Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Read Bush Sr.’s Lips In New HBO Bio-Doc

41 (Dir. Jeffrey Roth, 2012) 

Our 41st President, George Herbert Walker Bush, tells his story in this HBO produced bio doc releasing today on DVD. In the film, which premiered on the premium cable channel last June, Bush Sr. guides us around his peaceful beachfront property in Kennebunkport, Maine, and sits down with director Jeffrey Roth’s to muse over the highs and lows of his life in and out of the political spotlight.

Although I’m not a fan of the man, watching the film helped put Bush Sr.’s life in better perspective for me. The one-termer is mainly remembered in the world of pop culture via appearances on The Simpsons (voiced by Harry Shearer), THE BIG LEBOWSKI’s appropriation by the Dude of his “this aggression will not stand” statement, and Dana Carvey’s exaggerated impression on SNL reruns, so he’s greatly humanized here.

In tons of sepia-tinted photographs we learn how Bush was highly competitive in his youth - he was a soccer captain, a football quarterback, and a basketball player. In one of his most affecting anecdotes, Bush speaks of his time in the Navy in World War II. Some of the most fascinating footage the film has to offer is of his rescue at sea on September 2nd, 1944 after his plane was shot down.

From there, prompted by the occasional soft-spoken (and often soft-ball) question by Roth, Bush touches on his marriage, his college years at Yale, his oil company career, his senate runs, C.I.A. Director duties, loyalty to Nixon (he sadly says he believed Nixon was innocent as long as he could), and eight years of going to funerals as Reagan’s Vice President in the ‘80s.

This gives us over an hour of material before we get to Bush’s four years in the White House. It’s funny that his V.P. Dan Quayle is never mentioned (we see his name on campaign signs in pictures and footage, and there’s maybe a fleeting shot or two of him but his name is never said). As Quayle was possibly the most ridiculed Vice President in history maybe this is a good idea, and it should be noted along the same lines that Bush talks more about every breed of dog he’s owned than he does of any of his six children.

May hot button topics are glossed over - his son’s much criticized presidency is only mentioned in passing, the Japan vomiting incident never comes up, and the stern elder refuses to talk about Ross Perot, etc. – so this is as respectful a portrait as you’d expect, one that could play on a loop during the visiting hours at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum. Bush does express regret for that “Read my lips, no new taxes” promise that he didn't keep, but that doesn't stain the glorified puff-piece portrait Roth and HBO are painting here.

However, Roth’s bio-doc isn’t boring as one might reasonably expect it to be.

The well edited 100 minutes goes by swiftly, with a wealth of perfectly chosen images and video (footage of Bush, having just lost the election for a second term, greeting Clinton in the Oval Office is particularly moving), so perhaps it’s a stocking stuffer gift idea for that Republican relative who reveres the former president. Those people exist, right?

The 88-year old Bush Sr. right now is recovering in a Texas Hospital for a lingering cough, so even though it’s sanitized for his protection, 41 is an apt look back at the man’s none-too-shabby legacy.

More later...

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