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  • Writer's pictureS.K. Chishty

Beginnings: Primary Colors (1998, US), Dir.: Mike Nichols

'Beginnings' is a section where we pick up a film at random and visually explore their starting scene.

In this edition of our 'Beginnings' column, we look at Mike Nichol's political drama 'Primary Colors'.

Based on the book by Joe Klien (who then wrote it as Anonymous), the film has John Travolta playing a U.S. presidential candidate Governor Jack Stanton (a Bill Clinton surrogate).

Plot: Son of a legendary civil rights campaigner is hired by U.S. presidential candidate Governor Jack Stanton as his campaign manager. Everything is looking great until the Governor's past sexual misconducts start catching up with him.

We begin with the film's title within which we see the U.S. flag.

The title becomes bigger and bigger before it disappears to reveal the full flag beneath.

A man off-screen is admiring how adept Governor Jack Stanton is in dealing with people and how each part of the body that he touches is meant to communicate something positive. He is talking to someone named Henry.

He is addressed off-screen by someone and he goes over.

It becomes clear that the man at the center was the one doing the talking. The younger man is introduced as Henry Burton.

The Governor talks to Henry about the younger man's grandfather - how he admires him. After speaking a sentence or two, he casually moves away.

There is a short interaction between Henry and Howard. Henry expresses his reluctance to join the campaign and is alarmed at the prospect that Howard might have already confirmed it to Stanton. Howard asks him to relax.

As unexpectedly as he had moved away, Stanton rejoins both men with a woman in tow whom he introduces as Marianne Walsh (Allison Janney). She is the librarian of the place.

She offers to take them to the library and they walk off with everyone else following them.

End of the first scene.

Though the images are not really remarkable in themselves, Nichols lets you know from the start that the film is a political drama about a presidential candidate. He sets up the main conflict by bringing two of the main characters together. The tension is created when Henry shows his reluctance to be a part of the campaign and sets up the viewer's expectations if his misgivings will be proven right or not.

Nichols also manages to slyly adjust the audience's expectations by showing this to be a small gathering. He seems to say this is not an epic Hollywood film but a more intimate political drama.

Worth noting is also a goof-up by Marriane. She calls the Governer by the name Walsh and later apologises.

Does this have any meaning later in the film?

#beginnings #firstscene #politicaldrama #johntravolta #satire

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