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      Publisher Sander Hicks with the controversial Bush biography Fortunate Son. in Horns and Halos
      Publisher Sander Hicks with the controversial Bush biography "Fortunate Son."
    Bio hazard

    The firestorm over a controversial biography of President Bush pits a struggling author and feisty upstart publisher against the Republican campaign machine and the mainstream media in the provocative documentary "Horns and Halos."


    (Originally reviewed at the 2002 New York Underground Film Festival.)

    What did the president snort and when did he snort it? That is not really the question in "Horns and Halos" — actually, the documentary is really about what happened to the late author J.H. Hatfield when he published the Bush biography "Fortunate Son" alleging, for one thing, that George Bush was arrested for cocaine possession in 1972 and the criminal charges were swept under the rug.

    Directed by: Suki Hawley.
    Featuring: J.H. Hatfield, Sander Hicks.
    Cinematography: Michael Galinsky.

    Related links: Official site | Soft Skull Press | "Fortunate Son" ordering info
    Cinema Village
    22 East 12th St.
    Opens Feb. 21, 2003.

    The film follows the fortunes of "Fortunate Son" from the time it was dropped by a major publisher through its publication by teeny tiny Soft Skull Press from a cellar on the Lower East Side. There aren't many conclusive answers in the film, but there is an interesting story of pointed personalities, courage, tragedy and the little guys vs. the big guys.

    The book was dropped by its publisher after revelations that the author was convicted of attempted murder 10 years before, and then picked up by Soft Skull, spearheaded by young, hip-looking Sander Hicks, who pays for his basement office by sweeping the floors of the Lower East Side building where it's located. To Hicks, this is what freedom of the press is all about — the little guy shouting the truth about the huge Republican machine with its lawyers and its flawed leader. It's an image he clearly relishes.

      J.H. Hatfield, author of Fortunate Son. in Horns and Halos
      J.H. Hatfield, author of "Fortunate Son."
    "When this book comes out, the only way they're going to bring us down is by saying, 'Who are these left-of-center, punk rock, you know, flibbertigibbets?' And we're going to have to say, 'We're Soft Skull!'╩" Hicks says with bravado. "Maybe I am a super and maybe I have to sweep and mop just to have this great little office here in the basement, but you know, we have a right."

    The author himself has little of this fighting spirit left. He's already been waging this war for a while and the stress is clearly affecting him. "Not a day goes by that I don't regret this book. I wish I had never, ever, ever have fucking sent a proposal to do a biography of George W. Bush," he admits after flogging the book at a trade show.

    Besides the battle to get the book published and keep it in distribution, the most interesting thing to watch in "Horns and Halos" is the role of pack journalism in running the other way from a news story that's out of the mainstream. The film is not conclusive about whether the cocaine story is true or not, but it shows how easily non-answers can be used to satisfy the news media's soundbite machine until everything blows over.

    "Not a day goes by that I don't regret this book. I wish I had never, ever, ever have fucking sent a proposal to do a biography of George W. Bush."  
    — J.H. Hatfield  

    Bush himself, on being asked about Hatfield's criminal record, says: "Obviously if he's a convicted felon his credibility is nothing but his credibility was nothing with me to begin with because his story is totally ridiculous." Notice that this attacks the messenger but never answers the charges. This game of ridicule instead of debate has been used routinely in politics for a couple of decades now.

    It's also interesting to see how the media close in on Hatfield for breaking a story that the journalistic pack didn't know about. Among them, we see a writer for ask some rambling questions during a press conference and then denounce Hatfield in her online column for being "rambling and incoherent," which, from what we see of the event, he isn't. Again, it's not the substance of his story that gets attacked — it's his failure to adequately entertain the dot-com correspondent.

    I don't know who's right and who's wrong in this drama (and of course the now-president has been Clintonesquely coy about his cocaine experiences), but the movie shows enough weasely behavior by the mainstream establishment to set off your bull detector. And there's something exciting about the sometimes-foolhardy determination of a few little people to shake up the establishment.

    JANUARY 6, 2003

    Reader comments on Horns and Halos:

  • Horns & Halos - Fortunate Son   from Ken Hurley, Feb 17, 2003
  • Re: Horns & Halos - Fortunate Son   from Anonymous, Jul 19, 2003
  • Re: Horns & Halos - Fortunate Son   from E. B., Aug 11, 2003
  • Aired in Australia   from Anon, Aug 31, 2003
  • President Bush's military service   from MMCantello, Feb 19, 2004
  • horns and halos   from steve kotlowski, Mar 18, 2004
  • Re: horns and halos   from suzie gold, Apr 13, 2004
  • showing Horns   from Del Jacobs, Sep 9, 2004
  • God help Hatfield   from satya9, Jan 14, 2005

  • Post a comment on "Horns and Halos"