It doesn’t look like a loaded edition at first glance but Criterion has managed to pack on quite a bit of material here.
First up is footage from a panel discussion hosted by the William J. Clinton Foundation. The 26-minute clip features Carville and Vernon Jordan talking a bit about the campaign, New Hampshire in particular. Clinton himself then appears and talks a bit about the campaign, the importance of having a straight and clear “narrative” in your campaign, and the Republican strategies then and now. He also talks about how he came to use the Fleetwood Mac song Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow). He takes up a good chunk of the segment and offers some interesting insights, though very little about his own ’92 campaign. Overall it offers an even deeper look at how the “story” for a campaign comes together.
The interestingly titled sequel, Return of the War Room, from 2008 and running 81-minutes, gathers together many of the participants involved in the ’92 campaigns for Clinton, Bush, and Perot. As I found out in other features the original intention of The War Room was to follow both the Bush and Clinton campaigns (and possibly the Perot campaign if such a crazy thing ever happened) but they could only get the Clinton campaign to agree to let them film. Return of the War Room, which reflects on the actual campaign from all sides, seems to somewhat close that gap, though is a completely different beast stylistically since it’s made up entirely of talking-head interviews. Carville, Stephanopoulos, Mary Matalin, and others all recall the time period and go over many of the things that came up, like Jennifer Flowers, the “Draft Letter”, and other moments from all sides. It’s an interesting piece as it offers a more rounded view of the events since The War Room really only centers on specific happenings within the Democratic campaign, but where it gets good is where everyone then looks at what campaigns and the idea of “the War Room” have morphed into today thanks to cell phones and social media. There’s also a nice section that addresses the relationship between Carville and Matalin, who worked on opposing campaigns, and the possibilities of leaks to one another, but (oddly, especially since this would be such a concern now) no one feared this would be the case and the two never talked about it. Again it’s a straightforward talking-heads documentary and does not have the same feel of The War Room of course, but it’s a great addition to the set and worth visiting.
A section called Making The War Room presents a few interviews, starting with a 41-minute round table discussion between directors D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, and producers R.J. Cutler and Wendy Ettinger. I was surprised by the lack of a commentary for this edition but this piece does somewhat make up for it. Basically the four cover the production and how it all came together, and recall the struggles of getting it made and the issues that arose, as well as the relationships that built up between them and their subjects. I actually think this would have worked a little better if it could have somehow been reworked to be recorded over the film as a commentary, as I think the group would have offered quite a bit of information about it while watching it, but at 41-minutes it’s a nice length yet still manages to be thorough.
This section then features a 9-minute solo interview with producer Frazer Pennebaker, who talks about the difficulties in finding a narrative in a project like this and the “aha” moment when they realized James “Ragin’ Cajun” Carville was a “character,” along with George Stephanopoulos. He talks about the money issues (breaking down the costs for each reel of film shot) and the limitations that could occur because of the limit of funds, especially problems that would show up when music (like the Fleetwood Mac song that is used for the campaign) plays. I’m assuming he couldn’t participate in the group discussion but he offers another angle on making films of this nature.
Camera operator Nick Doob then offers a 6-minute interview about what it’s like being a camera man on a film such as this and the working relationship you have to build up with your subject. He comments on the fears he had over a phone call he captured between Stephanopoulos and a Perot campaign manager (which is shown in the film) and that Stephanopoulos would request the camera be shut off, which would basically kill any closeness the two would have had (Stephanopoulos of course didn’t.) He also talks about the victory speech segment in the film and how he ran out of film, so he wasn’t able to capture everything. I was surprised how short this one was but it’s a great addition and one of my favourites on the set since it offers a look at the more personal sides at making a film like this.
Strategist Stanley Greenberg then talks about the science of polling and their importance in campaigns. He explains how they’re done and how they’ve changed over the years, especially with the newer technologies now available. He then reflects a bit on the ’92 Clinton campaign specifically. Another interesting feature that probably wasn’t necessary, but I appreciated it since I must admit I never really understood how these things were done in the U.S.
The disc then closes with the film’s original theatrical trailer from October Films. The included booklet contains an essay by English professor Louis Menand that looks not only at this film and the ’92 campaign, but this style of documentary filmmaking as a whole (“Direct Cinema.”)
At a glance it again doesn’t look like much but it’s actually a fairly satisfying collection of supplements. I’m still surprised a commentary wasn’t recorded but everything else we get is excellent. 9/10