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The Disinformation Company presents
How Arnold Won the West (2004)

"All of my dreams became a reality because of California."
- Arnold Schwarzenegger

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: January 18, 2005

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gray Davis, Mary Carey
Other Stars: Sharon Davis, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Maria Shriver, Gary Coleman
Director: Alex Cooke

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:19m:48s
Release Date: January 25, 2005
UPC: 826262000998
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

There are many times when California seems to exist principally so those of us in the other forty-nine states can shake our heads. (I am a former Golden State resident myself, and even with all of the lunacy that sometimes goes on there, retain a tremendous fondness for the place.) And yet, just as it's okay for you to make fun of your nosepicker of a cousin but you'd be ready to throw down if the kids from the next block tried to do the same thing—family is family—as citizens of any state of the union, we recoil a little when those from other countries try to make fun of one of our own. Sure, the California gubernatorial recall election was something of a circus—but it was our circus.

Many Britons especially have found professional success making sport of Americans and their politics, and Alex Cooke, the director of this documentary, is the latest in that long line; she's very much from the Nick Broomfield school of documentary filmmaking, but she makes Broomfield seem like Lady Bracknell. Cooke and her film crew packed off to California when Arnold Schwarzenegger declared his candidacy for governor, and the film is a narrative of Schwarzenegger's whirlwind campaign journey, which landed him in Sacramento. Is Arnold's run to the Governor's Mansion a great American success story, or a sad, horrible mockery of our politics? Is it triumph, tragedy, or farce? You could probably make a persuasive case for either side, but it's hard to argue with the premise that what we see here is the victory of style over substance, and the ratification of the fact that celebrity means more than anything else, especially ideology, in America. The spectacle of the recall election was in many ways a sorry one, and Cooke devotes a good amount of time to the marginal characters on the ballot, ranging from Gary Coleman, running as a pathetic career move, to Mary Carey, bringing her mainstream visibility that she could never have found in the world of porn.

Schwarzenegger himself is seen only from a distance—he pretty much ran out the clock on the election, refusing to answer any questions of substance, relying solely on his movie star status to coast him to victory; it was a cynical strategy, but it worked. And so Cooke goes hunting elsewhere for characters for her drama. The hero of the piece is certainly Sharon Davis, wife of the colorless incumbent, Gray Davis; she has Hillaryesque thoughts about a vast right-wing conspiracy to bring down her husband, and she's probably right. The villain of our story is Darrell Issa, car alarm magnate turned congressman, who funded the recall effort; Nino Rota-style music plays whenever he's on screen, and he's crestfallen when Schwarzenegger decides to run, crushing Issa's own dreams of gubernatorial glory.

But what's sort of noxious about the film are Cooke's voiceovers. She takes a faux-naïf pose, shocked, shocked at what she's learning and seeing: "I'm beginning to think the election is less about issues, more about marketing muscle." If Cooke says that she came to California from the U.K. to cover this election because she was so keenly interested in public education, energy prices, natural disaster relief, and road maintenance in California, she's lying. And she gets very snide: "This is democracy American style. Here, money talks." Admittedly Schwarzenegger is easy to mock (and she does: "Would Mr. Universe have any real policies?"), but to write this all off as some great colonial joke is a staggering mistake. Cooke even has her fake epiphany: "Now I get it. This whole campaign is being staged for TV." This is almost more insulting than Schwarzenegger's own campaign strategy, and just as cynical. The film's final sequence with the Schwarzenegger juggernaut focuses principally on the foreign press corps, who have flocked to California in droves, and then spend their time crying into their lattés because the candidate won't provide them with exclusive interviews. (If you were Schwarzenegger, would you?) Perhaps the only one on screen who has more self-pity than Cooke is an Austrian journalist, from Schwarzenegger's home town, who has the improbable belief that she should be leapfrogged over the L.A. Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, TV correspondents from California affiliates and the networks, and every other American reporter, and then is devastated when she doesn't get the chance to make fun of the candidate to his face. Schwarzenegger's tacit snubbing of her and every other boy and girl on the bus is, by itself, almost enough to make you proud to be an American.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The location shooting has a ragged look to it; it's not unlike what you'd find most nights on cable news broadcasts. Colors are a little dull, and contrast is high.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: You'll hear a significant amount of buzzing on the audio track, but Cooke has seen to it that her voice-overs glisten. Quelle surprise.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Da Vinci Code Decoded, Bush Family Fortunes, Uncovered, Outfoxed
12 Deleted Scenes
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Flexbox
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. campaign recall statistics
Extras Review: A package (30m:47s) of 12 deleted scenes consist principally of Schwarzenegger parrying questions at impromptu press conferences; there's also some more face time with Sharon Davis, and an appearance by Jay Leno at the Schwarzenegger victory celebration. You'll also find a Mary Carey campaign ad, and stats on how much money was spent and how many votes were cast in the recall.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

A snotty, condescending look at the carnival-like California recall election. It doesn't shed a whole lot of light on the subject matter, and probably serves only to ratify and confirm the prejudices held overseas about Americans and our politics being lightweight.


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