The perfect political movie for our time was made in 1992

  • Tim Robbins made "Bob Roberts," the perfect political movie in this most puzzling election cycle, back in 1992 -- but good luck finding a copy.

    Tim Robbins made "Bob Roberts," the perfect political movie in this most puzzling election cycle, back in 1992 -- but good luck finding a copy. Associated Press

 
 
Posted3/11/2016 6:01 AM

The pivotal Illinois primary vote in this most-puzzling election season is just days away, and I have the perfect film for us to watch before visiting the ballot box -- unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to find.

Actor Tim Robbins made his directorial debut in 1992 with "Bob Roberts," a political mockumentary about a right-wing Bob Dylan wannabe (played by Robbins) who wants to take his songs and his eyebrow-raising beliefs all the way to the White House. The film follows Bob and his closest advisers (the late Alan Rickman and "Twin Peaks" favorite Ray Wise) on the campaign trail, where a reporter named Bugs Raplin (Giancarlo Esposito, aka Gus Fring from "Breaking Bad") badgers the candidate at every turn and threatens to expose him as a fraud. Along the way, Roberts appears on an "SNL"-type show whose host (John Cusack) walks out; we meet his fanatical followers, who include a young Jack Black; and a shocking development late in the film is topped by an even bigger whopper at the end.

 

"Bob Roberts" boasts a cast rife with big names and memorable characters, but the real stars are the title character's songs, written by Robbins and his brother David. We see a music video for the hilariously inept "Wall Street Rap" that apes Dylan's famous performance of "Subterranean Homesick Blues." We hear Robbins and country singer Kelly Willis urging the world to hang narcotics users in the Woody Guthrie-esque "Drugs Stink." We hear several anthems that would sound perfect on the AM dial in an era when Martina McBride's "Independence Day" introduces Sean Hannity's radio show. Whether you find the songs hilarious, insulting or terrifying, you can't deny their craft and, perhaps, prescience.

Robbins has never hidden his left-wing beliefs, and this movie is certainly a manifestation of them. But whether you agree with its politics or not, "Bob Roberts" is particularly resonant this year as Donald Trump continues to pile up victories. Roberts the fictional singer and Trump the real-life pop culture icon can both attribute media attention -- and a willingness to say what his opponents will not -- to their success, and hero worship is definitely among the film's themes.

But, like I said, a good copy is nearly impossible to find. "Bob Roberts" flew under the radar back in '92, and it has slipped further through the cracks despite the backing of Miramax and original theatrical distribution from Paramount. Its only DVD release came in 2000, and you'll have to take your chances with Amazon resellers or used copies on eBay if you want one. Many of the songs can be found on YouTube, but Robbins himself would ask you not to experience them out of the context of the film -- that's why no soundtrack album was ever released. If ever there was a time for this subversive, funny political movie with a perfect Rotten Tomatoes score to resurface on Blu-ray, it's now.

In the meantime, perhaps I can find my old VHS copy somewhere in Mom and Dad's basement. That $5 VCR I bought at Goodwill will finally come in handy!

• Sean Stangland is a Daily Herald multiplatform editor. He was 13 when "Bob Roberts" came out, so don't hold it against him if its politics seem a bit childish in 2016. You can follow him on Twitter at @SeanStanglandDH.

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