The War Room – The Criterion Collection #602 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
March 12, 2012 by Dennis Amith
From filmmaker Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker is the 1993 political documentary “The War Room” which documents how Bill Clinton’s campaign team overcame a variety of obstacles and challenges and would make Bill Clinton the 42nd President of the United States. Captivating, entertaining and highly recommended! The Criterion Collection Blu-ray and DVD release also contains the follow-up 2008 film, “The Return to the War Room” and more!
Image courtesy of ©1993 Pennebaker Associates. 2012 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: The War Room – The Criterion Collection #602
MOVIE RELEASE: 1993
DURATION: 96 Minutes
DVD INFORMATION: Color, 1:33:1 Aspect Ratio, 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio Surround, Subtitles: English SDH
COMPANY: The Criterion Collection
RELEASE DATE: March 20, 2012
Directed by Chris Hegedus, D.A. Pennebaker
Produced by R. J. Cutler, Wendy Ettinger, Frazer Pennebaker
Executive Producer: Wendy Ettinger, Frazer Pettinger
Cinematography by Nick Doob, D.A. Pennebaker
Edited by Chris Hegedus, Erez Laufer, D.A. Pennebaker
Jay S. Burton
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Chris Gallagher Jr.
Dee Dee Myers
The 1992 presidential election was a triumph not only for Bill Clinton but also for the new breed of strategists who guided him to the White House—and changed the face of politics in the process. For this thrilling, behind-closed-doors account of that campaign, renowned cinema verité filmmakers Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker captured the brainstorming and bull sessions of Clinton’s crack team of consultants—especially James Carville and George Stephanopoulos, who became media stars in their own right as they injected a savvy, youthful spirit and spontaneity into the process of campaigning. Fleet-footed and entertaining, The War Room is a vivid document of a political moment whose truths (“It’s the economy, stupid!”) still ring in our ears.
When it comes to documentaries, D. A. Pennebaker’s name is legendary.
For music, Pennebaker’s work on the 1967 Bob Dylan’s documentary “Dont Look Back” became a landmark in film and rock history and is regarded as one of the best documentaries of all time.
Pennebaker is also know for his music documentary work fon “Monterey Pop” (1967), “Alice Cooper” (1970), “Jimi Plays Monterey” (1986), “101” (1989) to name a few.
But as Pennebaker is known for his music documentaries, he’s also known for his political documentaries. Pennebaker was the editor for the 1960 documentary “Primary” featuring John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey for the United States Democratic Party nomination for the President of the United States.
He and filmmaker Chris Hegedus (“Startup.com”, “Down from the Mountain”, “Jimi Plays Monterey”) would repeat the success of “Primary” by creating a documentary in 1993 titled “The War Room” about Bill Clinton’s campaign for President of the United States during the 1992 presidential election.
While the film has been released on DVD in 1998 and in 2004, “The War Room” receives its Criterion Collection treatment in 2012 by a Blu-ray and DVD release which includes the 1993 film but also the inclusion of the 2008 documentary “Return of the War Room” revisiting many of the people that were featured in the 1993 documentary plus many special features including a panel hosted by the William J. Clinton Foundation, interview with strategist Stanley Greenberg on the evolution of polling plus a featurette with the filmmakers as they discuss the challenges of filming “The War Room”.
The film marks the third Criterion Collection release featuring D. A. Pennebaker (“Monterey Pop”, “Jimi Plays Monterey & Shake! Otis at Monterey”) and the second for Chris Hegedus (“Jimi Plays Monterey & Shake! Otis at Monterey”). The Blu-ray and DVD will be released in March 2012.
“The War Room” is a documentary that takes place during Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign.
While the coverage of Bill Clinton was limited by the Bill Clinton campaign, both Hegedus and Pennebaker were able to film Communications Director George Stephanopoulos and Lead Strategist James Carville.
And what was supposed to be the film crew focusing on the Clinton campaign in New Hampshire for the state’s Democratic primary, became much bigger as the film crew was able to document the Primary but also the strategy that took place at the Clinton Campaign Headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas and how the campaign team were able to revitalize Bill Clinton’s campaign despite the challenges by Paul Tsongas, the Gennifer Flowers scandal, the Bush campaign (especially since James Carville’s girlfriend, Mary Matalin was Bush’s deputy campaign manager) and also Ross Perot’s campaign.
“The War Room” gives perfect insight to the mindset of the campaign that would lead to Bill Clinton’s presidential victory in 1992.
Also included on this Criterion Collection Blu-ray release is the 2008 follow-up titled “Return of the War Room” which revisits everyone who had worked with Bill Clinton during the campaign, including those who worked with on George Bush and Ross Perot’s campaign. From their memories of the campaign, their feelings of the Monica Lewinsky incident, James Carvile and Mary Matalin’s relationship then and now, how the Internet has changed the campaign scene now compared to how things were done back in 1993 and more!
“The War Room” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 aspect ratio). It’s important to remind everyone that this is a documentary that utilizes archived footage and footage that came from different sources. Also, the film was shot with a limited budget. With that being said, this is the best looking version of “The War Room” yet. In HD, the colors look much natural, not faded nor does it look aged. In fact, I didn’t notice any dirt or debris, any major problems with the footage, the film look absolutely clean.
Although, “Return of the War Room” is a bit different in the fact that video from the “War Room” does feature a few specks, but it’s important to note that “Return of the War Room” is not treated as a double feature but more like a special feature.
According to the Criterion Collection, the film was approved by filmmakers Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker and produced by Frazer Pennebaker. This new HD digital transfer was created on a Spirit 2K Datacine from the original 16 mm camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI’s DRS, while Image Systems’ Phoenix was used for grain, noise reduction, jitter and flicker.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“The War Room” is presented in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio Surround. The dialogue is crystal clear and I heard no hissing, crackles or any audio problems during my viewing.
According to the Criterion Collection, the soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the original 35 mm magnetic audio tracks. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.
“The War Room – The Criterion Collection #602” on Blu-ray comes with the following special features:
- William J. Clinton Foundation Panel – (25:51) A 2011 Panel discussion hosted by the William J. Clinton Foundation celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Clinton presidency. Featuring James Carville, Clinton adviser Vernon Jordan, journalist Ron Brownstein and surprise guest Bill Clinton.
- Return of the War Room – (1:25:41) A 2008 documentary by Hegedus and Pennebaker in which advisers James Carville, George Stephanopoulos, Paul Begala, and others reflect on the effect that the Clinton war room had on the way campaigns are run.
- Making the War Room – (41:28) Chris Hegedus, D.A. Pennebaker and producers R.J. Cutler and Wendy Ettinger talk about the making of “The War Room”.
- Frazer Pennebaker – (8:58) Producer Frazer Pennebaker discusses the making of the film and what he liked about the documentary.
- Doob – (6:23) Camera operator Nick Doob talks about shooting the film, the challenges, scenes with George Stephanopoulos and more.
- Stanley Greenberg – (10:47) Interview with strategist Stanley Greenberg on the evolution of polling and how it can affect a campaign.
- Trailer – (2:01) The theatrical trailer for “The War Room”.
“The War Room – The Criterion Collection #602” comes with an 16-page booklet with the essay “Being There” by Louis Menand.
When President George Bush made his promise to American and said “Read my lips. No new taxes!”, it was a broken promise that was reverberated over and over in the media and television commercials. There was no doubt that this would provide Democrats fodder for the November election.
And for those who followed the election, it was one of the most intriguing political confrontations ever seen in American history. A campaign in which the Republicans and the Democrats have flipped and flopped in various polls, a campaign that had its share of intriguing circumstances and yet, no matter how much mudslinging there was against Governor Arkansas Bill Clinton, he was the underdog early in the campaign that would later emerge victorious in the 1992 President Election.
Many have wondered how his campaign staff pulled it off. People got to see how it was done courtesy of the documentary “The War Room” by Chris Hegedus and legendary documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker.
And if there is one thing that I fans of Pennebaker can depend on, it’s that D.A. Penneger has a wonderful eye when it comes to creating documentaries and he knows how to make an impact with the public. He has done it many times in his career and the list of impressive documentaries within his oeuvre is amazing.
Having watched “The War Room” many years ago and watching it again today, it still surprises me how they managed to pull it off. To get so much access within the campaign staff and earn their trust to film them in their most challenging of moments. There was no doubt that both Pennebaker and filmmaker Chris Hegedus really took a risk by covering a campaign for then Arkansas governor Bill Clinton.
Why a risk? There were other Democratic nominees that were doing well in the polls and for Bill Clinton, he was a man that was scrutinized. When model and actress Gennifer Flowers came out in the media and alleged that she and Bill Clinton had a sexual relationship, for most people, that would doom one’s campaign. He took another blow when it was leaked that he protested against the Vietnam War in Oxford and also used the influence of a U.S. Senator, which he was employed as an aide, to avoid being drafted. Once again, there were mounting points of negativity surrounding Bill Clinton but yet he never wavered and his staff and American people supported him.
Rarely do you see this synergy continue with a political candidate that has been knocked down so many times, but he and his staff came out swinging and Pennebaker and Hegedus captured it all on camera.
Similar to what Pennebaker was involved in back in the ’60s with John F. Kennedy as an editor on “Primary”, he and Chris Hegedus was able to capture the campaign of Bill Clinton on camera.
Because the Bush camp was unwilling to let any film crew document them on camera and Ross Perot had not officially announced that he would be running, the only person that would be willing to allow coverage was the Clinton campaign. While coverage of Bill Clinton would be limited, Hegedus and Pennebaker and a few others in the film crew were given the greenlight to film the campaign, especially of lead strategist James Carville and campaign communications director George Stephanopoulos.
And for the filmmakers, this documentary would show viewers the behind-the-scenes of an actual presidential campaign, the strategy involved, the respond of campaign members to their opponents tactics plus the wide range of emotions that were involved in the campaign.
But for many people who do follow campaigns and who have watched this film, what Carville, Stephanopoulos and the staff were able to accomplish, was like the underdogs beating the favorite team and winning a championship. With political campaigns, we only see so much through the media but “The War Room” was able to show how the campaign took advantage of President’s Bush’s “No New Taxes” broken promise, how they were able to use television as a way to make Clinton this charismatic leader, while George Bush was looking at his watch. The campaign was thorough with their research, thorough in trying to make a negative into a positive but most of all, to bring Bill Clinton to the people and let them see how he is and that he generally cares about them.
It’s important to note that as much as the staff were important in making things happen for Bill Clinton, we also get to learn more through the follow-up film “Return to the War Room” and learn how Bill Clinton during the campaign was a big inspiration to the group. From him showing his leadership and never wavering. No matter how bad things looked, he persevered and wanted to take it directly to the people and see how he’s the real deal. This was a problem with the Bush campaign and as Mary Matalin explained in the follow-up film, he was a surprise to the Republican campaign.
So, while “The War Room” shows the viewers how things were behind-the-scenes and almost like a chess game, it was a battle of opposing strategy and taking advantages of opportunities, the follow-up was just as entertaining because we got to learn more about the couple who were working on opposing sides (James Carville working for Clinton, Mary Matalin working for Bush) and learning how they dealt with each other during the campaign and the feelings they had towards one another. We also learn about the dirty work of politics, how one reacted after the Impeachment trial, how some felt about the overall campaign and how campaigns have changed since Barack Obama won the Presidency and the use of social media.
“The War Room” is a magnificent release from the Criterion Collection and I as continue to wish for more Pennebaker documentaries to be released on Blu-ray and DVD, I’m quite pleased of how much better of a release this one was compared to the 1999 and 2004 DVD release, not just in picture and audio quality but the amount of special features included. The fact that the follow-up film “Return to the War Room” was included was a big plus for me but the conversation featurette between Hegedus, Pennebaker, Cutler and Ettinger was also a pleasant addition. And you also get a few more special features included with this release.
Overall, “The War Room” is a wonderful Blu-ray release from the Criterion Collection. I have always been intrigued by this film for its political strategy but also as an educational film for me while I was growing up. During that time, I was also studying the campaign and although I was a young adult that was not an erudite when it came to politics, the film was inspirational to the point that I wanted to work on a political campaign, be part of the staff in planning strategies and just working in politics. What I saw on the film, those were the people I wanted to be surrounded with at the time. Political strategists, people who wanted to make a big difference by getting their candidate elected.
“The War Room” was an intriguing film that it was one of the factors that led me to work as an intern for a California Senator a few months after the release of the film. After my internship, I was recruited as a paid staff member for a Congressional and Lt. Governor campaign and it was an intriguing, learning experience.
Overall, “The War Room” is a wonderful political documentary and while I can say it’s easy to recommend to those who are interested in politics and have an interested in political campaigns, just the mention of politics may turn people off and if that is the case, then this film may not be for you. It’s a film documenting Bill Clinton’s campaign and the strategy and planning that went on behind the scenes. It’s not for everyone, but for those who are interested in political campaigns and are wondering how this presidential campaign overcame major obstacles and eventually making Bill Clinton the 42nd President of the United States, then you will find this film captivating, entertaining and worth owning.
“The War Room” is definitely recommended!
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