Before the pre-festivals press screening of Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story, the new documentary about the life and death of Republican political operative Lee Atwater, two separate Rolling Stones songs were running through my head. "Street Fightin' Man, " possibly inspired by Atwater's reputation as a dirty trickster of the higher order, and "Sympathy for the Devil," perhaps springing from Atwater's deathbed renunciation of many of the things he'd done; both associations sprang from the little I knew about Atwater. Thanks to the work of director Stefan Forbes, I now know a lot more; I now know so much, in fact, I'm not sure what to think.
Combining archival news footage with interviews from people who knew Atwater and some who, interestingly, only knew him through the public ramifications of his work, Boogie Man paints a complex portrait of a complex figure: A race-baiting political operative (Atwater may or may not have been behind the infamous 'Willie Horton' ad that cost Michael Dukakis the election in '88) who nonetheless loved to listen to, and play blues music; a man who sprang from the South who helped elect Eastern elites like George H.W. Bush; a man whose pupils in the modern political art of war, Karl Rove and George W. Bush (who worked with Atwater on his father's campaign) turned their back on him as he lay dying.