J.H. Hatfield was not a fortunate choice to write the tell-all biography of George W. Bush, Fortunate Son. Containing supposed revelations about a cocaine arrest in 1972 as well as already known but little reported information about his shady financial background and his checkered National Guard service during the Vietnam War, the book was about to be published in 1999, at the height of the candidate’s campaign for the Republican nomination. Then questions arose about sources. And questions about the author. Was he the same J.H. Hatfield convicted of attempted murder in 1988? Whoops. St. Martin’s pulled the book, and it appeared that Hatfield’s disclosure of Bush’s past — and perhaps any other attempt to disclose it in the future — would be forever discredited by the past of this would-be biographer.
The work of Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky, Horns and Halos traces the attempted resurrection of Fortunate Son through the intercession of Manhattan’s Soft Skull Press, the self-proclaimed "punks of publishing" (owner Sander Banks performs in coffeeshops). The effort is brave, naive, and doomed, a lesson not in how the powerful and entitled like Bush get what they want but rather in how the weak and ridiculed and foolish like Hatfield get squashed however much they struggle. The story is sad and infuriating, but the filmmakers relate it with grace, restraint, and sardonic subtlety. Nobody wants to read books about losers, someone comments about the effect Bush’s election will have on the sale of his book. This is a film about a loser everyone should see. (90 minutes)