Before presidential campaigns were dissected by every news channel, website and Twitter troll, the Oscar-winning documentary The War Room exposed the inner workings of the 1992 Clinton/Gore ticket.
To get you ready for “The Bunker” — Documentary Now!‘s season premiere which takes a look at the heated Ohio Governor campaign that also garnered a good deal of buzz in ’92 — here are a few things you need to know about the film that inspired Fred Armisen, Bill Hader and the rest of the Doc Now! team.
Meet the Ragin’ Cajun
Released in 1993, The War Room introduced the world to James Carville, Clinton’s cantankerous lead campaign strategist and possessor of a Cajun snarl that could bring weaker men to their knees. (He also knew how to rock some multicolored ’90s outfits.)
A wiz with a catchphrase (you can thank him for “It’s the economy, stupid!”), Carville quickly became a hit on the cable news and late night TV circuit. Saturday Night Live took notice, with everyone from John Malkovich to Documentary Now!‘s own Bill Hader spoofing his bulldog political tactics and colorful Cajun aphorisms.
Hader once again perfectly captures Carville’s mannerisms and unique turns-of-phrase with Teddy Redbones, the “Mississippi Machiavelli” campaign guru he plays in “The Bunker.” Watch these clips of Carville from The War Room and Hader in “The Bunker.” They could easily be Cajun cousins!
Ladies Love Cool George
The other breakout star of The War Room was Clinton’s Communications Director/handsome gent George Stephanopoulos. With a laidback demeanor that offset Carville’s intensity and a haircut that rivaled that other George who everyone loved in the ’90s, Stephanopoulos quickly became a political heartthrob.
In “The Bunker,” Fred Armisen plays Stephanopoulos surrogate Alvin “Boy Hunk of the Beltway” Panagoulious as an aw-shucks player — casually flirting with news hosts and decrying supermodel posters on the office wall for only featuring “nines out of 10.”
Clinton’s Campaign Played Dirty
Like Obama, Clinton ran on a campaign of “change versus more of the same,” a slogan coined by Carville.
In one scene in The War Room, Carville and the team work on an attack ad that took aim at George Bush’s backpedaling on his “No New Taxes” promise. (Watch the attack ad from “The Bunker” above.) As Carville said, their aim was to go after “the whole sleazy cabal” of the wealthy elite, and The War Room shows Clinton’s team slamming Bush’s every misstep, like the time he was confused by a grocery store scanner.
The Birth of “Slick Willie”
Remember Gennifer Flowers? Reports of Bill Clinton’s affair with the Penthouse model surfaced during the making of The War Room, and the film captures the way his team dodged the illicit allegations and spun voters towards focusing on the issues. (Bill could’ve used his “War Room” a few years later during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.)
Filmmakers Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker were only given minimal access to Clinton, who comes out looking far more rosy than the wheeling and dealing duo of Carville and Stephanopoulos. “The Bunker” nods to this in the way Councilman Herndon keeps his hands clean as Redbones and Panagoulious smear incumbent Governor Lester.
To see how well Documentary Now! captures The War Room, catch the premiere of “The Bunker” Wednesday, September 14th at 10P on IFC. It’ll change the way you think about elections.