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A near perfect manifestation of radical, DIY media intervention, the video doc Horns and Halos could not be more timely—just as we hunker down for untold years of wartime sacrifice and imperialist self-rationalization, here is a David fable told by the barbarians at the Bush dynasty gate. The film chronicles the life of Fortunate Son, the unauthorized George W. Bush biography by James Hatfield that, once it was recalled and burned by St. Martin’s Press in 1999, struggled through a second incarnation as the child of downtown-punky micro-house Soft Skull Press. The book’s most notorious assertion—that Dubya did coke, years ago—drew the rubber-neckers as Hatfield surely knew it would, and eventually served to deflect attention from the more imperative aspects of the rising despot’s past: corporate boondoggles, privileged evasion of the law (DWI, insider trading, the draft), and premeditated power-mongering.
Filmmakers Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky keep the chronology clear and the exposition brisk, and what emerges is not only an Underdog v. Simon Bar Sinister saga but a fascinating character study. Although the vituperative Hatfield is cagey with the camera, it slowly becomes clear that he is a low-boiling, self-destructive piece of work, constantly on the edge of emotional immolation. Still on parole for homicide conspiracy (he was “caught up in” a bribery scheme gone bad a decade earlier) he even worries at one point that his career frustrations might cause him to beat his toddler.
What little coverage Fortunate Son’s original St. Martin’s edition got came in the form of journalistic cavils—condemning Hatfield’s “clip job” for hack liberties and unsubstantiated rumor. Once Hatfield’s record became a convenient horse-whip during the 1999 election campaigns, St. Martin’s bailed; not Hatfield nor Soft Skull’s mohawked editor Sander Hicks had any doubts about political duress having been applied. Hicks, for his grandstanding part, saw the difficult resurrection of Fortunate Son as a spitballing resistance to the econocratic elite’s assumption of power.
Horns and Halos feels like a Day in the Liberal Life until the stunningly tragic end, when publishing hassles and radical conviction become matters of victimization and death. Predictably, Hawley and Galinsky have had to distribute their doc themselves—in effect, American media channels have decided to summarily marginalize Hatfield’s saga without even mustering the scandal smokescreen of ex-con credibility and presidential blow.
That coca might’ve been grown in the same Bolivian fields that Bolivia‘s hero Freddy (Freddy Flores) once worked in before “the Yankees burned them down” in père Bush’s war on drugs. Having to find diner work in Argentina without his family, Freddy is the archetypal illegal alien, underpaid, hassled by cops, resented by the locals. Adrián Caetano’s simple, palm-sized film, shot in gritty black-and-white and largely confined to the threadbare café where Freddy grills sausages, exudes an ultra-casual vibe. Virtually plot-free, the movie’s organic cultivation of Argentina’s economic tension and ethnophobic woes (to the troubled diner regulars, Paraguayans, Uruguayans, and Bolivians are all “niggers”) is smooth as silk, and as much as we may root for Flores’s confident, watchful immigrant, we know the scenario is snowballing toward violence. Mini-mayhem breaks out with flashbulb suddenness. So modest that its predictability seems a moot point, Caetano’s film seems less tragic than journalistic, dryly considering Freddy’s fate as symptomatic of a grimly global state of being.
“Burning Bush: ‘Horns and Halos’ Directors Turn Fortune Tellers” by Laura Sinagra