How Arnold Won the West Movie Review

The California election season of 2004 was the closest thing to a political earthquake that the free world has witnessed. The upheaval came about as a too-shrewd Republican operator saw a way to take advantage of the California energy debacle and a century old law concerning state ballot propositions as a means to remove the just-reelected Democratic Governor Gray Davis and, presumably, put himself in office. But Republican Congressman Darrell Issa's personal investment of $1.7 million to initiate a recall and promote his political ambitions went swiftly awry. His party had another idea about candidates. When they decided that super ambitious Arnold Schwarzenegger's fame would make him more electable, it was all over for Issa (pronounced, eye-sa). In a quick recognition of realities, this former owner of America's biggest car alarm company (and, according to his own admission, brother of a car thief) retreated to the sidelines.

130 plus others didn't -- people who saw the recall as an opportunity to qualify themselves on the ballot and acquire a nanosecond of fame they never would in any other way. Leave it to California to be open to an adult film actress, an actor, a comedian, a musician-laborer, a stay-at-home mom, a golf pro, various attorneys including one calling himself a marijuana legalization attorney, a sumo wrestler, a tribal chairman, students, the barely intelligible, the delusional hopefuls and other dreamers with bizarre ideas bordering on profound political ignorance to run for the state's highest office. Small wonder people across the world saw the affair as a circus.

For residents of California, the How Arnold Won the West DVD documentary by Alex Cooke will seem like a bit of deja vu. But it provides a comprehensive picture for those who missed some of the details or just want to recall the recall. Cooke has pulled together footage of the broad spectrum of events, reportage and media exploitation into a comprehensive understanding of the episode, from the moment Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy through to his victory, capturing the mirth and the moronic, the street interviews and the more colorful candidates singled out for quickly pasted-together TV spectacles. It reprises the atmosphere of a political cum showbiz promotion, with all the hucksterism of a headline-grabbing sideshow.

All of which resulted in Arnold taking a new stage in his long and eventful career and new dialogue to flow from his lips. "From the time you get up in the morning, you're taxed. You have a coffee, you're taxed. You go to the toilets, you're taxed. You get into your car, you're taxed. You go to the gas station, you're taxed. And this goes on all day long. Tax, tax, tax." As a Californian I can tell the rest of the world looking in that the Terminator's promises were, as all politicians' are, to win the election. What did the enraptured fans... er, citizens, who voted for him think, that he was going to squash taxes like a CGI effect?

He may be an opportunistic guy, but his sudden political presence is aided and abetted by a polished ability at self-promotion. The currency of his celebrity was spent in overcoming accusations of womanizing, steroid-using and environment insulting and now, as the victor, that store of good will is his to exploit in advancing his non-fiction, right-leaning agenda and winner image. Which leaves us hoping that his latest role as the good-natured, fun-loving Governator doesn't hurt us. There's more than boxoffice at stake here.

The DVD illustrates that what started out as a lively episode may have furthered California as the envy or the scorn of the world. What is fame in one context could be taken as infamy in another. With appearances by Bill Clinton, Maria Shriver, George W. Bush as well as the election principals, this is a documentary that will prove its value in the course of democratic time. It's certainly a wake up call to the political possibilities, especially for those who may have missed parts of the variety show while it was being scripted into the history of the world's fifth largest economy.

Citizen Schwarz.


How Arnold Won the West Rating

" Good "

Rating: NR, 2004


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