Thursday, June 24, 2004

“The Hunting of the President,” exclusively at Visions Cinema, Bistro & Lounge, is an underdog, outdated rabble-rousing documentary being shown on the same weekend that brings Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” into national release.

Derived from a book subtitled “The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton,” the movie is a talking-heads dossier compiled by the former president’s TV-industry friend Harry Thomason, who was responsible for the deftly flattering campaign profile of 1992, “The Man From Hope.”

The purported 10-year mission of destruction envisioned by co-authors Joe Conason and Gene Lyons, who also appear in the film, seems to have been unavailing. This fact is just one of the minor details that inhibits the topical impact of “Hunting.”

Another may be the publication of the former president’s own memoirs this week, a milestone anticipated in the epilogue, which plugs several books as an apparent courtesy. In all likelihood, Mr. Clinton’s account will command more interest as a primary historical source than this sprawling and aggrieved video chronicle.

Given his disdain for the unscrupulous journalists and “right-wing” cabalists who supposedly collaborated on bedeviling President Clinton’s White House tenure, Mr. Thomason in all fairness probably should start compiling material for a high-minded defense of President Bush, obviously under fire from rabid political enemies and left-wingers, notably Michael Moore.

While leapfrogging around the continuity of the Whitewater and sex scandal cases that began sensationalizing Mr. Clinton’s reputation while he still was governor of Arkansas, Mr. Thomason and several participants blunder around a plausible argument: Recurrent impeachment proceedings may be a sideshow the country can ill afford. I’m certainly willing to allow that the public spectacles associated with the Nixon and Clinton impeachments had a detrimental effect on governance.

The zeal of Clinton advocates, however, who prided themselves on a “war room” mentality when seeking national office, is partly responsible for the mind-set that encourages the press and all political rivals to pursue a “permanent” election cycle, with little or no time off for bipartisan consensus building or policy-making.

Mr. Thomason devotes a generous patch of footage to scorning Kenneth Starr’s role as a presidential inquisitor. He neglects to observe that such intrusive devices as the special prosecutor and Office of the Independent Counsel looked dubious before Mr. Starr arrived on the scene.

Mr. Thomason also seems to require tarted-up transitions. Between interview segments, he resorts to stock footage filler, often clips from obscure crime melodramas, ill-suited to righteous indignation or vindication. Gennifer Flowers and Paula Jones are recalled, though without any mention of the former’s highly amusing telephone tapes. The more dignified women who claimed sexual abuse, such as Juanita Broderick, are forgotten in this memory album.

Mr. Thomason doesn’t seem to realize there are goofy personality affinities between Paula Jones, reviled as a bimbo cabalist, and Susan McDougal, embraced as a martyred loyalist. His attempt to showcase Mrs. McDougal as a Joan of Arc during a tearful reminiscence proves grotesquely ineffective, in part because he thinks her request to stop the camera sounds more spontaneous than it is.

Maybe there’s a reason Harry Thomason has never made the jump from sitcoms to dramatic features.


TITLE: “The Hunting of the President”

RATING: No MPAA rating (Adult subject matter, including allusions to sex scandals)

CREDITS: Produced and Directed by Harry Thomason and Nickolas Perry.Based on a book by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons. Cinematography by Jim Roberson.Music by Bruce W. Miller and Jason T. Miller

RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes


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