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Go Kart Films presents
Horns and Halos (2002)

"There's not a day goes by that I don't regret this book."
- James H. Hatfield, author

Review By: Jesse Shanks  
Published: October 14, 2004

Stars: James Hatfield, Sander Hicks, George W. Bush
Director: Suki Hawley, Michael Galinsky

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult language)
Run Time: 01h:18m:26s
Release Date: October 05, 2004
UPC: 600773600492
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A-AB+ A+

DVD Review

The first thing you find out about this documentary is that it is not really about George W. Bush, except indirectly in description and as a giant political shadow behind the events portrayed. Author James Hatfield, writer of several mid-level celebrity biographies, contracted for and wrote a notorious biography in 1999 of then Governor and soon-to-be front-running presidential candidate George W. Bush. Called Fortunate Son: George W. Bush and the Making of an American President, the book covers many of the usual tales of Bush, including youthful alcoholism, his avoidance of military service during Viet Nam, his failed business career in which all the companies he associated with went bankrupt, and his sweetheart deal in the ownership of the Texas Rangers. There is even a slight mention of the notorious connection of grandfather Prescott Bush and his illegal dealings with Nazi Germany. All are behind the smirk and reduced to the fodder of conspiracy and parody web sites now, and largely in part due to the methods in which Bush and his handlers were able to marginalize and deflect hard questions about the past of the candidate.

Soon after Fortunate Son was released by St. Martin's Press, the company discovered through news reports originating with the Dallas Morning News that Hatfield had been convicted in 1988 of attempted murder of his former supervisor. Hatfield was convicted in 1988 of paying a hit man $5,000 to murder his former boss with a car bomb. The intended victim and another passenger in the car escaped without harm as the bomb malfunctioned. After news of that conviction surfaced, it was also discovered that Hatfield had pleaded guilty to embezzlement in 1992. St. Martin's Press recalled most of the copies in October 1999 and left additional books in storage. The book was picked up a month and a half later by Soft Skull Press, a small publisher on New York's Lower East Side, headed by Sander Hicks, another important character in our story. Hicks also works as a janitor in the building in which Soft Skull offices are located.

The most sensational aspect of the biography was an "Afterword", in which the accusation that Bush had hidden a three-decade-old cocaine arrest was detailed by Hatfield from what he said were three unnamed sources claiming a judge had expunged Bush's case and given him community service as a favor to his father, the ambassador to the United Nations. THe new Soft Skull edition of the bio was to contain a new forward by Hatfield. After facing a lawsuit, a thrashing on 60 Minutes, and bankruptcy, Soft Skull was frozen by the halting of distribution of the book by their printer. Following the election, Hicks attempts to make one last splash at the Book Expo of America with Hatfield reluctantly revealing his sources for the book's cocaine allegations.

Set against the backdrop of the fierce 2000 presidential campaign, Horns and Halos, created by co-directors Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky, follows Hatfield and Hicks as they battle lawyers, the media, and mounting debt to get Fortunate Son back on shelves. The title comes from an answer Hatfield gives to a question about the "negative" nature of the book. He states, "I am offended when they say it's negative. If a biographer is going to write a book... that's right... you write horns and halos..." In July of 2001, Hatfield was found in a hotel room in Springdale, Arkansas and appeared to have died from a overdose of prescription drugs, according to police. The death occurred amid revelation of alcoholism and accusations of fraud, but this provided a poignant and powerful ending to what was already an important piece of work.

The documentary is extremely well made and is compelling in its juxtaposition of the politics and publishing. The directors, Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky avoid typical talking head styles with interesting setups and question sessions mixed with live footage captured in the moment. Crisp editing and good use of original music move the story along from situation to situation. The two journalists most responsible for bring Hatfield down are interviewed. Pete Slover of the Dallas Morning News went after Hatfield and revealed his criminal history. Pam Colloff of Texas Monthly tracked down the individuals that Hatfield named as sources and found that almost all claimed never to have spoken to him. Their examination of the issues of the story and the book and their own self-examinations are very revealing as the story analyzes media and its relationship to itself in this information age. Less forthcoming is television magazine, 60 Minutes, which did a piece on Hatfield that the publisher was counting on as a big sales booster. The show would not provide the full footage of their segment for analysis in the context of the film.

The story of the guerilla publishing outfit picking up the "book that others are burning," is simply fascinating and Sander Hicks might be not be a great publishing executive, but he is a compelling example of a new generation of businessman. Self-consciously on the make but also oddly idealistic, Sander Hicks provides an unusual glimpse into the youth of today. This documentary takes its place next to, and in some ways surpasses, the other outstanding films that have emerged in the last two years that examine what has happened to the media and politics of our country in last decade, including Fahrenheit 9/11, Unprecedented, Outfoxed, and The Hunting of the President.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: A good quality transfer to 1.85:1 from the original 35mm source make Horns and Halos very watchable in the home theater setting. Great care is taken to integrated video from a quite astonishing range of sources for the film and the extras. Very few glitches are seen.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The solid sound transfer performs well. Not much stereo, but this isn't missed in a documentary that is mostly talking anyway. Good use of music in Horns and Halos puts it a touch above the usual documentary method of splicing in a pop song or two.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish with remote access
11 Deleted Scenes
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Directors Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky
Packaging: Double Scanavo
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Extended Interviews including two feature interviews with James Hatfield
  2. Protest Coverage including Inauguration Day
  3. KCET Profile of Horns and Halos
  4. WYNU feature radio interview with Directors
  5. Short films, videos
Extras Review: An excellent set of extras raise Horns and Halos above the norm. Extended material, deleted material, historical background and extended discussion of the film itself are all included to make for a potent package of and about the film.

Deleted Scenes

Talking Heads Discuss Fortunate Son and the Media (2m:12s)
Jim Fitzgerald and Sander Making the Book (1m:01s)
Jim Fitzgerald and Sander on NY Times Ad (:41s)
Book Expo America Montage (1m:02s)
Navy Shore Patrol (1m:47s)
Cat Suicide (1m:38s)
Don't Quit Until You Die (1m:39s)
Failure (1m:32s)
Sander Hicks with his Parents (1m:31s)
Sander Hicks on Hatfield's Nervous Breakdown (2m:31s)

On Disc Two:

Two feature Interviews with author James Hatfield (12m:46s and 16m:10s)
Extended Interviews with:
Mark Crispin Miller (author) 2m:00s
Pam Colloff (reporter Texas Monthly) (1m:49s)
Pete Slover (reporter Dallas Morning News) (8m45s)
Jim Fitzgerald (unpaid Soft Skull consultant) (2m:59s)
Zack Exley (owner of gwbush.com) (4m:34s)
Todd Colby (Soft Skull published poet) (4m:39s)

Protest Coverage (8m:09s)
Inauguration Day (4m:22s)

Sander Hicks' Band White Collar Crime songs:
God is Kick Ass: concert video (3m:20s)
Hi Mom (60 Minutes Song): audio recording (2m:54s)

Ralph Nader Super Rally (7m:24s): Ralph Nader rally at Madison Square Garden juxtaposed with press conference featuring Michael Moore, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Phil Donahue, and Eddie Vedder

Rogers' Reel to Real: profile on Horns and Halos at The 2002 Toronto International Film Festival (13m:22s)
Sander Hicks interview on Reel to Real (6m:59s)
KCET profile on Horns and Halos featuring directors (8m:39s)
WNYU feature radio interview with directors (28m:29s)

This disc set is just as potent and entertaining for the home viewer, for anyone who has interest in media and accountability in journalism and politics, as it is for the student of film, journalism and politics. It would serve several college courses in filmmaking, publishing, media, journalism, and political studies. With copious extras including deleted scenes, extended interview segments and director's commentary, Horns and Halos shows the creating, compilation and finalization of a very balanced and intriguing documentary—two attributes that are difficult to obtain in the same film. The deleted scenes shed light on the content of the film, as well as the way the film was made. Also included is background material about the election and the figures in story that help to paint in more details about the times in which these events were happening. The close look at Hatfield's motivations and methods and the journalists who surrounded him are all fascinating media studies.

Extras Grade: A+

 

Final Comments

Aficionados of publishing, media, politics and journalism films must have Horns and Halos on their shelf, no matter their politics. It is an essential documentary DVD for what it portrays about the devils and angels of our information society.

 


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