TERRE HAUTE —
A movie plot typically touches the extremes of life.
It’s called “dramatic effect.” It leads people to buy theater tickets and pay for Netflix.
Real life generally unfolds somewhere between the fringes. Unless, of course, the subject matter is a political campaign. The creative license used by filmmakers is no more outlandish than the unbridled kookiness of a 21st-century attack ad. The line between cinematic art and the dark art of politics is beyond blurry.
Terre Haute natives William Tanoos and Paul Fleschner are putting the finishing touches on “The Drunk,” a political drama based on the fictional grandson of social activist and five-time presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs, who also grew up in Terre Haute and died here in 1926.
Tanoos and Fleschner filmed most of “The Drunk” last summer in Terre Haute, but returned earlier this month to shoot two additional scenes to solidify the storyline. They’re getting advice from experts at 20th Century Fox, though that studio is not formally involved in the independent film. A composer is crafting a soundtrack. Post-production veterans and editors with credits such as “X-Men” and “Date Night” are helping to hone this effort by Tanoos and Fleschner, who produced, directed and acted in “The Drunk” — their first full-length movie effort.
They hope to release the film by November, coinciding with the peak of 2012 election fervor. The plot swims in politics and history. Joe Debs (played by Tanoos) decides to run for governor against a corrupt prosecutor, who pursued a drunk-driving charge against the hard-drinking Joe for political reasons. The campaign turns tumultuous, as Joe develops a better understanding of political hardball and a new appreciation for the legacy of his grandfather, who ran for president atop the Socialist Party ticket in 1900, 1904, 1908, 1912 and 1920.
Earlier this year, while doing post-production work, the filmmakers spotted an ad from the campaign of Sen. Rick Santorum, who then was seeking the Republican presidential nomination. The ad attacked President Obama, showing a bleak future in 2014 if the incumbent Democrat remains in office. Entitled “Obamaville,” it predicts a virtual apocalypse. The portion of the ad that caught the eyes of Tanoos and Fleschner, though, was its ludicrous scheme to draw a subliminal connection between President Obama and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the erratic president of Iran.
As Ahmadinejad’s face is shown, a snapshot of Obama appears for a nanosecond, before flashing back to Ahmadinejad. The narrator cautions that a “sworn American enemy becomes a nuclear threat.”
The ad says, “Welcome to Obamaville.”
Ironically, long before that farcical commercial debuted, the makers of “The Drunk” created a similar ad for their screenplay. In it, a super PAC supporting Joe Debs’ opponent, Bruce Frye (played by noted actor Tom Sizemore), briefly inserts an image of Joe between those of well-known political rogues. Again, the sinister comparison is subliminal.
Santorum’s “Obamaville” ad “was eerily similar to what we did,” Tanoos said by telephone last week from California, where he works as both an attorney and a fledgling actor and producer.
“When we saw that, we were like, ‘Hold on, we just did that six months ago,” added Fleschner, who works in Chicago and commutes to Los Angeles every couple weeks to help with the film.
The difference, though, is that Tanoos and Fleschner were making a movie, clearly fictitious. (Eugene Debs had no children and, thus, no grandchildren.) By contrast, the Santorum ad team was capitalizing on the relentless, well-rehearsed efforts to demonize the real-life president. More is undoubtedly on the way as Mitt Romney takes over the point-man role in the push to return the Oval Office to the GOP four years after George W. Bush ended his two terms.
The presence of super PACs in “The Drunk” mirrors 2012 reality, too. Those political action committees, which raise unlimited amounts of money mostly from wealthy individuals and some corporations, have become masters of the all-too-effective attack ads, which simply wear down viewers’ reasonability by repeating exaggerations until they’re believed. Democrats and Republicans both play that game on state and national levels.
Joe Debs gets a full taste of that venom in his mythical run for governor of Indiana.
“It’s certainly happening today,” Tanoos said, “as everyone can see.”
“The film is definitely relevant,” added Fleschner.
Reality — which is never purely black-and-white, but often gray — gets strip-mined in modern campaigns. You won’t find Mitt Romney’s archrivals or people unwilling to see any good in President Obama admit that both seem to be committed family men and caring fathers who — and this is pretty important in America circa 2012 — have kept their families together. Both want the best for their country, and differ mostly on the methods needed to help America grow; but that comparison won’t turn heads in a 30-second TV ad. The opponents of Romney and Obama will illuminate their flaws and ignore their virtues, and the super PACs will pour millions of dollars into molding a caricature of their target instead of a whole, flesh-and-blood person.
At some point, we have to wonder whether we’re watching a movie or a political campaign.
In the film, the protagonist listens to speeches by his grandfather. In one speech, Eugene Debs reflects on his days in a federal penitentiary, where he conducted his final presidential campaign while serving time for speaking out against World War I. Debs says, “I’m no better than the prisoners that surround me.”
“It’s a really wonderful, powerful confession,” Fleschner said.
So real, too. Debs, running for the nation’s highest office, as an inmate. A super PAC would’ve wasted its money on an anti-Eugene Debs attack ad. He wore openly his greatest vulnerability, yet received almost 1 million votes from that prison cell. As his grandson enters his own political race 90 years later, Joe Debs learns a lesson from his grandfather’s experience.
“What we’re hoping to show is that a forthright candidate who presents himself as a flawed human being would be much more powerful than a candidate who presents himself as an angel,” Fleschner said.
That’s one reality show America hasn’t seen lately.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or email@example.com.
Signs of 2012 campaign visible in film based on Debs’ legacy
TERRE HAUTE —
A movie plot typically touches the extremes of life.
MS. TAKES: Smell of fresh air gave way to dryers
Remember when clean clothes smelled like fresh air and sunshine rather than fabric softener and dryer sheets?
READERS' FORUM: May 20, 2013
The dangers of a little knowledge
Students enjoyed Rose study trip
Mark Bennett: High-profile mural connects historical dots from city to river
At 96 feet wide and 2 stories tall, the power, impact and value of the Wabash will be evident.
EDITORIAL: Waging the ‘readiness’ campaign
Almost every Hoosier who starts college intends to finish. Unfortunately, those who arrive on campus unprepared in key academic areas are far less likely to fulfill that aspiration.
READERS' FORUM: May 19, 2013
• Flawed reasoning on gun checks
• A hint of things yet to come?
• Are the ‘makers’ doing the ‘taking’?
• The ‘Obamination’ is finally revealed
• Pondering effects of Obamacare
• Fantasizing on the ‘Apocalypse’
• Another view of Hinduism
• Great experience for HCMS students
FLASHPOINT: A legislative session of missed opportunities
Given the nature of politicians, grand claims of accomplishments and overblown rhetoric about “historic” efforts are to be expected at the close of any legislative session.
RONN MOTT: Mushrooms = Hoosier happiness
Someone wrote or said a few years ago a statement that would define the word “Hoosier.” According to this urban legend, a Hoosier is somebody dribbling a basketball around the Indy 500 while eating a fried, morel mushroom. It did not define me, at the time.
EDITORIAL: Insult to an independent press
Distrust of government secrecy has been elevated to an exceptional level with the disclosure the Justice Department covertly examined two months of Associated Press phone records to determine who leaked details to the AP about a foiled terrorist plot.
READERS' FORUM: May 17, 2013
Hinduism doesn’t deserve ridicule — Shefali Purohit, Terre Haute
RONN MOTT: Israel’s Air Force
Recently the Israeli Air Force bombed and rocketed a convoy leaving Syria going to Lebanon with rockets that were going to be used to attack Israel. It did not get there. It was destroyed.
EDITORIAL: Noteworthy in the news: Dashing finish for the Sycamores
It’s always thrilling to see Indiana State University’s athletic teams do well in high-level competition, and two specific teams rose to impressive heights last weekend in the Missouri Valley Conference outdoor track and field championships.
Readers' Forum: May 16, 2013
Moving Deming folks sounds ‘nuts’
Readers' Forum: May 15, 2013
Participants rise to the challenge: I would like to write a letter congratulating all the Wabash Valley Roadrunners that competed in the One America Indianapolis Mini Marathon.
RONN MOTT: Media merry-go-round
Round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows. That isn’t a unique phrase to this writer or to this era in time. But, when it comes to the musical chairs of broadcasting, it certainly applies.
LIZ CIANCONE: Courts see a different appearance than cops
Have you ever noticed the transformation between the arrest of an accused lawbreaker and the first appearance in court?
READERS' FORUM: May 14, 2013
ISTEP failure exposes flaws
Community hasn’t changed its spirit
Egregious threat to nation’s defense
READERS' FORUM: May 13, 2013
• Women’s group criticizes Bucshon
• Let’s hope this doesn’t come true
• Many get thanks for fest success
MARK BENNETT: Life at face value: Mom’s simple advice still presents a valuable daily challenge
Most moms don’t base their advice on scientific research.
(Unless, of course, your mother is a scientific researcher. If so, carry a No. 2 pencil and take good notes.)
EDITORIAL: Better monitoring needed to prevent local environmental messes
The nasty, hazardous messes lurking in the community raise a bottom-line, red-flag question. Could these environmental problems have been monitored and, thus, prevented?
GUEST COLUMN: Nursing more than medicine and bandages
Being a nurse … Like most nurses, I chose this profession because I had a strong desire to help others and no other career would allow me the opportunity to touch lives the way I have been able to through nursing.
READERS' FORUM: May 12, 2013
Vigo Youth Football, entering 45th year, seeks new support
Media ignoring important case on abortions
Proud to be old-fashioned
Guns in school? What’s next?
Promoting hate not a ‘brave’ act
FLASHPOINT: Again in 2013 General Assembly, middle class generally ignored
Last year, the people of Indiana entrusted the Republican Party with some of their most precious possessions.
RONN MOTT: ‘Raccoons II’
In the Algonquin Indian language, raccoon means “working with hands.” They are really cute little fellows until they injure a child, or a pet, or leave feces around where you certainly do not want it.
Readers’ Forum: May 11, 2013
I just wanted to express my disappointment at the lack of response shown by President Obama after the Boston Marathon bombings.
Readers' Forum: May 10, 2013
CANDLES event plants new seed: On April 26, CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center hosted an event called “Sowing Seeds of Peace: A Celebration of Spring” at the Apple House. Our purpose was to introduce people to our concept of forgiveness as a seed for peace.
RONN MOTT: ‘NRA Convention’
At the recent NRA Convention in Houston, Texas, where the right-wing political hot air almost lifted the convention's building off its foundation, the NRA trotted out the forever yours political dame of the right wing, Sarah Palin. Sarah did not disappoint.
EDITORIAL: Memo to U.S.A.: You can ‘SPPRAK’ just as we do in Vigo County
Our kids, truly, are ‘Making a Difference’
Some words in praise of boring government — Indiana’s
A conservative Republican governor has super majorities in both branches of the legislature. One might suspect such one-party government leads to major changes in public policy. This did not happen in 2013 in Indiana.
EDITORIAL: Doc’s prescient prescription
Viewed through a 2013 prism, Doc Bowen’s response to the AIDS epidemic looks merely prudent, routine.
RONN MOTT: ‘Heritage gone’
The last high school I attended was being torn down just a few days ago. I didn't learn about it until I saw classmate Dick Mills on television and a display he had put together about State football championships in the middle 1930's. I began elementary school with Dick Mills. That was Matthew South Elementary School on South Sixth Street in Clinton, Indiana. After seeing Dick on TV, it dawned on me that all schools I had attended in Clinton have been torn down.
- More Opinion Headlines
- MS. TAKES: Smell of fresh air gave way to dryers