“I’ll say one thing for him, he has the courage of his ignorance”

This is one of my favourite lines from the classic movie “A Face in the Crowd”, which I watched for the first time this weekend, and which I hugely recommend.  Directed in 1957 by Elia Kazan it tells the story of a drifter who finds fame and fortune when randomly picked out from a crowd by a radio station. 

Bizarrely it was Bob Dylan’s recommendation that first drew me to the film.   Interviewed about what celebrity does to a person (and after all he should know), he referenced a couple of great films, including this one. 

Bear with me…I am getting to the point.

The film is notable for its relevance still today.   In fact it seems more relevant to today’s swift rise and fall of minor celebrities than it could possibly have been at the time of its release.  It is also worth watching for its contemporary depiction of Madison Avenue.  This is fascinating set against the series Mad Men (set in the 1960s) which so many of us are glued to but which paints a far more glamorous image than the one depicted here. 

The protagonist of A Face in the Crowd is Larry Rhodes, a drunken drifter who rises to become the star of national TV.  He’s facilitated in his rise by a Madison Avenue ad agency.  His early dealings with the suits from the agency don’t go well.  He dismisses them as men who “say gezundheit before you even sneeze”.

But surely this is the very definition of great client service.  To pre-empt problems before they arise.  To anticipate what will go wrong (and provide a tissue).

Meanwhile (spoiler alert), Rhodes is doomed to fall as he increasingly begins to have contempt for his fans, the very people that have made his fortune.  He fails to be true to his roots and to himself.  His downfall – a microphone that’s on when it should have been turned off and reveals what he really thinks.  How modern is that ? (Gordon Brown, Nicholas Sarkozy etc) and see my new book Tell the Truth (available here).


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