Speak about the people I have seen,
And the lights all went out in Massachusetts
And Massachusetts is one place I have seen..."
The Bee Gees
RIP Robin Gibb, for whom the lights have indeed all gone out. And in his memory we are going back to Massachusetts. (And we are going back - we visited Fenway Park with Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams if you remember).
I have dreaded having to write about films from Massachusetts for one main reason: I find it very hard to spell Massachussetts. Massachussets. Massachusetts. Hell, I can hardly pronounce the word. Not usually an issue, but I did have to use the phrase "Don't blame me, I'm from Massachusetts!" in a play once (a reference to the fact that in the 1972 presidential election - the one that featured at the end of All the President's Men - Massachusetts was the only state that voted for the Democrat McGovern over the Republican Nixon).
Which I suppose brings us on to perceptions of the Codfish State. Maybe more than any other, politics is engrained in its DNA. It was one of Britain's most important colonies and Boston one of its most important colonial cities, thriving on trade and commerce. It was here more than anywhere else that the sparks were lit that started the American Revolution. During the Continental Congress the other delegates were rather afeared of the Massachusettsians - hence their opting for the rather more conservative landowner George Washington to preside over their deliberations. Regardless, it has produced a large number of influential politicians, such as John Adams (the second president of the USA) and his son (the sixth) - and of course the Kennedys. (In more recent times state governor Michael Dukakis competed for the presidency in 1988, current state senator John Kerry competed did likewise in 2004, and Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee this year, served as governor too.
The Kennedys are the most important figures to focus on, because they tick off a number of the traits most associated with Massachusetts. They were Democrats, the party that seems to have the state sewn up between the blue-collar vote and the 'Massachusetts Liberals'. They were of Irish descent, and Boston seems to be the most Irish city in the US. They were quite anti-British (Joseph Kennedy warned Roosevelt to keep out of the Second World War and his son Edward spoke in favour of the IRA) which accords with the state's revolutionary origins. And they were (allegedly) corrupt, with JFK's political campaign being (allegedly) helped by mobsters and union leaders.
But at the same time Massachusetts is a state (sorry, 'Commonwealth') with history and culture. It has produced writers such as Hawthorn and Melville. In Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology it also has two of the world's top universities. It may not be the biggest state in America, but there are certainly grounds for arguing that it has been the influential.
So there's a lot of facets to cover in just three films. I think I've managed to cover quite a few, but by necessity my gaze has been drawn towards Boston, its capital. The three films chosen are:
- The Crucible (1996)
- The Departed (2006)
- Good Will Hunting (1997)