Horns and Halos

dir. Galinsky & Hawley

Opens Fri Nov 22

Whitsell Auditorium

A self-described "punk of publishing," Sander Hicks founded the tiny publishing company Soft Skull Press, which at the time this film was made, was being run out of the basement of some apartment building in New York City. In 1999, Soft Skull and Sander decided to reprint the book Fortunate Son, a biography on George W. Bush that was banned from bookstores, supposedly due to distrust of its author, J.H. Hatfield, a convicted felon. Mohawked, twitchy, and surprisingly inarticulate, Hicks never quite manages to convey exactly why he got interested in the project, but his typical punk stylings and carrying on imply that he wants to fight media oppression and exploitation.

Surprisingly, the most controversial part of Fortunate Son--that it accused Bush of snorting cocaine several years ago--is only touched on by the filmmakers (which is probably good, since that issue is totally played). Instead they focus on two stories: the story of Hatfield's misery in the wake of his publicly acknowledged criminal history, and the story of Hicks' struggle to get the book reprinted.

Hatfield's tale is tragic, but the real interest of this film lies with Hicks, and the mysterious forces that convened to allow a greasy, scrawny 29-year-old to publish 40,000 copies of a banned book and wind up appearing on 60 Minutes as a result. Hicks is one of the last people in the world one would ever expect to see making publishing history, and some background information on him would have been fascinating. The film doesn't provide this, though, choosing instead to spend far more time depicting Hatfield's struggle to hold on to his life in the face of media exploitation. Sure, Hatfield's saga is tragic, but the fact he was a convicted felon, and yet still decided to do a national release of a book that accuses a presidential candidate of doing drugs forces one to think, well, what did you expect to happen? It's hard to feel all that sorry for him, especially when the story of one punk's rise through the publishing ranks lurks so close behind him--tantalizing, but just out of reach.