Chris Hegedus, D.A. Pennebaker
As the introduction of television played a pivotal role in the Kennedy/Nixon debates, the media was a major factor for Clinton/Bush. At one point in The War Room, a giddy George Stephanopoulos tells Clinton, “Do you have any idea how many gazillions of people are going to watch this speech tonight?”
The War Room, directed by Chris Hegedus and husband D.A. Pennebaker, starts at the New Hampshire primary, where Clinton came in 2nd but was still perceived as “The Comeback Kid.” From there, some familiar stories emerge: model Gennifer Flowers’ claim of a 12-year affair with the Arkansas governor; Ross Perot’s push out of (and back into) the election; Bush’s “read my lips” jargon.
Though the film tracks Clinton’s eventual victory, he is not the star. Hegedus and Pennebaker had very little access to Clinton and instead went into the war room, where communications director Stephanopoulos and lead strategist Carville (“The Ragin’ Cajun”) steered the ship into history. This limited access to Clinton ended up being a fateful key to the story. The men have a great chemistry and fit each other perfectly--Stephanopoulos as the confident charmer (“We’re not gonna lose. He will win. He will be the president.”) and Carville as the blunt Louisianan (“We ought to be on the thing like stink on shit, man.”). It’s easy to see why both became such superstars.
It’s fascinating to watch something so significant in scope come together, to be there for the secrets, the fisticuffs, the high-fiving. The War Room is an incredible portrait of one of the most crucial elections in modern politics and one of the finest examples of the Direct Cinema movement. There should be two documentaries as involved, personal and truthful as this every four years.
Return of The War Room (1:21:41): Also directed by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker, this 2008 sequel reflects on the 1992 campaign and election.
Making The War Room: This collection of new interviews, which devote their time to tracing the making of the 1993 documentary, is divided into three sections. They are: “Hegedus, D.A. Pennebaker, Cutler, and Ettiner,” “Frazer Pennebaker” and “Doob.”
Stanley Greenberg (10:47): In this piece, Greenberg, who served as pollster during the campaign and was featured in The War Room, discusses the purpose and role of political polling.
Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a 12-page booklet featuring an essay titled “Being There” by writer Louis Menand.