Sunday, October 5, 2014

DVDebut: Just fantasy (unfortunately)--Burke, Hagen & Bugliosi's scalding-but-weak doc, THE PROSECUTION OF AN AMERICAN PRESIDENT

You might imagine that if a former head-of-state, now out of office, together with the top figures in his administration, lied over and over again to his people about why it was imperative to go to war against a foreign power, declared that war and in the process killed and injured thousands upon thousands of Americans (not to mention hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens of that foreign state), he might be held responsible for his actions. If only. Denial and hypocrisy are part and parcel of humanity's body, brain and soul (see The Decent One for the most recent verification of this), so I suppose we should not expect that America would rise up against the President who did all this, for we would have to admit our own guilt, and our media's, in addition to that of our worthless former leader.

Still, the fact that the documentary under consideration here even exists is something to be grateful for. But -- damn -- I wish it were better. Based on the book by former prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi and starring Mr. Bugliosi, co-directed by David J. Burke (shown at right) and Dave Hagen, the documentary THE PROSECUTION OF AN AMERICAN PRESIDENT makes the case that George W. Bush should be tried for murder. If Bugliosi and the filmmakers had stuck with just that, this might have been a dealmaking movie. (Not that anything would have happened any differently, since President Obama is has shown himself so clearly to be every bit the bully that our former President was: supporting the powerful while attacking small, middle-eastern states and ferociously going after whistle-blowers while the former administration & the sleazebag criminal bankers who brought down our economy continue to walk free.)

When it comes to explaining why our former President is indeed a criminal who has committed murder, Bugliosi (above) marshals the evidence well, presenting plenty of it regarding the lies that were told to convince Congress and the populace of what was not at all true. Initially, the idea of prosecuting Bush for murder seems a bit far-fetched, but Bugliosi also manages a good case here -- explaining what prosecution for murder entails and then making the facts of this case fit that diagnosis.

The film begins with a bit too heavy a hand regarding Bugliosi's bona fides. But when we're told how his book was by-passed for review by virtually all our media, one sits up and takes notice. This is embarrassing at best, a kind of censorship at worst. When the prosecutor and the filmmakers move away from the case at hand to interview families (such as the above) or to show us scenes of grieving (below), we're in territory already covered by countless other films, from Fahrenheit 9/11 onwards. To which this one has little to add.

Worse, the music goes all "patriotic" and syrupy at times, with the usual flag waving and shots of the Preamble to our Constitution plastered over the background. We don't need all this, for it cheapens and distorts what is being told us, turning it into a circus of tears and sentimentality. The case here should be able to stand on its own, and I think it does.

We also get a side trip into the Brattleboro, Vermont, community (above) that tried its best to indict the President. Bugliosi says they were on the wrong track, but he admires their pluck. Will we ever see anything approaching justice done? Unlikely. The further away from events we get, the less we remember them.   But at least we have this film to remind -- and anger -- us.

The DVD of The Prosecution of an American President , from First Run Features and runing 101 minutes, hits the streets this coming Tuesday, October 7. You'd think a film like this would be on Netfix streaming, but while you can save it to your queue (those of us who still watch DVDs), there is no indication of when the service will actually obtain the documentary.

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