Horns and Halos

Some stories need to be told. When writing his biography on George W. Bush, J.H. Hatfield decided certain details needed to be included about the man who would be president. Hatfield’s book, Fortunate Son, made many accusations about Bush, from financial scandals to business incompetence, however, it was one detail that came in the afterword without sources that exploded the situation. That detail was Bush’s arrest for cocaine possession, and the subsequent political pressure that had him released without charge.

After only a week on the shelves, Fortunate Son was pulled by the publisher, St. Martin’s Press. At this point, Soft Skull Press picked up the book, and Horns and Halos picks up the story. A stitched-together patchwork of interviews, tv newsmagazines and original footage, this documentary is a disturbing tale of censorship and political power in the u.s.

Not only was Fortunate Son recalled, the remaining copies were actually burned. Next comes the discovery of Hatfield’s deviant past, to even more scandal and press-coverage than Bush’s cocaine arrest. As it turns out, Hatfield spent time in prison for solicitation of murder–he tried to have his boss killed.

Soft Skull Press, led by its eccentric ceo Sander Hicks, still believes in Hatfield. However, from their basement suite in a building where Hicks works as superintendent, they have a lot of work to do in order to reissue the book.

At first, the documentary feels like an attack on the Bush administration and corporate conglomerates, however, interviews with the Dallas journalists that broke the story of Hatfield’s past help bring objectivity to Horns by questioning his research.

The real story, however, isn’t of books and presidents, but is more about the affect the abuse of power can have on a man. The character attacks on Hatfield not only have Fortunate Son pulled, but also prevent him from writing again. He gets blacklisted, he gets paranoid. Eventually, after being accused of fraud, Hatfield overdoses on pills in a cheap hotel room, leaving behind a very detailed suicide note as well as a wife and daughter.

This is where Horns and Halos truly shines; it’s impossible to not be moved when Hicks’ strange, enthusiastic energy gives way to hysterical sobbing. In the end, Horns and Halos is not a condemnation of Bush nor a documentary on book-making, but the story of one man’s destruction. That’s a story worth telling.

This Off the Beaten Track film plays Oct. 3 at 7:00 p.m. at CSIF.

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