Friends of Bill take his case to the cineplex
Usually, the films produced and released by Regent Entertainment go straight to cable, then to the video-store discount racks; such is the inevitable fate of fare starring Jack Wagner, Lorenzo Lamas, Adrienne Barbeau, Bruce Boxleitner and other Love Boat castaways. That is how Regent, with offices in Preston Center and Los Angeles, makes its money: by producing inexpensive movies with inexpensive stars, then selling them to Lifetime or the Sci-Fi Channel and then to international home-video distributors. Regent has had its occasional successes and reputable releases--1998's Oscar-winning Gods and Monsters, most notably, and an entertaining new Six Feet Under spin-off mockumentary called Showboy--but its roster is dominated by such titles as Witches of the Caribbean, Paradise Virus and Wolves of Wall Street.
The Hunting of the President only sounds like yet another of Regent's horror pics, but it's actually a documentary based on Joe Conason and Gene Lyons' best-selling 2000 book, in which the journalists attempted to prove that, yup, there were indeed a bunch of shadowy right-wingers hell-bent on bringing down Bill and Hilary Clinton. Come to think of it, maybe it is a horror film no matter your political persuasion. Those on the right will view it as one more bit of overheated lefty agitprop, no more credible than Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11--especially since it was co-directed by Evening Shade and Designing Women producer Harry Thomason, one of the Clintons' closest friends. Those on the left will view it as unassailable truth, a sort of Zapruder film in which a president is attacked by right-wing connivers and con men staging a coup d'état.
The Hunting of the President, which cost a little less than $2 million to make, opened June 18 in New York City and Little Rock; according to Regent Chairman Steve Jarchow, who started Regent in 1994 after owning the Studios at Las Colinas, it grossed about $34,000 its opening weekend on only two screens. It has begun a slow rollout, first in Washington, D.C., then in Dallas at the Plano Angelika and at Regent's Highland Park theater in August. Initially, Jarchow thought the movie might play on only a handful of screens, but its opening-weekend haul--as well as the success of Fahrenheit 9/11, which will probably gross $100 million in domestic release alone, and Clinton's autobiography My Life--will likely force Regent to expand distribution before the DVD release some time before the November election.
"We got some things that broke our way," Jarchow says. "It's a pretty good picture, not offensive but still makes points. Then we got the benefit of Fahrenheit 9/11, and we're showing trailers of our film before it in some cities. And then Clinton showed up for the New York premiere and gave a 45-minute speech and talked about the history of this investigation and was critical of himself and others. It was thoughtful and balanced, like the film, and was something I will remember all my life. I don't think this movie's going to be huge, but it will be quite successful and profitable."
Regent got involved in the making of Hunting early, some time around the spring of 2001. Harry Thomason had shopped the concept around, but found no takers; people were simply burned out on Clinton. Initially, Thomason wasn't going to be directly involved, because he worried that people would see his name attached to the project and dismiss the movie as a defense mounted by a pal, dashing all credibility no matter its genesis as a well-regarded book by two reputable journalists.
At first he couldn't get any major production company interested. After the bruisingly contested election of 2000, none wanted to bother with a movie defending Slick Willy made by the same good buddy who had been involved in the Travelgate scandal in 1993. Thomason was also the same guy who directed Legacy, the glowingly Capra-esque retrospective screened before Clinton's speech at the 2000 Democratic National Convention. The dude was the very definition of "conflict of interest."
That didn't bug Jarchow. He and his partners wanted to be in business with Thomason, who had a respectable track record with wife Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, and at last they would be able to release a movie with a recognizable, brand-name star: William Jefferson Clinton. In fact, The Hunting of the President has all the makings of a summer blockbuster: It has its martyred and humiliated heroes (most notably Susan McDougal, jailed for 18 months for refusing to rat out her buddy Bill) and vilified bad guys (Whitewater special prosecutor Ken Starr and Paula Jones adviser-turned-conservative firebrand Ann Coulter) and a cast of grubby, greedy sleazes and ambitious journalists who thought nothing of repeating salacious rumors to sell papers and make careers.
"We actively thought, once we started trying to put it together, 'Look, guys, we need Gabby Hayes and Gene Autry and the ingénues,'" Thomason says. "So we structured it that way. We had to build our own characters so people would find at least some interest in the movie...Initially, every distributor told us this movie would be more trouble than it was worth and they didn't want the right wing harping at them."
So, then, how did a movie so pro-Clinton wind up being financed by a company with offices just blocks from George W. Bush's former Preston Hollow home? Doesn't Jarchow know this is Dubya Country?
"We like to surprise people," he says. "That's a good thing. There are all sorts of interesting points of view out there, and this documentary has an interesting point of view. People who are seeing it are enjoying it, and that's all you can ask out of any movie." --Robert Wilonsky
In May 2002, award-winning director Paul Stekler found the perfect lead for his next movie, a captivating star who would be the centerpiece of a film about the changing landscape of politics in Texas. Stekler, who's also a film professor at the University of Texas at Austin, had seen former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk give a riveting speech in the spring of that year, in which he announced he was running for the U.S. Senate; the filmmaker was starstruck. There was only one problem: Kirk had no interest in being involved. Which is how Stekler's film Last Man Standing: Politics--Texas Style, which airs July 20 on PBS, went from being about Kirk's senatorial campaign against Republican John Cornyn to one about a smaller race in Lyndon Johnson's old stomping grounds, which pitted Rick Green, a 31-year-old Republican incumbent with sketchy ethics, against an Ivy League-educated 24-year-old Democratic newcomer named Patrick Rose in a race for state representative.
"It's not often you see someone running for office who is that charismatic," says Stekler, whose exceptional filmography includes George Wallace: Settin' the Woods on Fire. "I'm not being partisan, but I've seen Cornyn and Rick Sanchez and Rick Perry speak, and if anybody thinks they're inspirational, that's...well, interesting. But Ron Kirk can really rise, and I thought this guy could have a shot." Of course, Cornyn trounced Kirk in November 2002, just as Perry easily vanquished Sanchez.
Maybe Kirk would have won had he, and his handlers, been more accessible to the media: Stekler says he had to change the thrust of Last Man Standing when Kirk's campaign refused to grant the respected documentarian decent access to the former mayor. As a result, the Kirk-Cornyn battle fades into the background of Stekler's riveting film; Green and Rose, two handsome young guys who couldn't be more different, are capable stars. "I don't know what happened to Kirk's campaign, but it wasn't effective," Stekler says. "One thing was they had an unusual relationship with the press, keeping the press at arm's length, and I never understood this. All campaigns are dysfunctional, but I just don't get it. It was a bad job of selling a sellable candidate." --R.W.
A Dogs Life
Find yourself pretending to pay attention to the boss but daydreaming of your dog? You need a dogcam. And maybe a mate.
A handful of upscale doggie day-care establishments in Dallas now offer dogcam services. You park your pooch. They monitor his or her every wag on video cameras you can watch on your computer at work.
City Veterinary Center was one of the first doggie day cares in Dallas to offer webcams. City Vet has boarding facilities in Uptown and Oak Lawn. Barbara Dozier, a manager for City Vet, says many of the center's day-care customers are totally hooked on the dogcam.
"They get in trouble at work for watching the webcam, but they can't stop," she says. "They call us and say, 'I can't see my dog on the webcam. Are you sure she's all right?' And we have to go hold the dog up in front of the camera."
City Vet also provides leather sofas (possibly not real leather) for the dogs to loll upon, which can make for some very glamorous scenes. Anyone can look at the City Vet dogcam at www.cityvet.com.
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"I have the webcam minimized on my desk," says regular customer Lila Manassa. She's a financial analyst whose work sometimes involves pressure. She loves clicking on the webcam during the day to make sure her Jack Russell terrier, Cassie, is having fun at doggie day care. "She's a pretty popular dog," Manassa says. "If she were in the equivalent [human] school, she would be Miss Congeniality."
Dozier says the webcams serve a purpose beyond mere pet obsession. "They are also a way for people to check up on us." The doggie equivalent, in other words, of nanniecams.
City Vet is not the only boarding facility to offer dogma service. Another is Pappy's Pet Lodge on McCallum Boulevard, and others may follow suit soon.
The ultimate test of the pet/owner relationship, of course, would be mastercams--webcams poised over the desks of pet owners with images displayed on screens back at the doggie day-care center. Then we could see how much time the dogs spend sitting in front of the TV admiring their masters. --Jim Schutze