“Horns And Halos” was deemed the “Best Documentary of 2002,” at the New York Underground Film festival, and Chicago Underground Film Festival. Also a 2002 Official Selection of the Toronto International Film Festival, and Rotterdam International Film Festival.
“Horns and Halos,” like “Lost in La Mancha,” began as a straightforward documentary that took on new meaning as a series of wild events unfolded during filming. After receiving a press release by Soft Skull head, Sander Hicks, the filmmakers chose to follow the publisher's efforts to reprint and distribute James Hatfield's George W. Bush biography, “Fortunate Son.”
Back in 1999, when journalist Peter Slover discovered Hatfield was a convicted felon, the original publisher, St. Martins Press, quivered; in spite of cracking that week's Top 10 Best Seller list within a 4-day period, “Fortunate Son” was immediately recalled. Similar to “La Mancha,” filmmakers Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley discovered their straightforward project would now document new levels of truth and deceit between their characters, and the Media machine.
The most astute summation of this sad chronicle comes from former St. Martins editor, Jim Fitzgerald; a veteran in the publishing industry, who wraps it all up as a miserable, yet standard quest for money. James Hatfield, better known for a few science fiction works and 2 quickie bios on celebrities, wanted to move from mid-level writer to A-list journalist, yet his inexperience in the journalism trenches resulted in some serious miscalculations; according to Slover and writer Pam Colloff, some glaring stitch-work between disparate quotations and unnamed sources merely fed mounting ridicule from colleagues.
While Hatfield's book was acknowledged as a fairly concise, narrative assembly of publicly recorded facts, Soft Skull's last ditch effort to ‘name names' initially did little to bring life to a second printing, after their first effort was affected by a destructive lawsuit.
The audio commentary track with both directors covers the inauspicious beginnings of their film, and the periodic pauses between their observations reflect the obvious difficulties they're experiencing, as they revisit moments that led to some awful events. By recording the swinging action of a discriminating wrecking ball, one senses an undercurrent of shared guilt, although the fates of their subjects were curtailed long before any cameras began to roll.
Unofficially billed as a Criterion-styled line of noteworthy documentary titles, Microfilms' debut release shows a company committed to presenting a work with supplements designed to add resonance beyond the initial framework of the original film.
Deleted interview segments on Disc 1 offer modest extensions and unused tangents, furthering arguments highlighted in the final film. A Q&A with pundit Zack Exley, founder of http://www.gwbush.com/, is particularly unsettling in its irony: where Hatfield's career was ruined and a major publisher ran fearfully into a corner, an impetuous pundit with a catchy domain name has survived the slings and arrows of marshaled Republican ire; he even sells satirical merchandise.
Disc 2 functions as a chronological gallery of deleted sequences, audio bits, unedited interviews, plus Q&As with the directors and their subjects during production and film festival tours. The most saddening in the collection is NYU's radio interview with James Hatfield; covering the kind of facts beneficial to the author and publisher's credibility, the entire piece sat unused until a premiere broadcast in 2003, when some air space needed to be filled in the schedule.
One note: if you know nothing more about “Horns and Halos” than what's covered above, do not read the liner notes in the foldout booklet beforehand. Stay in the dark, and watch the film with unbiased eyes, because before the end credits roll, the last, Rosebud-like shot will affect you the way the filmmakers intended. Poetic, and emotionally unsettling.
Note: this title has been reissued by Rumur Releasing. For more information on the film, read our interview with filmmakers Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky HERE.
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan