Hot after his success in The Player, Tim Robbins makes his debut as director-writer-actor in the US political satire Bob Roberts. Trevor Johnston visits the hustings.

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couple of years ago, he was a handsome but distinctly second-string male lead. These days, he’s being hailed as a second Orson Welles. Unlikely as it might seem, the star of Erik The Viking is now acclaimed as ‘first important Hollywood man of the 905’. Such is the kind of adulation that’s been following Tim Robbins everywhere over the past few months, his career in the ascendant after being in the right place at the right time in not one, but two of 1992’s most talked-about movies. His insidiously smarmy performance as guilt-free movie exec Griffin Mill in Robert Altman’s Tinseltown exposé The Player would have been enough of an attention-grabber in its own right; but with

‘Anger drove me to write it. Anger with the

political system, with the co-opting ot the

entertainment industry, with the co-opting ot the 603 to mean different things.’

impeccable opportunism the 33-year-old has swiftly succeeded it with his debut bow as writer-director-star, the much-debated Bob Roberts a bona fide political satire about a crypto-fascist folksinger on the Senatorial campaign trail.

In an era of mall-rat movie mulcherama, Bob Roberts is a film for thinking persons. For one thing, it’s ironic from beginning to end, couched in terms of a fake documentary or, if you will, ‘mockumentary’ being shot by an English camera crew. Robbins is happy to cite the epochal Dylan doc Don’t Look Back and Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap (both personal faves) as prime influences on the style of the piece, but the genesis of the Bob Roberts character itself is a little more complex. Roberts is a frightening spokesman for the ‘greed is good’ generation, delivering reactionary backbeat sloganeering to a Middle American moral majority tapping their feet and nodding their heads in time. ‘I like to think of him as a young George Bush with a guitar,’ is the man-of-the-moment’s description of his creation.

Songs like ‘This Land Was Made For Me’, ‘Drugs Stink’ and ‘Retake America’ underline the Young Republican analogy, but Roberts’s series of album releases, including The Times Are Changin’ Back and Bob 0n Bob are ample evidence of a wider perspective. They show how the Dylan-inspired 60$ quest for social justice has gone through a sickening turnaround into the grossest libertarian tub-thumping.

Wickedly observed, Roberts is crass enough almost to be true, sounding at times uncannily like will-he won’t-he presidential maybe man, H. Ross Perot, yet, though the final credits end with an exhortation to VOTE, neither Gore Vidal’s despairing liberal senator nor Giancarlo Esposito’s fanatical conspiracy theorist represent any kind of serious alternative. It’s this absence of an authoritative voice that some commentators have seen as a weakness right at the core of Robbins’s film, but its pox-on-all-your-houses wit is dazzling enough in itself to provide a satisfying experience.

It’s taken nearly six years from scripting to

10 The List 25 September - 8 October 1992