Who is John Kerry?" asks George Butler. "It's a big question." The documentary filmmaker who propelled Arnold Schwarzenegger to fame with the 1977 movie Pumping Iron, Butler is hoping he will have crafted the definitive answer onto 90 minutes of celluloid in time to hit theaters by late summer. The film will be loosely based on Tour of Duty, Douglas Brinkley's admiring biography of Kerry's years as a boat captain in Vietnam and then as an antiwar protester. But Butler brings more to the $1.3 million project than his cinematic skills. A close friend of the Senator's for four decades--he even served as press secretary for Kerry's failed 1972 congressional campaign--Butler has photographed Kerry almost obsessively. He has collected more than 6,000 photos over the years. "The material George has is unbelievable," says Bill Samuels, one of the film's producers. "Nobody else could make this film." Perhaps, but will anyone want to see it? The Bush campaign and most political reporters will probably dismiss the film pre-emptively as an extended campaign ad. Butler, they will point out, is not an objective biographer, and Samuels, among other investors in the film, is a Kerry fund raiser.
Though Butler says the Kerry campaign has no editorial control over the film, it is cooperating. "The secret to [Kerry's] future is in his past," says Butler, promising "a fair amount of objectivity." He notes that he and Schwarzenegger were close friends when he made Pumping Iron. "Don't compare me to Boswell," he adds, "but the fact is, the greatest biography ever written"--The Life of Samuel Johnson--"was written by Johnson's best friend."
--By James Carney