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Politics is such a part of the lifeblood of Washington, D.C., that sometimes people forget there is a city beyond the Capitol Dome and White House.
The annual Hollywood and Washington power tryst known as the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner demonstrates the close relationship between the entertainment and political capitals. Sometimes lost in the shuffle, though, are Hollywood’s depictions of Washington as a living city, not just a nexus of power.
Thanks to recent films including “Zero Dark Thirty,” new series such as “House of Cards” and the enduring legacy of movies such as “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “All The President’s Men,” Americans see official Washington writ large. The Bipartisan Policy Center hosted a forum on the Hollywood-Washington connection earlier this month, and Hill Rag film critic Mike Canning has penned a new book, “Hollywood on the Potomac,” that traces the movies’ treatment of Washington.
But filmmakers have also turned their cameras to the city’s less-heralded aspects: cabbies, young professionals, poets, socialites. Here’s a baker’s dozen of movies that show the city beyond the capital, the urban experience beyond the corridors of power.
1. Broadcast News (1987): Leave it to a media outlet to glamorize a movie about the media. But James L. Brooks gets it right in his depiction of television journalists trying to get ahead in a buzzy city with snake-pit vibes. Albert Brooks’ sweaty turn in the anchor’s seat is every reporter’s worst nightmare when preparing for another television hit.
2. Chances Are (1989): A dead man returns to D.C. as a younger man whose life becomes entwined with the family he left behind. Georgetown is at its most charming, a place that lends itself to long strolls along the C&O towpath and cobblestone streets.
3. D.C. Cab (1983): Pity the fools who miss the adventures of Mr. T, Adam Baldwin and Bill Maher and their shaggy-dog cab company. This celebration of D.C.’s blue-collar set is silly, but it shows off indelible parts of the city, such as the landmark Florida Avenue Grill, illustrates the dinginess of downtown (hard to believe now) and ends it all with a parade past the seat of District government, the John A. Wilson Building.
4. The Exorcist (1973): The poster for this seminal horror film is a chilling slice of D.C.: Max von Sydow’s Father Merrin bathed in streetlight before the Georgetown abode of the MacNeil family, whose possessed daughter wreaks havoc within. The dark tone is well-suited to Georgetown’s shadowy nighttime feel. And the steps that lead to the house from M Street Northwest are known colloquially as “the Exorcist Steps” — a stark, steep reminder of the movie’s rough ending.