About a year before George W. Bush became president, J. H. Hatfield wrote a biography of the then governor of Texas in which he claimed, in the afterward, that Bush had used cocaine in the seventies. This book was called Fortunate Son: George W. Bush And The Making Of An American President and it was originally published by St. Martin's Press until supposed legal pressure from the Bush family lawyers caused a complete recall and a subsequent burning of the book.
Shortly after, independent underground publisher, Soft Skull Press, headed up by a punk named Sander Hicks, picked up the rights to the book and got it back in print. It has since gone back to press for a third edition and the author, J. H. Hatfield, has committed suicide.
Horns And Halos takes a look at the controversy surrounding the book, and in particular, the controversy surrounding its enigmatic author. It seems Hatfield had a prior conviction for acting as in a conspiracy to murder and when this book came out, his credibility was called into play. He did serve his time, five years in jail to be exact, and oddly enough when he wrote a tell all book on Ewan McGregor and a trivia book on The X-Files no one brought it up, but with the release of Fortunate Son all of a sudden it was being brought into light.
Hicks stood behind him the entire time and the two struck up an interesting friendship despite coming from very different backgrounds and have a fairly large gap in their ages. The film follows them around from book show to publishing house (contained in a basement office in the building in which Hicks worked as the superintendent), and various other locations. Of course, it all ends with Hatfield's death but the film had been started long before he killed himself, it just so happens that it makes for a rather unusual ending to a story that is both tragic, hilarious, and very thought provoking (more in regards to what you aren't told than what you are).
Horns And Halos takes a critical look at the author, his subject, and more importantly, the way the controversy surrounding it was handled by the media. When Hatfield holds a press conference to reveal who his sources were for the cocaine allegations, attendance is amazingly sparse considering the magnitude of the event – the author is going to reveal who exactly revealed to him that the most powerful political figure in the world had a penchant for the powder – this is a big deal and something that the president still has yet to deny. Despite all this though, the film does a nice job of staring impartial and ultimately lets you make up your own mind without force feeding you its politics. J. H. Hatfield was obviously a strange guy and that's made very clear, but he was also intelligent and passionate about what he did, as was Hicks.
Horns And Halos is presented in a rock solid 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. It's not perfect, some of the limitations of the source material is noticeable and some of the clips from various other sources are a little softer looking but for the most part this is a very nice transfer with strong colors, a high level of detail, nice deep black levels, and a solid color range. The supplements are mostly full frame and some of the older footage doesn't fare as well as the feature but it's all very watchable and pretty much problem free.
Dolby Digital 2.0 is the order of the day here, and it serves the movie and the features just fine. A surround sound track wouldn't have enhanced the film at all and isn't needed for this type of film. Levels are well balanced and dialogue for the most part is clean and clear without any notable issues save for a couple of scenes where there is some background noise that creeps in. Such is the nature of the documentary film, it's not a fault in the authoring of mastering of the DVD.
There aren't too many extras on the first disc. Roughly sixteen minutes of deleted scenes that were likely cut for length as they don't really add too much to the proceedings and a lot of the ground they cover is covered just as well if not better by the scenes that were left in. Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley provide a pretty interesting feature length commentary track overtop of the feature as well. Low budget films usually have more interesting stories behind them than the typical Hollywood production and this film is no exception. If you enjoyed the movie, do spend the time with the commentary track as it's quite interesting what they went through getting this movie finished.
The second disc is where the bulk of the supplements can be found. Two interviews with James Hatfield are included in their entirety in which he discusses the book in quite a bit of detail. Some of what's covered here is also covered in the movie but these pieces make for interesting companions to the feature. There's also some protest coverage from the Republican National Convention in 2000 and Bush's inauguration ceremony that didn't get much, if any, coverage on the national news for some reason. Speaking of footage you didn't see on the news much that year, there's also some interesting pieces filmed at Ralph Nadar's convention. While the media portrayed it as lackluster and ill attended, the footage here speaks differently. All of this footage goes to show how skewed some newscasts really are, even in this pre 9/11 material. It once again serves as an interesting contrast to how much you can really learn about an event by only seeing on take on it (in this case, the news stations).
Also found on the second disc is a segment of performance footage from Sander Hicks and his band, White Collar Crime. Some of their music is used throughout the documentary and it's interesting to see the performance out of context here. Finally, there is some decent promotional material here as well – a sixty minute radio interview done with the two directors for WNYU, a Rogers' Reel To Real profile on the film and the filmmakers which aired around the time of the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival, and a KCET profile on the film as well.
It's all packaged up in a nice double keepcase with a 12-page booklet inside that features excerpts from Sander Hicks' travel diary from after Hatfield died. When he found out about Hatfield's death, Sander actually went on a minor investigation to find out if his death really was a suicide or if it was in fact something more sinister than that.
Horns And Halos should be considered a mandatory purchase for anyone who is even remotely interested in modern American politics and the weirdness surrounding it. Microfilms have done an excellent job with the film, from the presentation to the menu design to the wealth of extra features. This release is highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.