WAR ROOM

A review of an obscure indie film (courtesy of HuluPlus’ choice selection of films from the Criterion Collection), some film history & Eric Michael Kochmer. Read on to find out why indie filmmakers should care. Every #TBT.

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WAR ROOM
Directed by D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus / 1993 / Color / 96 minutes

Modern documentary film or really media in general would be much different without D.A. Pennebaker. Starting in the 1960’s with PRIMARY and CRISIS and the legendary Bob Dylan doc DON’T LOOK BACK, Pennebaker evolved the style of documentary film. Before him, documentaries were either straight forward interviews or a blend of fictional scenes with a subject (see Robert Flaherty). Access to JFK and Hubert Humphrey, was given to him in the filming of PRIMARY, which led to a frank and realistic lens looking in on the American primary process and its impact on the candidates. His cinema verite shooting style lends to this intimacy and adds an experimental element that was missing before, which leads to a more attractive piece of entertainment. His films feel like they are unfolding in front of you. It’s not made up suspense. It’s real. He is often credited with the immediate influence of Direct Cinema.
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1993’s WAR ROOM is another amazing work. I should add, that at this time, Pennebaker married Chris Hegedus in the mid-1970’s and continues to this day to co-direct all of his projects with her.

The film starts with the Clinton campaign at the beginning of the 1992 primaries in New Hampshire. Instead of following the candidate around, as in PRIMARY, they focus on the two strategists: James Carville and George Stephanopolis. Their dynamic ends up coming off like a modern day odd couple pairing: Stephanopolis, the ivy league educated political hack and Carville, the outspoken Southern liberal with a pension for late night whiskey strategy sessions. And then of course, you have Clinton coming in and out from behind the curtain to offer encouragement and then step away while these men do the dirty work that is winning a presidential election.

Overall, the great feeling of the film is the realistic randomness of it all. We never knew that Clinton, a somewhat underdog at the beginning of the primaries, ever had a chance. Seeing how the team is able to turn a loss into New Hampshire and inspire a surge is breathtaking. Also, seeing the dirty work as it happens is amazing. We see the different women come forward and accuse Clinton of his supposed infidelities. The strategists handle it with ease like they were waiting for it. My favorite scene is in the dawn of the Presidential election when a reporter is threatening to reveal another mistress right before the voting starts. Stephanopolis and Carville double team the newsman and threaten to essentially ruin his career. He eventually apologizes.