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« What did you see or Smurf this weekend?| Main| Tweetweek: Sequel Culture,Current Kidmania,Moonlight Kiss »
Sunday
Apr 09 2017

TCMFF Day 3: Michael Douglas and the power of protest

Though the theme of the TCM Classic Film Festival this year is comedy,that hasn't stopped political themes from emerging during discussions with special guests.Yesterday morning's screening ofThe China Syndromewith Michael Douglas in attendance was just such an example.Douglas and host Ben Mankiewicz started out talking about the aesthetic and casting choices of the nuclear meltdown film,produced by Douglas and starring Jack Lemmon and Jane Fonda.However,as with the release of the movie - which happened to be released days before the Three Mile Island accident in early 1979 - the timing of the Q&A between the TCM host and the veteran actor/producer meant that conversation soon turned to themes of destruction,education,and protest.

It turns out that Michael Douglas makes a very charming protestor.Douglas explained that while he hadn't cared much about nuclear dangers or disarmament before producingThe China Syndrome,when the script was handed to him by a documentarian,his interest and irateness was piqued...

The movie became a passion project,but after the difficulties of gettingOne Flew Over The Cuckoos Nestmade - which Douglas also produced - it looked as though the rest of Hollywood did not share his enthusiasm for such bleak subject matter.That is,mostof Hollywood.Jane Fonda had been a vocal protestor against nuclear power for a while before partnering with Michael Douglas.She was developing a script based on Silkwood at the time,however Douglas revealed that he got her onboard forThe China Syndromeby rewriting the part of a male reporter for her.Still,Douglas stated that the movie is mostly Jack Lemmon's."Jack's face does the job of music in a film,"stated Michael Douglas.

While Douglas had known it would be difficult to get the movie made,he did not anticipate the backlash to the film when it was released.Jane Fonda's activism made her (and the film) unpopular,so sponsors were hard to come by.Douglas shocked Mankiewicz with his memory of how corporate energy interests led a concentrated campaign againstThe China Syndromein the weeks leading up to the movie.Still,nobody could have seen the impact the film would have after The Three Mile accident in March 1979."I think it scared audiences,"Douglas shared."It hit too close to home."

Regardless,Douglas stands by the film he made.Not only did it launch his own activism,it was part of a wave of films that made audiences rethink nuclear power and nuclear disarmament.AfterThe China Syndromewas released,5 nuclear reactors were shut down.For that,and for its place in Hollywood's more activism-motivated cinema,Michael Douglas is proud.For the early morning audiences watching the Hollywood legend speak,it was an important reminder of the power of film to protest and produce real change.

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Reader Comments (5)

The film contains peak Lemmon before he parodied his persona and of course Jane Fonda.

April 9,2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordon

It's one of Fonda's most underrated performances.She is just terrific in it.

April 9,2017 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

That to camera scene at the end,the emotion she conjures up.

April 9,2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordon

I recall watching this in the cinema back in the late 70s and being wowed by both Jane Fonda and Jack Lemmon...they were phenomenal!

April 10,2017 | Unregistered CommenterJans

The China Syndromeis a compelling examination of corporate malfeasance and cover-up,but as an anti-nuclear movie it looks ridiculous in retrospect.

April 10,2017 | Unregistered CommenterSean C.

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