Controversy comes naturally to director Oliver Stone particularly when it concerns movies about presidents. In 1991, JFK envisioned a Daley Plaza assassination incorporating a government conspiracy and multiple shooters. In 1995, Nixon theorized as to what was to be found on those missing minutes from the White House tapes (a revelation about a covert CIA operation in Cuba that was launched during the Eisenhower years, was known of by Nixon, and subsequently led to the killing of President Kennedy).
In both cases, Stone was criticized for playing fast and loose with the facts. Perhaps that's why on the eve of W.'s premiere last Friday, the director sought to preempt criticism of the film's factual veracity by posting a comprehensive, 83-part "Film Guide" on the official W. website.
Listing out the sources that had been used, the quotes that had been lifted from official transcripts, and the artistic liberties that had been taken in dramatizing moments that never actually happened (turns out George W. Bush and his father never did have a fistfight in the Oval Office), the guide is a compelling companion piece to the film, suggesting that many of the behind-closed-doors moments in W. may not be that far-fetched after all.
1. A drunk W. and his father almost come to blows: This scene was dramatized, but is based in fact. This "mano a mano" confrontation between father and son is a fairly well-known incident ... Over the Christmas holidays in 1972, by then twenty-six, George W. went to Washington to visit his family. "After Junior arrived at the house, he took his 15 year-old brother, Marvin, to a friend's house, where they both drank too much holiday cheer. On the way home, Junior struck and dragged a neighbor's garbage can noisily down the street before turning into the Bush driveway. The elder Bush asked his son to step into the den. Junior, who recalls being drunk and belligerent as they entered the study, was ready to pick a fight. 'I hear you're looking for me,' he shouted at his father, 'You want to go mano a mano right here?' Both men were suddenly in each other's face, screaming at the top of their lungs, until Barbara ran into the room and literally pulled them apart." (Source: J.H. Hatfield's Fortunate Son)
2. W. flounders at a press conference: The following is taken directly from Bush's April 14, 2004 press conference.
Bush: "John." [He's calling on John Dickerson, then reporting for TIME Magazine.]
Dickerson: "Thank you, Mr. President ... After 9/11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have you learned from it?"
Bush: "I wish you would have given me this written question ahead of time, so I could plan for it. John, I'm sure historians will look back and say, gosh, he could have done it better this way, or that way. You know, I just ... I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer, but it hadn't yet ... I hope I ... I don't want to sound like I've made no mistakes. I'm confident I have. I just haven't ... you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I'm not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one."
The words are all George W. Bush's. Some of the pauses have been added by the screenwriter for dramatic effect. (Source: WhiteHouse.gov)
3. Bush loses a West Texas congressional race to Kent Hance: Bush was defeated, 53 percent to 47 percent. "We were glad the race was over," Hance said. "He was really improving every day."
"He's a bright guy, and he picked up the issues and got better as time went on," Hance added. "If it'd been two weeks earlier, we would have beaten him worse. If it'd been two weeks later, it would have been really close." Hance believes he taught Bush two lessons. First, he said, he showed Bush the need to cultivate the religious right, those church-goers who he had largely ignored during the campaign and who in the end voted against him on the alcohol issue. And second, he thinks, he helped teach Mr. Bush the need to be more folksy. As Hance put it: "He wasn't going to be out-Christianed or out-good-old-boyed again. He's going to be the good old boy next door." (Source: New York Times)
4. W. meets Laura: "Laura had a sense that she and George were utter opposites, but she also knew why Jan kept bugging her [to meet him]. 'Well,' she said, with a smile and a shrug, 'I guess it was because we were the only two people from that era in Midland who were still single.' So she finally gave in and one evening in the middle of August 1977, home for a visit with her parents, she went over to Joe and Jan's for a backyard barbeque. And there he was. The O'Neills figured George liked Laura right away, because even then he was a man who wanted his sleep so he could get up and run in the morning and he usually left their house around nine. That evening, he stayed until midnight. He talked nonstop. She seemed to hang on every word." (Source: Ann Gerhart's The Perfect Wife)
5. W.'s frat house days: Cartoonist Garry Trudeau [Yale Alumni, '70] said he thinks a little-known fact about President George W. Bush '68's past that his first mention in The New York Times occurred in 1967 when, as former president of the Delta Kappa Epsilon chapter at Yale, Bush defended the fraternity's practice of branding its pledges with a red-hot coat hanger deserves more national attention ... On Sunday, Trudeau's cartoon "Doonesbury" featured fictional character Mark Slackmeyer explaining the President's position against current anti-torture legislation by revisiting a series of 1967 Yale Daily News articles that exposed DKE's rush activities, which at the time included brandings and alleged beatings.
Soon after these stories were published, the University's Inter-Fraternity Council fined the fraternity for performing "physically and mentally degrading acts," and the Times published an article in which Bush defended the brandings, comparing them to cigarette burns ... In a News story the next day, Bush is quoted calling the branding "insignificant." He said he did not understand how the News "can assume Yale has to be so haughty not to allow this type of pledging to go on." (Source: Yale Daily News, December 1, 2005)
6. W. loves the musical Cats: "At long last, the Republican Party had nominated its first baby boomer for the presidency, and the man they had chosen was no more culturally 'with it' than Bob Dole, the septuagenarian previous nominee, had been," New York Times correspondent Frank Bruni writes. Bush viewed the musical Cats as modern theater at its finest ... and openly admitted that martial artist Chuck Norris was his favorite film actor. (Source: Bruni's Ambling into History)
The Lowdown: For anyone who's followed the news closely over the last eight years, or looked into the history of our 43rd president, there are no real revelations to be found in W. But what may surprise both Bush experts and newcomers alike is the breadth of sources used in constructing this piece of historical fiction. Taken on its own, the "W. Film Guide" is a useful hub of Bush anecdotes, psychoanalysis and chronology, charting the rise and fall of this unlikely world leader.