to see Bryan as a significant supporting role in the Wilson flick. He resigned on principle as Sec. State because he saw Wilson heading for war and he favored “strict neutrality.”

          Of course, I would write it as a confrontation in which the star’s character is wrong.

    • I think you’re underestimating the ability of Hollywood to totally just ignore his racism.

      • LeeEsq

        This. Hollywood is very good at ignoring inconvenient facts in history when they want to.

        • All these black guys on Mel Gibson’s plantation

          It’s totally plausible that we were working for wages on this South Carolina plantation in 1776! Really! Why are you looking at us like that! USA!

          (whispers)
          He totally got us to say that by threatening to stab us with an American flag. We knew he’d really do it, too.

      • Lev

        I agree, they almost certainly will. I wonder if there would be backlash to such an approach though.

      • I don’t dispute that, but on the other hand, he’s liberal, politically active (in a more sensible way than, say, John Cusack) and his last three films were Gatsby, Django and J. Edgar.I wouldn’t expect a guy who’s done those, and done Blood Diamond and The Departed and Gangs of New York, would do something that avoids uncomfortable but obvious truths.

        • Johnny Sack

          How is Cusack not sensible? I don’t know much about him, other than that he works with Jon Turley (who outed himself as a douchebag during the Sotomayor stuff, admittedly).

          • Leftist-glibertarian. Mix of Michael Moore and Julian Assange.

            • wengler

              Yeah, fuck transparent government!

              • You can always be counted on for nuanced, accurate, insightful and honest characterizations of the comments of other people.

    • Concur entirely. An indie Wilson film could be pretty good.

  • Warren Terra

    The really weird thing about this is that nobody likes Wilson. I mean, when I was a kid there was some respect for his opposition to the Versailles indemnifications that were blamed for the rise of the Nazis, and some what-if-ism about the League Of Nations (which, let us remember, failed for the same reason the UN has failed in similar situations: countries that believe themselves to be Great Powers refuse to be restrained, and other Great Powers won’t sacrifice their kids in the service of worldwide ideals) – but no-one pretended Wilson was a great man, or even a good President.

    You could do a Wilson-is-evil (or Wilson-is-weak) biopic, as has been done for Nixon a few times – but he lacks the drama, and you’d be better off doing Calhoun, or McKinley.

    • Lev

      I find it odd to believe that Wilson gets respect for anything related to the post-WWI order of things. He could have had the League for a few modest concessions–concessions that Britain and France outright agreed to. But Wilson refused to compromise at all, and in his attempt to pass the treaty sans reservations he made so many mistakes and underestimated his opponents so drastically that he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

    • If someone calls themselves a “wonk” there’s a decent chance they like Wilson, sans the racism.

      • Warren Terra

        Like what about Wilson? He was a respected academic before he was President (not that I know anything about his academic work, least of all whether it’s still taken seriously), but as President he lied us into a war (arguably a good war, or at least a decent war – but lied us into it, plus our performance in the war was dreadful), he suspended the First Amendment, he authorized the Palmer Raids and red-baiting generally, he freaking well invaded Russia to fight the Bolshies, he was less progressive on corporate power and the trusts than was Taft (who was, contrary the hype, better than TR), and then there’s the racism …

        He did, if I recall, get us an income tax, which is an inherently more progressive method of funding the government than what preceded it.

        • Lev

          From what I understand, his dissertation was a study of how Congress actually worked, and included such observations as that committee structure is fundamentally flawed, that the President-Congress relationship is fraught, and that the whole thing is corrupt and useless and ought to be replaced with a parliamentary system. All of which I largely agree with.

          Of course, he later backtracked on that, on the basis that the Cleveland Administration convinced him he was wrong.

          • LeeEsq

            Wilson was an early critic of the Madisonian system. One of his interesting theories was that you could move our system closer to a parliamentary system without amending the Constitution by allowing members of the House and Senate to hold Cabinet positions without resigning their seats.

            • Just Dropping By

              Interesting, but it seems kind of undesirable since it would make cabinet members vulnerable to being removed by a mere fraction of the national electorate and thus would also presumably make cabinet members reluctant to undertake actions in their departments that could be controversial in their home states/districts.

              • Jordan

                Well, simply allowing (but not requiring) Cabinet members to also be members of Congress doesn’t lead to your first point at all.

                Your second point, maybe, but a lot of Cabinet members and once and future politicians from their home states/districts anyways.

        • witless chum

          He signed a lot of good for its time labor law, right? (Loomis?) But I don’t know that it was anything Taft or TR wouldn’t have also signed.

          The list of demerits needs to include the fact that he invaded most of the western hemisphere nations at one point or another.

        • EliHawk

          Less progressive on corporate power than Taft? On what grounds? He passed the Clayton Antitrust Act, massive lowering of the protective tariff,established the Federal Trade Commission, banned child labor, established federal worker’s compensation laws and a maximum 8 hour day for rail workers. In many ways Wilson’s first term was the apex of the progressive era, and, along with the New Deal and Great Society, one of the rare bursts of progressive legislative accomplishment, in part because of his skill working with Congress and in part because, unlike Roosevelt, who fought with his Conservative-dominated legislative leadership, he had full backing of a Democratic congress.

          • Warren Terra

            I’m just going with what I remember reading about years and years ago, that all sorts of prosecutions and regulations begun under Taft were dropped under Wilson. Maybe I’m mistaken, or my dimly remembered source was lying to me.

            • EliHawk

              Taft partisans spun the fact that he had a lot more prosecutions than TR though the latter was more famed as a Trust Buster. Of course, that ignores the fact that TR’s prosecutions set the groundwork to let Taft prosecute. Under Wilson though, stuff like the FTC and Clayton Act moved antitrust towards more of a regulatory model banning some practices outright and enforcing limits on other corporate behavior that way rather than the Roosevelt/Taft big lawsuit model. And as an added bonus, the Clayton Act eliminated Antitrust lawsuits against unions, leading it to be dubbed by Gompers the ‘Magna Carta’ of the labor movement.

    • You could do a Wilson-is-evil (or Wilson-is-weak) biopic, as has been done for Nixon a few times

      I would watch the shit out of a movie where two plucky high school students derail the League of Nations

      • Just Dropping By

        OK, I LOL’ed at that one.

      • LisaH

        If I had any actual talent, I would want to write the shit out of that comic book. I’ll be laughing all week, thanks!

    • witless chum

      Neocons must still love him right? His foreign policy is pretty much that.

      • David Hunt

        Unfortunately he started the Federal Reserve which is evil and the Income tax which is utterly unforgivable.

        • witless chum

          Neocons don’t give a shit about that stuff. They just want to see the foreign rubble fly and the pretty rhetoric spoken.

    • Just Dropping By

      The really weird thing about this is that nobody likes Wilson.

      The “Village” thinks Wilson walks on water and views his dragging the US into WWI as one of the greatest accomplishments in American history while minimizing, at best, if not outright ignoring, his racism. (This is also how Wilson was portrayed in American history classes in public school as recently as the 1990s; not sure what it’s like today.)

      • LeeEsq

        How did Wilson drag the US into WWI? You might not like his reaction to German subs attacking American ships but it was a perfectly logical and poltically acceptible one.

        • Just Dropping By

          By ostensibly being “neutral” while both directly and indirectly carrying out policies (arms sales, loans, etc.) that overwhelmingly benefited the Allies? Germany didn’t declare unrestricted submarine warfare against American targets for the lulz. Germany did so because it concluded (accurately) that, notwithstanding American protests about neutrality, the US government was increasingly putting its thumb on the scales for the Allies.

          • LeeEsq

            By the same logic, FDR dragged us into WWII by clearly favoring the UK, France, and China in foreign policy over Germany, Italy, and Japan.

            • Jordan

              Well, yes?

      • PSP

        My memory of the public school version of Wilson (early eighties) was he orchestrated the first step away from isolationism and toward: defending democracy everywhere, fighting communism, and leadership the free world. Sounds pretty neocon to me.

        • PSP

          Oh yeah, I forgot about him being a southerner, the end of waiving of the bloody shirt, and reintegration of the south after the civil war. No mention of firing black federal workers that I can recall.

    • JoyfulA

      My county Democratic Committee has been having an annual birthday party for Woodrow Wilson for many decades, probably since the 1920s. Each is developed by a prominent member, and it’s a fund-raiser.

      The more I learned about President Wilson, the less I felt like celebrating. Probably the most effective event had Frederick Douglass interrogating Wilson.

  • Mudge

    Some marketing genius thinks it will make money. Since the 100th anniversary of World War I is coming up, I think that will be the focus..all patriotic and such. The love angle will be there for sure and DiCaprio will pull it off better than Wilson. The League of Nations is too like the UN..it’ll be downplayed. I am not sure highlighting Wilson’s racism would sell many tickets.

    • witless chum

      Because I was damaged at early age by thrash metal and punk rock, I’d like to put the camera on a bunch of dumbass presidential biography-reading, Hollywood biopic-watching so called history buffs while they watched an actually accurate depiction of Wilson, say, telling one of his charming “darky” stories in a cabinet meeting.

  • Sly

    In its defense, it might be a slightly more interesting movie about a Presidency than one about William Henry Harrison.

    Less coughing and septic shock, at least.

  • reino

    Use Tommy Lee Jones. He played Ty Cobb, he can play Woodrow Wilson.

  • Warren Terra

    You realize of course the whole damn script will be written as a series of flashbacks that stitch together to tell some story (probably a love story), all the while he lies in his sickbed in the White House and his loving, lovely wife valorously defends his vision of world peace?

    • Studio Executive

      Son, I love your idea. Turn it into a viable 30-page treatment and I’ll advance you $2 million to write the script.

      • Studio Executive

        Oh, by the way, we’re going to be casting Megan Fox as the First Lady, so include a wet t-shirt scene somewhere in there. Thx, love ya’ kiddo!

  • Scott Lemieux

    I think it should center on his nomination of James McReynolds. Aaron Sorkin could do the screenplay turning McReynolds into a principled conservative Democrats could support.

    • Warren Terra

      He already did that episode of The West Wing. Actually, he did that in most episodes of The West Wing, at least after the first season or so.

      • Scott Lemieux

        Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.

    • Sly

      Can McReynolds be played by Bill Fichtner?

  • jim, some guy in iowa

    how about Ulysses Grant? “Battlefields, Booze, & Banksters”

    • Lev

      Going by Grant’s memoirs, a movie about him could be really entertaining.

      • As long as they keep Jared Harris as Grant. I mean, I haven’t actually seen Lincoln and don’t know if he’s any good in the role, I just want Jared Harris to have work.

        • Royko

          I’d watch me the hell out of a good Grant biopic.

          Harris definitely looked the part, but the role was so tiny, you didn’t get much of a sense of what he could do with it.

          • LeeEsq

            I’d like a Sherman biopic. We can have a movie about his March to the Sea.

            • jim, some guy in iowa

              yeah, Grant’s memoirs would be an excellent starting point. they probably would have to be careful casting W T Sherman, though, he might steal the show

              • LeeEsq

                I was thinking that Disney could make another one of their inappropriate choices for their annual animated movie. We could have Disney’s Civil War. Their could be a song about the March to the Sea using the same music as Under the Sea from the Little Mermaid.

                Although the English Civil War might make for a better Disney movie since you have a relatively smaller cast of characters. Charles I and Cromwell are usable as a hero and villain.

            • Bobby Thomson

              The History Channel documentary is surprisingly awesome.

    • Sly

      How about a Grant/Sherman buddy comedy?

      They could call it “The Southern Adventure of Lush and Pyro”

    • Anna in PDX

      Who would play Mark Twain?

      • CJColucci

        Hal Holbrook?

      • N__B

        Lewis Black.

      • LeeEsq

        Tom Selleck or Burt Reynolds.

        • LeeEsq

          You have to cast for the mustache.

    • Warren Terra
      • jim, some guy in iowa

        I saw part of that movie. I’m surprised anyone involved found work after it came out

  • Calling it now: the most entertaining part of this project will be the NRO huffily demanding that Liberal Fascism be included in the source material.

    • Bob

      The screenplay will be written by Jonah Goldberg and a bag of Cheetohs. It will be a major motion picture – working title Citizen Wilson – about a racist, fascist, eugenics-loving president who governed to the left of the collected works of Noam Chomsky.
      By the time you leave the theater you will realize no greater threat exists in the world than liberalism.
      Cause Wilson was a liberal and a fascist. As is true of all liberasl.

  • Book

    Bryan Cranston is currently doing LBJ in a play, FWIW.

    The performance is pretty damn uncanny.

  • Pretty much everything I know about Wilson (other than being widowed in office and his wife running the country during his second term) comes from the portrait of him in Joyce Carol Oates’s The Accursed, which is a wonderfully weird book in which Wilson is a cuts a hilariously pathetic (if also horribly racist) figure. If you made a film about that character, I’d watch.

  • eddie-g

    A film of Wilson through the eyes of Keynes could be interesting. Humorless god-botherer wrong about everything and ruthlessly criticized and mocked by effete intellectuals carries some timeless themes.

  • Strong Thermos

    Are there any good bios on Wilson someone can recommend?

  • Arnaud de Borchgrave

    As several have already mentioned the 1944 film “Wilson,” I will throw in a reference to “Backstairs at the White House,” a 1970s TV mini-series that was essentially a prototype of the new movie “The Butler.” It devoted a large chunk of its running time to Wilson; predictably, the emphasis was not on his policies but on his re-marriage and his stroke. Robert Vaughn played Wilson, with Kim Hunter and Claire Bloom as his wives.

    Vaughn also used to tour in a one-man show about FDR, which was recorded for HBO, and he played Harry Truman in a TV biography. Not to mention that his character in “Bullitt” was pretty clearly based on Robert Kennedy. Truly, here is one of the great leaders of our time.

    • The Dark Avenger

      He came to our neck of the woods in Central California in the early 70s when he was dabbling in politics.

  • Timurid

    I’m just sad that Christopher Walken is getting too old for an Andrew jackson biopic…

  • David T

    I am not defending Wilson’s racial views, obviously, but I think he has taken some unfair hits on *Birth of a Nation.* As I note at http://groups.google.com/group/soc.history.what-if/msg/b05fa69e95db6320 Wilson’s supposed praise of “Birth of a Nation” in 1915 (“like writing history with lightning”) may well be a myth. Interestingly, three years later, he told Joseph Tumulty that the movie was “a very unfortunate production” and he wished it would not be shown “in communities where there are so many colored people.” John Milton Cooper, *Woodrow Wilson:
    A Biography* (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009), p. 273. As Cooper notes, this was a matter of deploring the stirring up of emotions, rather than objecting to the underlying racist message of “Birth of a Nation.” Still, it might come as a surprise to people who think of Wilson as practically a Klansman himself…

    Besides, I do wish we could have today a president who would say, as Wilson did (admittedly after leaving the White House) “Of course, like every other man of intelligence and education I do believe in organic evolution. It surprises me that at this late date such questions should be raised.” http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Woodrow_Wilson

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