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July 1994


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mark Netter <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 18 Jul 1994 16:01:01 EDT
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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I may be asking for trouble, but after collecting all the notes on Forrest
Gump and seeing the movie, I think it's time someone stepped up for the
defense.  Having moved to Los Angeles a little less than 2 years ago, I
wonder if I would be positive on the film were I still back in New York, but
as mainstream cinema (not foreign film, not American independents) I think
there are good things to say about the subtexts in Gump.
First off, this picture is clearly a satiric fable, not an Oliver Stone or
John Sayles picture, so whether Abbie Hoffman was at a certain rally or not
seems beside the point.  And although the Black Panthers are portrayed as
broadly as all other political groups in the movie, the film does not comdemn
them, and clearly shows why such a response as theirs arose.  (This is a
movie that foregrounds our nation's historic racism from the first minutes.)
 The bad guy in the Panther scene is a white male radical, who actually
represents what a lot of women came to feel about the political and free love
movements of the late 60's -- that it was another guy trip.
In the rally, although Hoffman's character takes some ribbing (no more,
certainly, than LBJ), he is not ridiculed.  There is no conservative
sentiment attached to his wearing of the flag, and he responds positively to
Gump's message -- whatever that was.  Come to think of it, it is a uniformed
authority figure who pulls the plug on Gump's freedom of speech.  Although
the filmmaker dodge "serious" politics by not airing Gump's speech, in a very
old Hollywood traditon Gump is mean to be an apolitical figure, and this
allows for other peoples' politics to be sampled.
In a supposedly independent film, such "a-politicism" would be a sin, but if
anyone who wrote about Gump has a warm spot for John Ford pictures, they
should remember that this is the tradition in which Zemieckis is working.
The horror of Vietnam is there (compare to Hollywood's first Vietnam film,
"The Green Berets") without any glamorization of violence
(like...say..."Platoon") and no viewer can fault Lieutenant Dan for his
downward spiral.  In fact, it's a pretty funny and pointed statement when you
see generation after generation of Dan's family being slaughtered.  Maybe
it's not left/right political, but it falls on the right side of Hollywood
populist politics.
Re Jenny's character: everything she does stems from the evil of her original
household's patriarchy.  (Compare to the Gump matriarchy.)  She is not blamed
for her counterculture choices -- there's actually some fondness for it --
and the filmmakers don't villify her for her disease.  Although homosexuality
is not addressed by the film, the Gump aesthetic of tolerance would logically
extend into that area as well.
A last note about how the movie tweaks power structures: the racially mixed
audience I saw it with went nuts when Bubba's mom was finally being served by
a white woman.  I know this movie isn't "Letter to Jane", but it sure isn't
"True Lies" either...speaking of dominent white male fantasy.
-- Mark Netter, Los Angeles