When Public Enemy rapped, "We got to fight the powers that be!" they weren't referring to the tale of a spunky gal battling mill bosses or one prisoner's aim to eat as many hard-boiled eggs as possible. Yet interestingly, they all have something in common: a shared fight against an institution.
Underdogs get ready: Colorado College will present a film series' Fight the Power -- Individuals Against the System, discussing that very theme, beginning July 19 with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and continuing through Aug. 4. Though the film series is actually part of a CC class led by Hollywood screenwriters Dylan Nelson and Clay Haskell, the general public is strongly encouraged to attend.
Nelson and Haskell taught last summer's CC film program and were asked back for a second bout. While researching possible themes for their class, they realized that several of their favorite films had something in common. "We realized that [the theme] was a whole genre of film," said Nelson. "While they're wildly different, they have the same scenes, and the same journeys."
A fight-the-Man theme could be misconstrued as an overt political stance, but Haskell sees it differently. "We were careful to pick fictional movies," he said, "but we find that fiction often reflects reality just as well as a documentary."
"You can learn more about how to look at current events through the lenses and visions of others," Nelson agrees. "We thought it was interesting to see how power operates, and at what cost."
The chosen films explore different kinds of institutional power and the struggles against them. The first week's movies, Mr. Smith and Norma Rae, set the standard for the genre.
"Fighting the power is almost a slogan," said Nelson. "It's Big Guy vs. Little Guy and is quintessentially American -- we love the underdog."
The second week will feature Spartacus and the The Battle of Algiers, two war movies that give a glimpse into the darker side of power and how an institution thinks. Interestingly, both movies manage to reflect back on themselves, with a real-life underdog overcoming all odds. Spartacus was written by Dalton Trumbo, a blacklisted screenwriter who in effect overcame the Hollywood power to write this film, now acknowledged as one that essentially broke the blacklist. (Incidentally, Trumbo is a Colorado native -- born in Montrose and educated at the University of Colorado. )
Battle, funded by the Algerian government in 1965, was to be used as an instructional guide. While the movie is fictional, it was filmed using documentary style. In America, it has the distinction of being required viewing by both the Black Panthers and the Pentagon.
Nelson is very excited by the discussion prospects. "We think people will have very different reactions to Battle it portrays both sides really well. It's a departure from the other films, where you're clearly supposed to root for a certain side. Here, the colonel's actually really cool."
While the movies portray a wide spectrum of time, the themes remain fresh and relevant today. Nelson and Haskell are looking forward to the reactions and discussions that will come out of the screenings.
"What's interesting is that you can see some of the same topics, the same fights today on television," said Haskell. "It'll be great to get these movies on a big screen, with all the more people to debate."
Studies in Cinema: Fight the Power -- Individuals Against the System
Colorado College: Max Kade Theatre, Armstrong Hall or WES Room at Warner Center
Mondays and Wednesdays, July 19-Aug. 4, 7 p.m.
July 19, Max Kade Theatre, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
July 21, Max Kade Theatre, Norma Rae
July 26, WES Room, Spartacus
July 28, WES Room, The Battle of Algiers
Aug. 2, Max Kade Theatre, Cool Hand Luke
Aug. 4, Max Kade Theatre, Network