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A Film Strategist

By HENRY P. RALEIGH
ART TIMES March, 2005

I’VE BEEN pondering this over ever since the political campaigns ended a few months ago. Just what is a strategist? I’ve asked around and no one seems to really know. Yet their numbers are legion. At first they appeared as occasional guests on news programs, always in pairs — one identified as a Republican strategist, the other a Democratic strategist. As the campaign droned on they multiplied like randy rabbits, swarming over the cable news, sprinkled liberally throughout the talk shows, for each strategist of one persuasion there was another of the opposite persuasion and as testimony to their overrunning of the planet you rarely ever saw the same one twice. This raises a number of questions if you think about it. What does a strategist do? How do you get paid? Can you make a living at it? Does a health plan go along with the job? There are far too many of them to believe each is as busy as a bee dreaming up a strategy or two and to hell with the rest of them. And since a strategist from one side says exactly what all the strategists on that side say, frequently in the same words, it must be that all of them had gotten together at a party one day and decided to have one super strategy, the only requirement actually being that it had to be the total opposite of their opponent’s strategy.

All in all, it looks like pretty easy work, if you ask me and I think I’d like to get in on something like that. Of course, I’m not much involved in politics unless you count class treasurer in 7th grade — I’m mostly a pox on both your houses type but I wouldn’t mind being known as a film strategist. That’s a smart sounding title, better than film reviewer which has a light-weight ring to it, merely giving out stars and an occasional pithy comment. It’s OK to be called a film critic, I guess, what with invitations to Cannes and flipping thumbs up and down on talk programs. But, on the other hand, critics are thought to be snobbish, showing off how much they know about film history and plenty of people don’t like them one bit for knocking their favorite films just to make them look foolish. I’d once considered referring to myself as a film dilettante, meaning that in the 18th century sense of a really witty thinker like those old Encyclopaedists — a Voltaire, for example, even though none of them would know a film from a powdered wig. A few people do see me as a dilettante but in that demeaning manner of an amateur who should just stick to collecting seashells. I’ve also been called a curmudgeon and I wouldn’t mind that if meant kindly. I figure Voltaire was one—who else but a curmudgeon could write Candide? Well, at any rate I can’t give my occupation to the IRS as a film curmudgeon, can I? No, a film strategist has an elegance to it and certainly carries a hint of tie-ins to the military and government and that should be enough to make those curmudgeon bashers watch out. Best of all, no one could be sure of what a film strategist is anymore than knowing what in the world a political strategist is.

Once I get going on the strategist angle I suppose I’ll need an opposite strategist, someone I can accuse of being a weasel and completely wrong about whatever strategy he or she proposes. This may be a problem for awhile since I’ll be the only film strategist around until the idea catches on — maybe some unemployed political strategist will swing over to cash in on the game. Now I’m not terribly clear on how I go about being a strategist but taking a cue from the political people it seems you start out by cultivating a glassy-eyed appearance (they are not seen from the shoulders down really so dress doesn’t matter) and pronouncing bald-faced, extravagant claims — something like this, I imagine: “(any recent film will do here) is the greatest film ever made and if you fail to pay ten dollars to see it middle-class taxes will rise, the environment will be destroyed, our dear Earth will be thrown out of orbit and you will most likely come down with a severe case of the bends. Any sniveling, deceitful strategist who denies this should be drawn and quartered.”

It would be good, I think to have me photographed against the hills of Los Angeles showing that huge Hollywood sign so you can see I’m in the loop, so to speak.

Once I’m suitably paired off, my opponent, who hasn’t paid any attention to my strategy, indeed, judging from the background is somewhere in the Arctic and has the countenance of a frozen lizard, would respond: “(Same film as above) has, by every test known to science, been proven to destroy the human genome, raise middle-class taxes, devastate the environment, and causes a lethal form of sciatica. Strategists who would refute this absolutely true scientific evidence are rotten scoundrels and should be horse-whipped.”

That’s about all there is to it as far as I can tell and I can easily take either side of the issue — both would raise middleclass taxes and who cares about anything else. However, I still don’t know how I get paid.

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