shooting for this scathing vision of contemporary America’s media-situated ideological arena to reach the screen, such was Robbins’s determination to retain his controlling hand on the project and leave its method and message undiluted. ‘Anger drove me to write it,’ he claims, and his portrayal of the far-rightist demagogue Roberts could hardly be further from his own sincerely right-on viewpoint. ‘Anger with the political system, with the co-opting of the entertainment industry, with the
co-opting of the 60s to mean different things.
I mean, when George Bush says “Give Peace a chance”, I have a problem with that. The movie reﬂects a certain emphasis we have in America of the image over the substance. Bob Roberts is about the ability of candidates to manipulate public opinion through image-conscious events, sound-bites and photo opportunities, and the media’s unfortunate compliance with that whole process.’
‘Image-conscious events, sound-bites and photo opportumties’? Such is the stuff of the movie star on ye olde promotional bandwagon. Surrounded by Bob Roberts balloons, posters and badges, his London press launch quickly turns into a political briefing. Robbins’s opinions are eagerly sought out, his every pronouncement on campaign finance reform (‘The constituency most of the Senators are serving is the money that put them there, and I think the American public are on to that’), Supreme Court appointments (‘They’ve moved so radically to the right they’re eroding the civil liberties promised by the Constitution’) and the forthcoming Presidential slugfest (‘I’m actively supporting Clinton over Bush’) are treated like major policy documents.
Watching Robbins in action, it’s not too difficult to understand why the media mandarins are getting so excited about him.
Smart and obviously genuine, boyishly sexy _
for a thirtysomething, he gives good copy, good pictorial and he’s a hot item with no
less a love goddess than Susan Sarandon. Like the filmmaker’s other pals— Peter Gallagher, James Spader and Fred Ward — Sarandon worked for Actors’ Guild basic rate to give Bob Roberts a major casting boost, as did a suavely sinister Alan Rickman as the candidate’s wealthy yet shady main backer. The presence of so many luminaries in cameo roles serves mainly to highlight Robbins’s supercharged charisma
Roberts is a frightening spokesman iorthe ‘greed is good’ generation, delivering reactionary backbeat sloganeering to a Middle American moral majority tapping
‘ theirleet and nodding their heads in time.
as the film’s major creative input on and off the screen.
With the highly confident Bob Roberts an auspicious directorial debut, his next project as a writer — a play about Columbus titled Mayhem — due to air on national radio in November, his theatre company The Actors’ Gang still firmly on the agenda, and
BOB ROBERTS FEATURE
future film roles to include the lead in the Coens’ forthcoming big business comedy The Hudsucker Proxy, the Orson Welles analogy doesn’t seem too far off the mark. Quantitatively speaking at least, even if Robbins modestly pooh-poohs such suggestions. ‘Oh, I’m young,’ he shrugs. ‘I’ve still got a lot to learn.’
With an impressive range of film credits to his name, Robbins must by now have learned enough about the up-one-minute, down-the-next nature of the industry to remember to not quite believe his own hype. He may rapidly be becoming something of a player himself, but he’s certainly not about to turn into Griffen Mill. ‘1 live on the East Coast and try to stay away from Hollywood,’ he smiles. ‘Sure, I’m involved in thebusiness and I’m not going to try to pretend otherwise, but being in New York allows me to have a real life. And still be in showbiz.’
Bob Roberts opens at the Edinburgh Cameo on Friday 9 October. The Player can currently be seen at Glasgow and Edinburgh Odeons.
THE FILMS 0F TIM ROBBINS
I The Sure Thing (Rob Reiner, US, 1985) Robbins has his first decent role in this romantic comedy, although its main focus is on stars John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga as a couple stuck with each other en route to California.
I Tapeheads (Bill Fishman, US, 1988) Robbins and Cusack team up again, this time as a pair of bored security guards, whose hobby of playing about with closed circuit television gets them a new career as pop video gurus.
I Flve Comers (Tony Bill, US, 1988) Robbins polishes up his political commitment as a pacifist living in the Bronx in 1964, while around him various other young neighbours come of age. As a snapshot of a specific historical period, it‘s a bit of a mess, but worth it to see John Turturro as a former rapist wooing Jodie Foster by stealing penguins from the local 200.
I Bull Durham (Ron Shelton, US, 1988) Each year one member of the Durham Bulls is instructed in the dual arts of baseball and
love-making by local fan Annie (Susan Sarandon). This year it looks like it will be Robbins as the slow-witted pitcher, until fallen First League star Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) comes along. Sarandon and Costner may hit a home run before the final credits, but it’s Big Tim who won the match and the lady in real life.
I Miss Firecracker (Thomas Schlammer, US, 1989) Robbins is Delmount Williams, the tormented poet cousin of Carnelle Scott (Holly Hunter), the Ioosest lady in a small Mississippi town, who wants to redeem herself by winning a local beauty and talent contest.
I Erik The Viking (Terry Jones, UK, 1989) Robbins first genuine, top-billing role is as a Viking leader who decides there must be more to life than rape and pillage. Former Python Terry J ones’s script and
direction is shoddy and about as funny as forgetting to get off the boat at Up-Helly-Aa, while Robbins is not quite at home amongst these over-exuberant Brits.
\ "1' ""
I Cadillac Man (Roger Donaldson, US, 1990) Despite being designed as a Robin Williams vehicle, Cadillac Man again thrust Robbins under the cinema-goer’s gaze, this time as a psychotically jealous, unemployed airplane mechanic who takes
everyone in a car showroom hostage .
I Jacob’s Ladder (Adrian Lyne, US, 1990) Robbins comes into his own as a Vietnam vet suffering from nightmarish hallucinations in contemporary New York. Lyne uses his star’s innocent, babyish good looks to their fullest, as Robbins struggles to come to grips with demons in the subway and military conspiracies.
I Jungle Fever (Spike Lee, US,
1991) Robbins and the criminally underused Brad Dourif are the directors of the architect firm which denies Wesley Snipes his due promotion. The duo personify the white, middle-class racism that is Lee’s target, perfectly capturing that unknowing lack of conscience that is particular to liberal America.
I The Player (Robert Altman, US, 1992) Having carved himself a niche outside the Hollywood mainstream, Robbins decides to attack the system from within in Altman’s superlative satire on the studio system. Robbins is Griffin Mill, an amoral studio executive whose paranoia about the industry leads him to murder. Only he and his look of innocence could bring sympathy to this modern
media monster. I Bob Roberts (Tim Robbins, US,1992)
The List 25 September — 8 October 199211