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Chris Hegedus, D.A. Pennebaker
James Carville, George Stephanopoulos, Heather Beckel, Paul Begala, Harold Ickes, Mary Matalin
Writing Credits:
Chris Hegedus, D.A. Pennebaker

They Changed The Way Campaigns Are Won.

The 1992 presidential election was a triumph not only for Bill Clinton but also for the new breed of strategists who guided him to the White House—and changed the face of politics in the process. For this thrilling, behind-closed-doors account of that campaign, renowned cinema verité filmmakers Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker captured the brainstorming and bull sessions of Clinton’s crack team of consultants—especially James Carville and George Stephanopoulos, who became media stars in their own right as they injected a savvy, youthful spirit and spontaneity into the process of campaigning. Fleet-footed and entertaining, The War Room is a vivid document of a political moment whose truths (“It’s the economy, stupid!”) still ring in our ears.

Box Office:
Domestic Gross
$901.668 thousand.

Rated PG

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English DTS-HD MA 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 96 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 3/20/2012

• “William J. Clinton Foundation Panel” Discussion
Return of the War Room 2008 Feature Film
• “Making The War Room” Interviews
• Interview with Pollster Stanley Greenberg
• Trailer
• Booklet


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The War Room: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1993)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 15, 2012)

Back in 1992, Bill Clinton leapt from state office to the national stage and won the vote to become president. A 1993 documentary called The War Room goes behind Clinton’s campaign to show the ins and outs of modern politics.

The film launches in New Hampshire to focus on Clinton’s attempts to win the primary there. While we get to meet key personnel such as campaign manager James Carville and communications director George Stephanopoulos, we also follow the media circus connected to Clinton’s affair with Gennifer Flowers.

After Clinton wins New Hampshire and the Flowers issues fade, the film rips through the additional primaries – mainly via newspaper headlines – and brings us to the meat of the campaign after the Democratic convention. There we see the issues and challenges that occurred between the summer convention and the election in early November.

Most of the appeal of Room comes from its “fly on the wall” perspective. We get no interviews or commentary for perspective. Instead, it simply shows aspects of the campaign with little fuss or muss; while news clips add some information, there’s still not a lot of background on display.

To a certain degree, Room relies on the viewer’s knowledge of the era depicted; if you didn’t live through 1992, I don’t know how much sense the film will make. That doesn’t mean I believe it’d be nonsensical, but like the theatrical film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, there’s a certain assumption at stake here. The movie will work fine without the appropriate background, but because Room spells out little, the viewer will lose something if he/she didn’t experience 1992 first-hand.

As someone who remembers that year and campaign quite well, I didn’t encounter any problems related to this area. For me, Room acted as a bit of a walk down memory lane, but it also contributed a good understanding of what happened along the way. I knew some of the players involved from the period – and from subsequent endeavors, as Carville and Stephanopoulos became media darlings post-1902 – but I didn’t have such close acquaintanceship with the behind the scenes dealings.

I’m not sure how much Room itself did for the careers of those men, but I suspect it helped a lot, especially in Carville’s case. While Stephanopoulos gets a lot of screen time, Carville’s the real star here. Early on, he makes his mark with biting, hilarious remarks like “He’s so yesterday, if I think of an old calendar, I think of George Bush’s face on it” and he provides plenty more entertainment along the way. Carville’s become a bit of a self-parody since 1992, so it’s good to see him pre-fame.

It’s also amusing to witness how downright quaint some of the 1992 campaign’s issues now seem. As I write this in March 2012, Newt Gingrich – a thrice-married, noted adulterer – remains in the Republican race. People went nuts in 1992 because of accusations Clinton cheated; not only do we know Gingrich “strayed”, but he married his mistress! Of course, public perceptions change - in 1972, Ed Muskie’s campaign went under because people thought he shed a tear in public, and now the Speaker of the House is so mushy that he bawls at 7-11 openings – but it’s still wryly entertaining to view the uproar of 20 years ago.

War Room is more than just a simple walk down memory lane, though. It provides an absorbing, dynamic take on a seminal, successful presidential campaign that holds up well after 20 years.

The Disc Grades: Picture C/ Audio C/ Bonus B+

The War Room appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. No one should expect a brilliant visual presentation here, but the Blu-ray accurately replicated the source.

Definition varied quite a bit. Like all documentaries of this sort, the archival footage displayed the most inconsistency and problems. Much of that material came from videotape in the form of news clips, and those tended to be fairly mushy. They offered mediocre clarity and muddy colors, and they also came with a smattering of source defects.

While the footage shot explicitly for Room looked better, it still came with footage-related restrictions. Still, those clips tended to offer decent reproduction. Sharpness was adequate to good, without notable softness; outdoor shots looked the best, but they never delivered brilliant clarity.

No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and edge haloes were absent except for the artifacts from some old video shots. Print flaws failed to appear; the flick tended to be grainy, but no specks, marks or debris marred the presentation.

Colors were ordinary. Given the behind the scenes format, they didn’t get a lot of room to shine, and the hues remained fine but unexceptional. Blacks were also decent, while low-light shots were somewhat murky due to varying light conditions. Overall, I thought the image wasn’t especially attractive but it represented the source well.

As for the film’s DTS-HD MA 2.0 soundtrack, it didn’t push any envelopes. Actually, I was surprised the movie boasted a surround mix at all; I expected a documentary shot in 1992 would opt for mono.

But Room did go with surround – and it was more involving than I expected. Documentaries don’t usually provide lots of room for exciting audio, but shots like conventions and airplanes added space for pizzazz. Dialogue dominated the film and concentrated on the center channel; unfortunately, some bleeding occurred, so localization could be loose. Music was a non-factor in this score-free movie, but effects did more than anticipated. As with the speech, their placement could be vague, but those elements usually created a decent soundscape.

Audio quality was acceptable. Speech seemed a bit brittle and sibilant, but the dialogue was always intelligible and clear. Effects tended to reflect the filming conditions; sometimes they boasted fair heft, but they usually came across as a bit thin. Music had little to nothing to do in this flick, as we only heard songs in the background; they essentially became effects. While nothing here excited, the track was adequate for the film at hand.

When we head to the set’s extras, we open with a 2011 William J. Clinton Foundation Panel Discussion. It lasts 25 minutes, 51 seconds and features a group with campaign manager James Carville, Clinton advisor Vernon Jordan, and a bunch of guys who never get identified. (Actually, the program doesn’t name Carville or Jordan either, but I recognized them.)

We only hear quick remarks from Carville and Jordan, as the vast majority of the commentary comes from “surprise guest” Bill Clinton. The former president discusses the 1992 campaign, his presidency and pretty much whatever else pops into his mind. It’s a rambling chat but generally interesting.

For the Blu-ray’s main attraction, we head to a 2008 “follow-up” feature film entitled Return of the War Room. It runs one hour, 21 minutes, 41 seconds as it offers notes from Carville, communications director George Stephanopoulos, senior strategist Paul Begala, deputy communications director Bob Boorstin, Hillary Clinton’s 1992 press secretary Lisa Caputo, finance director Rahm Emanuel, campaign pollster Stan Greenberg, media consultant Mandy Grunwald, campaign chair Mickey Kantor, press secretary Dee Dee Myers, War Room chief of staff Ricki Seidman, Bush deputy campaign manager Mary Matalin, Newsweek journalist Mark Miller, Perot pollster Frank Luntz, Bush ‘00/’04 media director/McCain ’08 media advisor Mark McKinnon, and Romney ’08 press secretary Kevin Madden.

Return looks back at the 1992 and also touches on changes that’ve come to modern politics since then. We also learn a bit about the then-burgeoning Carville/Matalin relationship, a subject that might make a good full film on its own; I could watch hours of those two.

While Return takes a different approach than the original film, that doesn’t make it weaker. Indeed, despite its more conventional “talking head” take, it’s probably more dynamic than its predecessor, if just because it’s more informative. War Room works due to its behind the scenes feel, while Return entertains because it packs so many details into its running time. It delivers a consistently vivid, involving view of politics.

Under Making The War Room, we get collections of interviews. These involve directors DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus and producers RJ Cutler and Wendy Ettinger (41:28), producer Frazer Pennebaker (8:59) and camera operator Nick Doob (6:23). In the first session, DA Pennebaker, Hegedus, Cutler and Ettinger sit together to talk about the project’s roots and development, influences, why the film focuses on the campaign staff and not Clinton himself, thoughts about the subjects and aspects of the flick’s creation.

With Frazer Pennebaker, he chats about aspects of shooting the movie and thoughts about the documentary field. Finally, Doob goes over how he filmed various situations and participants. Though I would prefer an audio commentary, these interviews act as a good summary. Actually, I must say the main chat rambles a bit, but it’s still informative, and the other two are concise and involving.

Next comes an Interview with Pollster Stanley Greenberg. In this 10-minute, 47-second piece, Greenberg discusses his work during the 1992 campaign, memories of that run, and thoughts about changes in polling over the years. Greenberg provides a solid overview of his job – with a great explanation of how public and campaign polling differ – and throws in plenty of useful insights about his experiences.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we locate a 16-page booklet. It mixes credits and an essay from Harvard English Professor Louis Menand. While not one of Criterion’s more impressive booklets, it adds value to the set.

With 1993’s The War Room, we take a close look at the 1992 presidential campaign from the inside. It delivers a dynamic view of Bill Clinton’s team and lets us witness the ups and downs from a close, frank perspective. The Blu-ray comes with acceptable picture and audio as well as a nice set of supplements. This becomes a quality release for an involving documentary.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.75 Stars Number of Votes: 4
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