If the daily coverage of Bill Clinton's rollercoaster presidency and the inititial wave of journalist-written biographies constituted the first draft of history, this four-hour PBS film some 12 years after he left office is the second.
Proper historians will tell you it is still far too early for any true perspective on Clinton and his presidency, esepecially given all the spin some of the best spin doctors of the last 25 years like James Carville are still doing on behalf of their former boss.
But this "American Experience" entry in its celebrated PBS series on American presidents is not a whitewash. Nor is it part of the image rehab campaign that some of the far right have claimed it to be. There is considerable balance here -- both about Clinton's reckless, irresponsible and ultimately unforgivable squandering of virtually all his political capital for a sorry and exploitative affair with a White House intern, and his comebacks time and again.
Ultimately, director Barak Goodman ("My Lai") is softer on Clinton than I believe the first wave of truly dispassionate historians will be. But there is more balance than I expected, and like the best "American Experience" productions, the narrative and sweep of the film is compelling and grand.
In these brain-dead, shorter-than-ever-attention-span days, four hours might seem like a prime-time eternity. But give it a chance Monday and Tuesday on PBS. Goodman is a sure-handed storyteller who quickly pulls you into the film and reminds you how much some of us once cared about this deeply-flawed and ultimately-failed politician and his controversial, evre-image-shifting wife.
Here's a link to a three-minutes review I did for WYPR-FM (88.1), Baltimore's NPR station. It will give you a fast take on the film -- from who it employs as talking heads, to what's missing.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun