LOS ANGELES -- In a toned-down sequel to his speech last year accusing Hollywood of promoting depravity, Bob Dole traded stick for carrot yesterday and praised the film industry for making movies that reinforce basic American values.
Citing such financial and popular successes as the moonshot drama "Apollo 13" and the barnyard fable "Babe," the presumptive Republican presidential nominee told studio executives they could make money by making movies with positive themes.
"If our ticket windows are a kind of cultural ballot box, then the results are in and we can call a winner," Dole told about 200 employees and a sprinkling of movie executives at the 20th Century Fox studio here. "By a landslide, Americans are choosing the good over the grotesque. Excellence over exploitation."
In returning to the theme of the cinema's influence on society, Dole offered the flip side of the May 1995 speech that drew attention and sparked controversy for its largely unvarnished attack on the film industry as a corrupter of moral values.
Yesterday, for the most part, he encouraged filmmakers to "keep up the good work."
Though he did not back off from his earlier criticism, his scolding was largely confined to the film "Striptease," which he said degraded women and was playing to empty theaters.
"There is a call -- a demand as strong as any in our free market -- for things that affirm our lives instead of cheapening life, things that lift our country up instead of dragging it down," he said.
Dole said he didn't advocate censorship, but "most of the public wants something better" than "gratuitous violence, casual sex and generally cheap behavior."
Ken Khachigian, Dole's chief California strategist, said the speech was designed to highlight differences between Dole and President Clinton on the issue of values. "At the end of the day, Bill Clinton feels comfortable as a basically uncritical ally of the film industry," Khachigian said.
The Clinton campaign, in response, said Dole had done little to control the negative influences of Hollywood. Campaign spokesman Joe Lockhart said Dole had opposed the v-chip, which allows parents to block certain TV programs, and did not support the president's initiative, announced Monday, to require the major networks to air three hours of children's educational programming each week.
"When it comes to Bob Dole and Hollywood, it's lights, camera and no action," Lockhart said.
With slightly more than three months until the election, Clinton leads Dole by as much as 27 percentage points in vote-rich California, according to recent polls. Dole was returning to Washington last night after a two-day swing through the state.
Politically speaking, yesterday's event was an "away game" for Dole. A fan of C-Span who has been most comfortable in the well of the Senate, he addressed a largely liberal group in a darkened sound studio where action movies such as "Die Hard II" and "Predator 2" were shot.
As Dole stood before a canvas backdrop depicting the Hollywood Hills and its famous sign, the audience greeted him with polite applause. Afterward, many praised his comments and said they identified with his message.
"I agreed with most of the speech," said Jack Valenti, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, and an outspoken critic of Dole's 1995 address. "Keep in mind, though, to many congressman and senators right now, there is a ceaseless antagonism toward Hollywood because, politically, it's high-reward and low-risk."
Wil Guido, who oversees facilities at the studio, said Dole's feelings toward movies mirrored his own.
"I'm a parent and I strongly believe we should try to keep our children's priorities straight," said Guido, 32, who lives in Burbank and has a 12-year-old daughter.
After Dole's attack on Hollywood last year, he drew criticism of his own when it became clear he had not seen some of the movies he had panned and praised.
On Monday, he went to see 20th Century Fox's patriotic, sci-fi hit "Independence Day," before citing it as a movie that espoused positive values.
Pub Date: 7/31/96