HUNTING OF THE PRESIDENT, THE
Using previously unseen interviews, archival footage and the content of the book by Gene Lyons, Joe Conason, this doco explores the systematic campaign at various levels of the community against Bill Clinton's Presidency, ranging from Paula Jones to Kenneth Starr and a handful of shadowy figures in between.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The Arkansas Project, a privately funded outfit, spent a reported US$2 million to "dig up any dirt from their past" according to interview subject David Brock, investigative journalist formerly with The American Spectator. One of the principal figures in that little exercise was David Hale, Clinton's principal accuser in the Whitewater affair; Hale was a judge, and one of the subjects of this doco who comes off looking more like a snake than a judge. He was notorious for his fancy footwork in various areas and eventually undone. This is but one tiny tid-bit of the giant jigsaw puzzle that this film constructs from a variety of sources, many of them on camera, some of them from the archives, but many speaking specially for this film.
It's a carefully constructed case, with none of the loose cannon style of Michael Moore, nor with the same sense of making popular entertainment. This is serious stuff, and taken seriously. It is a damning portrait of political machinations fuelled by hatred - and thus a singular example to all those who nurture hatred in their politics. It's poison and it'll eventually kill your soul. It's a bad place from which to conduct politics.
Hunting ... is meticulous to a fault: in order to put the main players in context, like Jim McDougal, the Clintons' partner in the Whitewater land purchase, the film squeezes a mini-biopic of McDougal into the middle. And this is really insightful; it also provides a taste of the intricacies of real life, the change of fortunes and the impact of uncontrollable elements, like health.
Then comes the deconstruction of Ken Starr, the villain of the piece. Or rather, the deconstruction of how the Republicans engineered his appointment to the Clinton chase, after the really independent Robert Fisk was clearing the Clintons in the Whitewater case. The outspoken Republican Starr had an obvious conflict of interest. One of the most explosively revelatory interviews (of many) is with Susan McDougal, Jim's wife -and a very credible 'witness'. She reveals the details of a meeting with staff from the Office of Independent Counsel Starr in which they swaggered that they could indicte her, but wouldn't if she could give them a 'proffer' - what they wanted was something, however intangible, some dirt on the Clintons. Something they could leverage. She walked out of the meeting.
But it gets worse. She ends up in jail, on murderers' row, subjected to the hatred of other inmates, paraded in the red outfit normally worn by women who've killed their children.
The revelations about Starr's tactics are the most astonishing in the film, and makes you wonder how democracy survives when some of its proponents behave like thugs and cheap mobsters. See this film as a lesson in what not to do in public life, and to see how low the Starr Chamber really got.
But the most heartening thing is that for all the power and money and influence that the mad Right used -plus taxpayers millions - to try and destroy a twice elected President they hated, the public saw right through them and through the compliant media hacks who were the tools. That's democratic power I like to see.
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HUNTING OF THE PRESIDENT, THE (M)
CAST: Documentary featuring Bill and Hillary Clinton, Paul Bagela, David Brock, John Camp, Larry Case, Joe Conason, Gene Lyons, Andrew Cooper, Paula Jones, Jim McDougal, Susan McDougal, Kenneth Starr, and many more
NARRATION: Morgan Freeman
PRODUCER: Douglas Jackson
DIRECTOR: Harry Thompson, Nickolas Perry
SCRIPT: Harry Thompson, Nickolas Perry (book by Gene Lyons, Joe Conason)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jim Roberson
EDITOR: Nickolas Perry
MUSIC: Bruce Miller
RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Arkles Ent
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney: March 31, 2005; Melbourne: April 14, 2005
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