What kind of movie plays on the flickering screen in Steve Bannon’s mind as he sits each day by the right hand of the president? Is it one similar to Forrest Gump, where a few lucky moves always land Bannon in the room where deals are made, ready to scrape a few percentage points from the bottom line? Or is he a hero like Leonardo DiCaprio’s con man in Catch Me If You Can, trying on different hats—Goldman Sachs executive, Hollywood wunderkind, champion of Biosphere 2, conservative heavyweight—and slipping away just a things come crashing down. Or perhaps he’d rather see himself as DiCaprio’s character in The Wolf of Wall Street, slamming down the phone on idiots who wont make a deal, burning bridges if he can’t get what he want, always with the goal of making gobs of money in the end.
It was always hard to believe Steve Bannon found a certain kind of success in Hollywood—a success that wasn’t measured by the kind of art he produced, but the third or fourth tier deals he managed to push through, often with Hollywood hardly knowing he was even there. Connie Bruck chronicles this strange time in her New Yorker profile “How Hollywood Remembers Steve Bannon” (the subhead could have simply read, they don’t), as Bannon developed his good-versus-evil worldview and love for Leni Riefenstahl into a vision for a new kind of conservative media mogul.
People in Hollywood were bewildered by Bannon’s story of himself as a major dealmaker. “I never heard of him, prior to Trumpism,” Barry Diller told me. “And no one I know knew him in his so-called Hollywood period.” Another longtime entertainment executive said, “The barriers in Hollywood are simple. First, you have to have talent. And, second, you have to know how to get along with people. It’s a small club.”
Many who did have dealings with Bannon were unwilling to be interviewed. Others would not speak for attribution, saying that they feared what he might do with the instruments of government—one spoke of a possible I.R.S. audit. He worked hard to join the Hollywood establishment, and several people who knew him said that they were startled by his conversion to what one called “conservative political jihad.” Another said, “All the years I knew him, he just wanted to make a buck.” […]
“What I’ve tried to do is weaponize film. I want these films to be incredibly provocative. I want to present our point of view. I’m not interested in saying ‘on the one hand and the other.’ I’m conservative. I believe in the Tea Party movement. I believe in the populist rebellion.” Bannon added, “I make films of the highest artistic quality.”