This post is in the theme Influences on my own Creative Work. Read the first.
January 11, New York: One of the great all-time documentaries, The War Room is the benchmark political insider tale of the 1990s. What’s the next evolution after giving reporters enough access to write a tell-all book? Let them make a documentary. So DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus (and, notably, RJ Cutler) followed George Stephanopoulos and James Carville around behind the scenes of the first Clinton campaign and you see their genius at work.
This film is pretty revolutionary in terms of political reporting. There is this tiny window of time in which it’s technologically feasible to tell a story like this, before it’s a cable-led news cycle makes it politically infeasible. As a documentary, it’s pretty staid vérité. The only time you even notice the camera’s there is in the one scene where you are awkwardly following Carville and Mary Matlin out to the parking lot, shot from down by their feet as if the camera’s being snuck along. Yet the access alone, the unguarded moments of Carville’s and Stephanopoulos’ wheeling and dealing make it genius.
There are two things that stuck out in a contemporary viewing. First is that this is the bones of The West Wing. It’s exactly how Sorkin originally envisioned it: the candidate in the background and the operators up front. It’s process over substance and that is plenty compelling enough to tell a whole story. The second is watching James Carville give a little speech accusing Roger Ailes spreading conspiracy theories that would be as much at home in 2015 as it is in 1992. Same Carville, same Ailes. A lot hasn’t changed since 1992.
The War Room is incredible for its unguarded access. But it is an accident of timing. The right moment in the evolution of political news. It’s the timing that’s the genius.
Watch The War Room thanks to the internet.