Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story



Venue: Los Angeles Film Festival

A timely profile of renowned and reviled Republican electoral strategist Lee Atwater, “Boogie Man” hits the highlights of his incendiary career and fills in both political backstory and personal history with evident energy. While Atwater exerted notable influence on contemporary politics, this account of his career doesn’t make for particularly absorbing viewing.

Festivals with political sidebars might consider the film, but even cable probably holds limited prospects for this specialized item, which could ultimately win votes among devoted fans on DVD.

Atwater emerged on the electoral scene during the ‘70s in his native South Carolina as a college Republican supporting Richard Nixon. He later led Floyd Spence’s bruising 1980 congressional bid, honing his hardball campaign tactics and characteristic rhetoric of hyperbole and innuendo. (He notoriously averred that Democratic contender Tom Turnipseed had been “hooked up to jumper cables” during an acknowledged period of mental health treatment.)

Atwater reached the height of his influence and notoriety in 1988 as George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign manager, deploying a shocking range of dirty tricks to discredit Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis while developing a close bond with future Texas governor and President George W. Bush. Atwater’s reward for running a successful contest was the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee under the senior Bush, where his career came to an end with the onset of terminal brain cancer and his death in 1991.

“Boogie Man” primarily serves as a retrospective of Atwater’s career. Multi-hyphenate filmmaker Stefan Forbes relies on a series of well-placed pro- and anti-Atwater sources to relate the strategist’s often convergent high and low points. However, the film doesn’t dig deep enough for a comprehensive perspective or connect effectively with contemporary political issues, other than emphasizing that Atwater mentored W’s longtime political advisor Karl Rove. Atwater’s sideline as a blues musician and performer seems referenced primarily to lend resonance to the title.

Decent digital cinematography and excellent archival clips and photos briskly propel the narrative, but ultimately there may not be enough strong material here for a compelling full-length doc.

Production company: InterPositive Media    

Director: Stefan Forbes. Producers: Noland Walker, Stefan Forbes. Directors of photography: Stefan Forbes, Stephen McCarthy, Brett Wiley. Editors: Stefan Forbes, Emir Lewis. Sales agent: InterPositive Media    

No rating, 86 minutes.