Mr. Bush said he never would have sat for the filmmaker’s interviews while his son was in office, because “the last thing I wanted to do during those eight years was complicate the life of the president.” Silence on that issue essentially continued. Mr. Bush talked about his pride in his son’s achievement but nothing about his presidency.
“There really wasn’t any conscious decision about timing,” he said. “But it’s a good thing we did it when we did because I’m tired of talking about myself now.”
That attitude — Mr. Bush even talked about violating “my dear mother’s rule about not talking about yourself” — shaped the film. Mr. Roth hoped for more interview time, but had to make do with what he had. Yet he recognized it was a special opportunity to make a film in Mr. Bush’s own voice. He even interviewed former President Clinton about his predecessor, but decided not to use anybody else talking about Mr. Bush.
“He just wants to be a man who’s enjoying the rest of his life,” Mr. Roth said. “He doesn’t really care too much about how history remembers him and that tends to reflect how he’s not out there all that much.”
Mr. Bush comes across as a gentleman in the film, an old-school politician who believes in service and in getting things done, as opposed to getting into mortal combat. One of the most fascinating passages, however, came when Mr. Roth asked him about his 1992 third-party election opponent Ross Perot.
“Can’t talk about him,” Mr. Bush said, his voice suddenly frosty. “Cost me the election, and I don’t like him. Other than that, I have nothing to say.”
Mr. Roth began filming in 2009, with his final shots coming when President Obama awarded Mr. Bush the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. You can see the progression of age. Mr. Bush is seen walking around Walker’s Point early, then he needs a cane and, finally, he is seen in a wheelchair as Parkinson’s disease weakens his legs.
Movingly, “41” ends in Kennebunkport.
“This is our anchor to the windward,” the former president says. “This is where our memories are. This is where I’ve been coming all my life and will remain to our last days.”
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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