Film review: “Boogie Man”

Boogie Man

Boogie Man will tear at your American (and allegedly forgiving) soul in ways that no other documentary has done before. As much as the tragic end of scumbag Republican strategist Lee Atwater’s life is compelling in the most push-out-the-piss kinda way, as the credits roll you’re left with a horrific and crisp vision of just how despicable and rotten Washington gamers can really be. Boogie Man also very deftly (and sometimes quietly) lays bare how unjustifiably rewarded and adulated flagrantly reckless and mean-spirited spinheads like Atwater have been by the members of our complicit, junk-hungry media.

Atwater, as some of you may know, was Karl Rove’s mentor (you know what a smoldering pile of offal he is—no need to go there).  And Rove begat Steve Schmidt, the oddly-skewed baldheaded mule spawn who’s been recently seen burping up detritus in support of his paid-to-love-him guy John McCain. That’s why this doc is an important arrival now. As much as you may be relishing the recent apparent flaming destruction of the McCain-Palin campaign, after viewing this documentary, you should be concerned that Schmidt could still pull some wild, ill-conceived Atwater-style bottom-dwellerism outta his keester that will, inexplicably, click with a majority of voters and pull the gate down, once again, on what seemed like the Obvious Choice.

Director Stefan Forbes compiled a well-balanced roster of talking heads for Boogie Man  that range from ultra-lefty scribe Eric Alterman, who conveys an almost disturbing (and, I’m sure, unintended) admiration for Atwater, to the thoroughly loathsome, shellacked wingnut miscreant Roger Stone, who, in the closest moment he’ll ever come to looking like a human being, recalls that he told Atwater that running the infamous Willie Horton ad would be a huge mistake: “You and George Bush will wear that to your grave.”

Atwater specialized in sniffing out, utilizing and—this was his “gift”—not being repulsed by the dangling dreck of the easy kill and most of his “greatest hits” are covered in this documentary, including his fetid rise in South Carolina politics, where he deftly deployed the smear that Congressional candidate Tom Turnipseed had been “hooked up to jumper cables” during his college years. Lee Bandy, the local journalist who unwittingly helped Atwater destroy Turnispeed, is the documentary’s second most pathetic figure, a seemingly nice ol’ chum who got played like a fiddle by his fellow Lee and leaves you with the impression that he would have still rosined up his bow right up until the end.

The most pathetic player (if you can call him that) in Boogie Man is undoubtedly former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, a supremely decent and well-intentioned man, who suffered the political fate of having no game whatsoever. With Dukakis commanding a large lead in the polls against George H.W. Bush, Atwater, with very little pushback (if any) from the incredibly naïve Dukakis (he admits to hand-against-forehead misstep after egregious misstep in the film) or the mainstream media, utterly destroyed him (quite literally) and delivered the victory to Bush.

Forbes does his best to humanize Atwater, a nearly impossible task considering how vile and unrepentant he was until cancer started gorging on his brain. There are lots of clips of Lee working his preening, purse-lipped white bluesman shtick, but I guess I’m the wrong audience for it. All of Atwater’s on-stage strutting and showboating made me wish a mad scientist would reanimate him so I could beat him to death with an electric guitar (or, better yet, reanimate Howlin’ Wolf, too, and let him beat Atwater to death), but I guess enough beltway blatherers found his musical masquerading to be endearing and ultimately isolating. Positive chatter from some of his lifelong friends is also included, but it’s the film’s only flaw, not really adding much insight into a better understanding of this wretched and ruthless man-jackal.

Boogie Man, perhaps the best theatrically-released political documentary since The War Room, concludes with a sobering study of Atwater’s devastating and painful final days (aka The Comeuppance), his head cruelly inflated by steroids—making him totally unrecognizable—as he penned letters of repentance to his cavalcade of victims (including, allegedly, Willie Horton). As his life force was withering away he was scrambling to embrace religion and remorse, and just when you’re on the verge of cutting him some slack with a knife rendered dull by his multitude of past sins, his fellow Republican hatchet man Ed Rollins, who comes off remarkably likable in his turns before the camera (he’s certainly more forgiving than I’d ever be), relays a story that indicates Atwater may have been playing everyone for a schmuck right up until his lights went out. 

Here’s hoping our political process and democracy never suffers at the hands of someone as merciless as Atwater again, but if we do (and, fuck me, we most assuredly will), Boogie Man will be around to wake us up and help blueprint that bastard’s every sorry move.


  • Official website: Including a trailer and nationwide opening dates.
  • New Yorkers: Boogie Man has been held over for a second week at Cinema Village.  It’s playing through October 10th.

Posted by Kevin K. on 10/02/08 at 11:20 AM • Permalink

Categories: MoviesMovie ReviewsPoliticsBushCoElection '08NuttersOur Stupid Media

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If we continue to identify the political techniques used by these despicable, unworthy traitors, and continue to digitize every utterance of misdirection and obfuscation they spew, eventually we can put an end to the cheating. They’re practicing an evil art but it is gradually becoming more and more exposed as the citizen mass media (that’d be us) documents, then distributes each and every transgression.  Keep the cameras running. Dumbasses like McCain haven’t even figured out yet that the lies coming out of his mouth cut straight to the public domain, where everyone has a good laugh at his expense.

Great post, Kevin. It’s not in my ‘hood yet, but I’ll be watching for it.

Sometimes I wish I believed in hell just for the satisfaction of knowing people like Atwater would rot in it. Oh well. I guess a painful death by brain cancer will have to suffice. I know that’s harsh, but some people just beg to have their graves pissed on, and Atwater was one of them. Good riddance to the loathsome douchebag. Looking forward to the movie, though.

Much as I think AIDS should have been a disease limited solely to Roy Cohn, I wish no one else in the world had ever had to suffer a brain tumor except Atwater. And if that sounds unforgiving—you’re right! What did he ever do to warrant forgiveness?

I think their tactics do become less effective as online media grows—among other things, the public attention span is a lot shorter these days as we bounce from one sound bite to another, so it’s hard to find the one moment, a la Willie Horton or Ford’s debate declaration that Poland was free, that puts the coffin nail in a campaign. The steady accretion of narrative is what they go for now—Al Gore exaggerates, Kerry is a flip flopper.

For now, that narrative stream seems to favor Obama, in part because, even after Jeremiah Wright and “Bittergate,” he has maintained his composure instead of running around like a grumpy old man whose Depends are on fire—all of McCain’s abrupt “from the hip” decisions are backfiring on the perception of him as a steady reliable commander-in-chief, it seems.

But you’re right—that could change. Which is why we keep needing to hammer at the theme that the GOP operatives need their weapons of mass distraction so you won’t pay attention to the attrition of civil liberties, the vast gap between the wealthiest Americans and the rest of us, the long-range GOP plan to tax only income (as in McCain’s plan to tax employee health benefits) and make wealth tax-free (eliminating inheritance and capital-gains taxes, etc.)

It’s hard to break out of the slime-machine culture, but it’s doable. Unfortunately, it seems like things have to get really, really shitty before we as a people exhibit the will to break out of that culture.

And by “culture,” I do mean the mold and germs that you might find clinging to a petri dish. ;)

No man has done more to harm this country than Atwater

I just hope that the tumor hurt like a motherfucker and filled his every waking moment with unimaginable terror. Also, I hope that Atwater couldn’t recognize his family for months before he died and went to hell.

There, I said it.

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