The 1990s are history. And by history, I mean History. Modern economists are now studying the trends, modern legislators are revisiting the wrongs, and modern pundits are all busy, reframing backward contexts. The 1990s have officially reached that awkward 20-year mark at which old fads become new again … perhaps ironically, at first, before spiraling out onto big-budget billboards all across this sprawling land of ours.
Such is the case with D.A. Pennebaker’s The War Room – a no-frills docu-drama which follows the now-legendary 1992 presidential campaign from New Hampshire through November. The beauty of The War Room is that it is told from the perspective of those working on Governor Bill Clinton’s campaign. George Stephanopoulos plays the role of wide-eyed wiz kid, in stark-yet-stunning contrast to Jimmy Carville’s wicked sage. The ongoing chemistry between these two provides a major facet of the movie’s charm – a necessary component, to be sure, given Pennebaker’s age-old insistence upon allowing every story to unravel for itself.
Casual film buffs will remember Pennebaker as the daring young maverick who chronicled Bob Dylan via the 1967 documentary Dont Look Back. Not a whole lot has changed about Pennebaker’s approach over the years. The man remains a docu-purist, if not a wholly dated reminder of just how much the surging genre has evolved.
To watch a Pennebaker film today is to feel as if there’s something missing. Modern audiences have been conditioned to expect color commentary, spliced-in footage, A-list interviews, dramatic reenactments, perhaps even the filmmaker himself, playing the horribly miscast role of foil. But the reality is, those are all new-fangled trends, very much still a part of the zeitgeist. The War Room, on the other hand, is now 20 years old, which means it’s more than likely high time for budding young filmmakers – if not political organizers – to revisit it … perhaps ironically, at first, before spiraling out onto big-budget billboards all across this sprawling land of ours.
(The War Room is currently available as part of Hulu’s Criterion Collection.)