Friday A/V Club: Jerry Brown and Francis Ford Coppola's 'Transmission From Some Clandestine Place on Mars'

One of the strangest live political broadcasts of all time.


When Jerry Brown's presidential campaign fell apart in 1980, it belly-flopped with a flourish. As I wrote a few years ago in a look back at Brown's career,

Honey? I think this candidate is some sort of shape-shifter.
Francis Ford Coppola

The governor brought in Francis Ford Coppola to produce a live half-hour TV special in Madison, Wisconsin, shortly before the state's primary. The results might be the biggest blot on Coppola's filmography: Brown's microphone died, the program opened with a pair of typos ("Live from Madisno, Wisoc"), and images that were supposed to appear behind Brown instead materialized on the candidate's face. Coppola later said the show "looked as if it were a transmission from some clandestine place on Mars."

When I wrote that, I wasn't able to get ahold of the program, so I had to rely on second-hand accounts. Since then the special has been posted online, and what a wonderfully weird half-hour of TV it turns out to be. It isn't the biggest blot on Coppola's record: It has a deranged-video-art quality that makes it kind of entertaining, and it's certainly more watchable than Jack. But the sound is out of sync, the images behind the candidate sometimes feel like another show is intruding on the proceedings, and Brown looks like he has holes on his face.

In the closing seconds, an offscreen voice says, "It's gone much, much better than we even could have dreamed of." I can only assume that man was working for the Carter campaign. The typos at the beginning of the program were the perfect foreshadowing for what was to come.

(A belated correction on those typos, by the way: "Wisconsin" is misrendered as "Wisci," not "Wisoc." Such are the perils of relying on secondary sources.)

The speech's content is interesting too, inasmuch as it's a snapshot of a particular moment in the history of both Brown and the Democratic Party. But before we get to that, here's the video, which has been split into two parts:

The Jerry Brown of 1980 was socially liberal, but those issues are almost entirely absent here—the only time they come up is when someone in the audience asks what he'd do to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. (To hear Brown's rather bizarre reply, go to 9:52 in the second video.) And while it's clear that the candidate disapproves of America's interventionist foreign policy, the only time he addresses what was then a current military issue, as opposed to Vietnam or another topic of the past, is when he calls for cutting the MX missile. Otherwise this is a talk about economics: taxes, spending, regulation, trade.

On many of those issues, Brown sounds rather libertarian. He says the solution to inflation is to turn off the printing presses. He denounces deficits. He calls for indexing the income tax to inflation, and for reducing a variety of government levies. And he is fiercely critical of protectionism. (In an interesting contrast with his '90s attacks on NAFTA, he calls for creating a North American Economic Community with Canada and Mexico.)

Bob Avakian's New Year's Rockin' Eve
Revolutionary Communist Party

But he also calls for energy rationing. He says we should reindustrialize the country with a corporatist "strategic plan" formulated by government, business, and unions working together. (Like many people who endorsed such ideas in the '80s, he cites Japan as a model.) He endorses subsidies for bullet trains and fuel-efficient cars. In a departure from his other views on global trade, he suggests that we stop private companies from purchasing foreign oil, arguing that such imports should be government-to-government transactions instead. And as a form of national service—this might qualify as another social issue, come to think of it—he calls for reestablishing the Civilian Conservation Corps. (This is actually an improvement on an earlier iteration of the idea. Brown previously favored mandatory service, but here he says it should be voluntary.)

And he does it all while Francis Ford Coppola is making him look like Max Headroom's sober brother. This video fiasco isn't just a funeral for the New Age '70s. It's an opening fanfare for the glitch aesthetic of the '80s.

(For past installments of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)