On the date of the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, Democratic senator Gary Hart’s 1988 rise and fall from presidential fame hits theaters in the form of The Front Runner, in select theaters today.
Adapted from the book All The Truth Is Out by political journalist Matt Bai, the film follows Hart (played by Hugh Jackman) as the overwhelming presidential “front runner” in the ‘88 election, that is, prior to rumors of his marital infidelity.
The Front Runner works to weave in and out of tabloid journalism, political journalism, history and misinformation to present the audience–some for the first time–with the first widely publicized instance of private turned public scandal in American politics. The Knockturnal had the opportunity to sit down with the best-selling author and co-scriptwriter Jay Carson to discuss the murky history of Hart’s presidential campaign, obstacles faced while writing and creating The Front Runner, and expectations for the future of politics, cinema, and media.
“I had an idea that it could be a film,” admitted Carson, “because Jay and I started talking about a movie even before the book was published. I felt as a writer, you recognize you had eight or ten scenes in the book, in the true story, and you think wow, those are cinematic.”
“The biggest misconceptions by the public are the actual events of the scandal,” Bai noted. “And I say with some chagrin that as writer writing about him for the first time in 2003 for the New York Times magazine, I repeated most of them because I, like other journalists before me, took the written accounts to be true.”
In the continuation of rumor spreading, Bai pointed towards the nature of 1980s television and media. “Things were happening so fast and it was a new satellite culture, and everybody was watching the same three channels,” he explained. “These things just became embedded in the cultural memory. And as a writer, that’s fascinating. Part of the challenge you have writing about him is that people will actually insist on the misconceptions, and I can just tell you it’s wrong. The way we remember it is wrong.”
“Read the papers today,” the duo continued. “We’re always asking ourselves as a culture, what do we need to know? What’s relevant, and what isn’t, how do we assess character, and how broad is that assessment? And how far back does it go, and how comprehensive is it?”
Qualifications for leadership, the scriptwriters have found, are big questions that are asked faster, more frequently and with more contentiousness now then they were in the 1980s. These questions are also something that, though confronted in the satellite age and the age after Watergate, continue to emerge just not in politics but in other spheres of public and private life.
“Going out and covering the next couple of Presidential campaigns,” noted Bai, “I’ve done five as a journalist, and seeing the deterioration of the process, I was beginning to connect somehow in my mind, the things that I had missed with the things that I was seeing.”
The Front Runner expands to additional theaters on November 16th, and nation-wide on November 21st.