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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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What Hollywood could learn from Barack Obama's big speech

January 20, 2009 | 12:32 pm

Obama_2As "Thank You For Smoking" author Christopher Buckley, a former political speechwriter himself, put it in his Daily Beast blog post a little while ago, the money quote in Barack Obama's inaugural address this morning was surely "Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America." Wise words and all too appropriate for the setting, as the new president steels himself for the many challenges he faces in today's world. 

But while Obama's eloquence is part of his appeal (as Buckley puts it, the real Obama headline for a lot of us is: "Writer Elected President"), so is his brevity. He managed to get up in front of nearly one million people (not to mention the untold zillions watching on TV) and deliver a great speech in under 20 minutes. I have to admit that after I shed all the warm and fuzzy feelings about my country being in good hands, I moved on to another thought: "Geez, I sure hope David Fincher is watching." Surely Obama's succinctness could be a true inspiration for today's Hollywood filmmakers, who seem to feel that it's their natural-born right to tell important stories in the most lugubrious manner possible.

That would apply to Fincher, whose "Benjamin Button" clocks in at 159 minutes, Baz Luhrmann ("Australia" runs 165 minutes), Chris Nolan ("The Dark Knight" lasted 152 minutes), Gus Van Sant ("Milk" runs 128 minutes), Ridley Scott (his "Body of Lies" dragged on for 128 minutes) and Stephen Daldry, whose "The Reader" lasted 123 minutes. Before you brand me a philistine, I'm not saying that epic scope doesn't occasionally have its virtues -- you won't catch me saying "The Godfather" was a second too long.

But as Obama's speech proved today, there is a directness and focus -- call it a crisp sense of purpose -- that drives narrative art, whether it's speechmaking or filmmaking. Drama comes from tautness, not slackness. With today's filmmakers, art has too often become intertwined with the exercise of personal freedom. But with Obama, it's all about discipline. In may all be in the eye of the beholder, but to me, brevity has a beauty all its own.

Photo: Barack and Michelle Obama at the inauguration today. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

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