Off the Shelf
The movie about the book about the president that the president didn't want you to read
When Journeys With George arrived in 2002 to great acclaim, Alexandra Pelosi was hailed as a documentarian who had found the softer side of a hard sell. Her access to the candidate that would eventually become president of the United States -- and then later an ally-alienating half-tyrant -- fostered a playful, intriguing film full of playful, intriguing moments. The alcoholic is drinking a nonalcoholic beer! A presidential candidate called his press corps animals! He kissed the filmmaker on the cheek! It was all very interesting.
But not as interesting as what Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky (Half-Cocked, Radiation) would release later that year. Their Bush documentary is a little different: Horns and Halos is about a book about Bush, J.H. Hatfield's Fortunate Son: George W. Bush and the Making of an American President, an incendiary clip job whose allegations of Bush's 1972 cocaine arrest propelled it to bestseller status in 1999. When Hatfield was assailed as a phony, St. Martin's recalled the biography and dumped its rights. Sander Hicks, a 29-year-old Lower East Side super and founder of Soft Skull Press, picked them up again.
Hawley and Galinsky capture Hicks' crusade to get Fortunate Son back on the shelves with a fluid, unflinching eye. They shot more than 100 hours of footage and found themselves editing around too much information and too many charmed moments. "[What] you get with this film, actually, is a very simplified point of view, because one thing you have to do is pick out things to exemplify aspects of the situation," Galinsky said in December when the couple showed Horns and Halos at the Alamo Downtown. "It gives the impression of a well-rounded view, when in fact, when we had a more well-rounded point of view, the film was sluggish, it was very hard to get through. There was too much."
"The way we do film, we're filmmakers, not journalists," Hawley said. "What we were really interested in was finding a character, because that would make the story. We weren't interested in getting to the bottom of the cocaine, because --"
"Well," Galinksy interrupted. "We were interested in that, but it wasn't our goal. It remains open-ended. It doesn't champion either or any side. That's why it's called Horns and Halos: It's about the good and the bad and what's in between."
Horns and Halos begins a limited run at the Alamo Drafthouse Village on Friday. See "Film Listings" for review.