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Chris Kelly

Chris Kelly

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Sarah Palin's Favorite Communist Movie

Posted: 11/24/10 06:35 AM ET

If you're still getting used to Sarah Palin, the macroeconomist -- her 700-word Facebook note on quantitative easing cited Paul Krugman, former CBO director Alice Rivlin and World Bank President Robert Zoellick -- then you're probably not ready for Sarah Palin, cinéaste.

Little did you know.

In the new book she's just written (her second; putting her one ahead of Harper Lee) the former governor shares her thoughts on Jimmy Stewart, Reese Witherspoon, the Fondas -- Henry and Jane, Steven Spielberg, Judd Apatow, Sam Mendes, Paul Greengrass and Jason Reitman. (She says she doesn't care what Reitman's faith is, which is awfully big of her.) She also explores the under-praised documentary work of John Ford, and dedicates a full half-chapter to Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

She doesn't -- as she did in Going Rogue -- make any references to Pascal.

Her reappraisal of Ford is both brave and long overdue. It's heartening to see a modern American critic side with Godard, who asserts Ford's consanguinity with Welles, and not with Truffaut's infamous characterization of Ford as inferior in rank not only to Raoul Walsh, but to Allan Dwan as well.

Twenty-five years later, Truffaut would reassess Ford and place him -- as a pure storyteller -- in the same class as Jean Giono. A view Palin obviously shares.

Palin's and Godard's feelings for Frank Capra are so eerily co-informed -- Palin: "Americans love this movie. More than seventy years later, we still watch it... because it is happily, unabashedly pro-American." Godard: "Capra's films... are made to give America an all-conquering image. Because America needed to dominate the world bit by bit" -- that it's odd to see her, later, deliberately disparage world cinema:

A European movie might have had Juno get her abortion in the opening scene and then spend the next hour and fifteen minutes smoking cigarettes and pondering the meaning of life. It would have been depressing and boring.

It sounds like something an elitist would say, making fun of a rustic. ("Them there for'n films confuse me! Subtitles?! If I wanted to read I'd learn how!") It doesn't make sense. After doing all that work, it's like she's going out of her way to also come across like an ignoramus.

What would Pascal say?

So it's an enigma:

Sarah Palin is clearly a student of film history. So when she says Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is one of her "favorite movies," that it's "about timeless truths of America handed down to us from our forefathers and foremothers," that it's "wonderful" and "not pro-government, certainly, but definitely pro-American," she must know it was written by a communist, right?

His name was Sidney Buchman. In 1951 he appeared before HUAC and admitted to being a member of the Communist Party, but refused to name anyone else. In 1952, he was subpoenaed again, but refused to honor the subpoena -- much like Todd Palin did when called to testify about Troopergate.

Unlike Todd Palin, Buchman was found in contempt of Congress by a vote of 314-0. He was fined $150 and sentenced to a year in Federal penitentiary (suspended). A two-time Academy Award winner, it would be a decade before his name appeared on another American movie.

Sarah Palin writes:

Americans love Mr. Smith Goes to Washington because it's about an ordinary man who stands up to power and says, We're taking our country back.

Sidney Buchman once said, about Frank Capra:

I really believe he never knew what Mr. Smith was actually saying.

Capra wasn't the only one.

(A previous version of this post misspelled "Godard" four times and "Welles" once, for which the author is deeply ashamed.)