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1 review, 5 user ratings

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Horns and Halos
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by Chris Parry

"Sometimes the gods just can't resist but give you an ending."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2003 SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: Horns and Halos is not your typical documentary. In most doco productions, the inevitable question arises - how do we finish this thing? With Horns and Halos though, a very good documentary was just motoring along, entertaining and informing, when suddenly an edge of your seat, can't-believe-it-happened kind of ending was foisted on the filmmaker by sheer bad fortune. I say bad fortune because the nature of this ending was surely something the filmmakers didn't want, but in terms of putting an exclamation point on the end of the film, this bad fortune may well be what sets the film apart from others of it's ilk. They say that good documentary making basically means that you're right there when the shit hits the fan. Well, Michael Galinksy and Suki Hawley were there alright...

You might have heard of Fortunate Son, an unauthorized biography of George W. Bush that claimed the Prez had once been a cokehead. No great shock there, and in fact Dubbya refused to deny that he'd ever taken illegal drugs, instead claiming he hadn't done so in 'the last twenty-five years'. So what happened to author James Hatfield's book when it was released by St Martin's Press? It shot to the top of the charts, hitting #8 when the Bush posse made it clear to the publishers that dropping the book might save them a lawsuit. Surprisingly, St Martin's caved, pulling the book from shelves and burning the remaining copies, claiming they had issues with Hatfield's credibility.

That's when Hatfield's criminal past surfaced - a five-year stretch in prison for conspiracy to murder. While it doesn't put him in a good light, does it make Hatfield less of an author? Does it make the facts he uncovered suddenly untrue? Of course not, but in America today you can't expect justice when you're on the unpopular team. And nobody is less popular than the guy who goes up against The Great Dictator.

Horns and Halos picks up the story when the story is already old, at least as far as the mainstream press is concerned. Hatfield's book has been dumped, then picked up by an underground publishing outfit called Soft Skull Press. Soft Skull's CEO, Sander Hicks, is a mohawked janitor. The publishing office: a room in the basement of the building Hicks is employed to sweep. Suffice it to say, Soft Skull isn't exactly Doubleday.

And so we watch as Hicks and Hatfield set about trying to re-release a book they believe is an important work. Their problem is that, even if they're right, the mainstream press doesn't want to know about it. Clearly if they're going to make some waves, they have to take things to the next level.

What happens from here on in is sometimes funny, sometimes sad, and finally depressing. Though he eventually becomes secondary to the narrative due to his being based across country, Hatfield is shown as a decent guy under a lot of pressure. The film displays far more than simply how odd this pairing of punk publisher and felonious author is, it lets us in on the dirty side of fame, the nastiness that many in the press exhibit in their work and the dismissive nature of corporate journalists in today's America.

Perhaps Hatfield was wrong. Maybe Bush has never snorted a line of marching powder in his entire life. Perhaps he never dodged the draft. Perhaps he never got off a drunk driving charge because of his father's influence. And maybe he didn't steal an election. But if any or all of these possibilities are true, shouldn't someone in the press actually get their hand dirty and prove it, rather than throw rocks at a man who paid his debt to society just because he's done what they haven't?

Horns and Halos is a good documentary that perhaps could have been great had the makers had some more cash, a little more direction and the resources to do that very digging themselves. A documentary maker can certainly get by through simply relaying the events they've seen to the audience, and certainly Galinsky and Hawley have shown no bias in this work. But a great documentary maker will get to the facts and help us make our decisions using information we might not have found ourselves.

A fine effort, an interesting topic, some intriguing characters and a sad ending. Certainly the big finish wasn't something Galinsky and Hawley could have planned for or expected, but as said earlier, part of being a good documentarian is being there when the rope snaps, the car crashes or the author snaps. In my book, all of the above makes Horns and Halos a qualified success. Now if someone will just give them a budget to make their next effort...

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originally posted: 01/25/03 14:02:45
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Slamdance Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Slamdance Film Festival series, click here.
This film is listed in our political documentary series. For more in the Political Documentary series, click here.

User Comments

8/03/04 Tim Chadwick Truth, justice, & the Free Speech crapped on by Greed and Power. Get this docu. 5 stars
4/09/04 Hilarium Great subject, but cheap production values make it hard to stay with. 2 stars
3/21/03 Ignacio SIlberfaden FuckinŽ Great 4 stars
2/05/03 Shari Tragic but leaves lots to talk about. 4 stars
1/23/03 Mr Math Killer ending. Good doco. 4 stars
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  02-Feb-2003 (NR)
  DVD: 05-Oct-2004



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