The Murrow, Polk, and IDA Award-winning documentary Boogie Man is about Lee Atwater, a blues-playing rogue whose rise from the South to Chairman of the GOP made him a political rock star. ...
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The Murrow, Polk, and IDA Award-winning documentary Boogie Man is about Lee Atwater, a blues-playing rogue whose rise from the South to Chairman of the GOP made him a political rock star. He mentored George W. Bush and Karl Rove while leading the Republican party to historic victories, helping make liberal a dirty word, and transforming the way America elects our Presidents. In interviews with Republicans and friends of Atwater, Boogie Man examines his role in America's shift to the right. To Democrats offended by the 1988 Willie Horton controversy, Atwater was a remorseless political assassin dubbed by one Congresswoman "the most evil man in America." The film examines his irreverent sense of humor, his understanding of the American heartland, and his unapologetic vision of politics as war. It ends with a portrait of a cynic's deathbed search for meaning. Written by
Boogie Man screenings were introduced by former DNC chair Terry MacAuliffe at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, and by legendary GOP operative Roger Stone at the Republican National Convention. See more »
Fascinating look at the birth of modern political campaigning in the US
OK bias declaration time here because this film is, by covering the material really well, a tad critical of the Republican party, so it helps if readers know at least where I approached it from. I am generally liberal but in the case of partisan films I will try and put that to one side, hence I can agree with Michael Moore's points but yet also see the massive flaws in many of his films. I say this because I enjoyed this film a great deal, finding it fascinating and am assuming that anyone who disliked the film will assume that I have simply toed the party line whether it was any good or not. I can assure you I have not!
I came to this film on BBC4 in the UK (where it was called "Dirty Tricks: The Man Who Got the Bushes Elected") because I, like many, have an interest in how American politics operate. Fear seems to play a big part, as does the exaggeration of the importance of patriotism and patriotic symbols and it amazes me how it appears to work to convince people to apparently vote against their own interests because the Republican party is, like the UK conservative party, the party of the wealthy and the party of the rich. OK that is a sweeping generalisation that is not as true as it was (all major parties are the parties of the rich!) but it has some merit. This can be seen in the most recent elections where Obama is attacked as being elitist due to his education, while Bush is painted as a "good ol' boy" despite his massive wealth and Harvard education. Or how such a fuss was made over Obama's flag pin or not having his hand on his heart etc. To be blunt it can be seen how there was a constant suggestion about Obama's religion which backfired wonderfully as McCain found his voters making racist statements ("he's an Arab") like a monster that you have raised that suddenly turns on you.
I wasn't initially interested in this as a subject though because I cynically assumed that things were always like this and didn't think that this approach would have had a founding father or a development. However what this film does that is so fascinating is the way it tells the story of the rise of Lee Atwater as an adviser to the Bush campaign and the tactics that brought him and his party success in the elections in such a clear way that you can see where his actions have led us. This allows the film to engage for those of us who have never heard of Atwell, because his relevance is obvious. To me I found the bigger picture to be much more interest than the man himself and as a result the film is less engaging at the start and end when it focuses on him as more of a man. Where it really is at its best is in the middle section where we are shown the approach of putting fear and patriotism onto the agenda and making them weapons to be used against Dukakis and in particular the racial element and the way that a rapist was essentially made his "running mate". It is here where you can see the damage and the sheer cruelty and deception of his game and it helps that Dukakis presents himself well because we feel much more sympathy for his failed campaign.
Although the title suggests that this is about Lee Atwell himself, it is a much more effective look at the birth of a destructive but effective political approach that the Republican party continue to use and indeed the Democrats themselves have picked up, perhaps having learnt that fighting fire with fire is the only way ahead. The film remains focused on its subject and, while I would have liked another thirty minutes that follows the path that Rove and others continued down, it does still work as an effective look at the subject that allows the viewers to follow that path themselves.
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