George Butler has made documentaries about two men he said will be future presidents of the United States — John Kerry ’66 and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Butler, a documentary filmmaker and director of “Pumping Iron” — a film about Schwarzenegger — and the recently released “Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry,” talked at a Calhoun Master’s Tea Tuesday afternoon about his movie-making experience. The tea, co-sponsored by Calhoun College and the Film Studies Program, preceded a screening of Butler’s new documentary on Kerry. Butler also discussed the impact of his movies on the political landscape.
Butler said that when he met both Kerry and Schwarzenegger, he knew they would be candidates for president. Butler met Kerry in 1964, when Kerry was a sophomore and president of the Yale Political Union. He met Schwarzenegger in 1972 at a Mr. America competition in New York City.
“I had an immediate intuition that this guy would run for president, and ironically I had the same intuition about Arnold Schwarzenegger,” he said.
“Going Upriver” relates the early history of John Kerry as a soldier in Vietnam and, after being discharged from the U.S. Navy, as a leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Kerry’s action in the anti-war movement disproves the charge that Kerry is a political opportunist because of the unpopularity of anti-war activism, Butler said.
Butler also spoke about Kerry’s current political strategy by noting that Kerry’s ability to win in the final stretch of a campaign will be a major factor in the presidential election. In Kerry’s 1996 race for reelection to the Senate, polls showed that the Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld had a substantial lead a month before the election. But by election day, Kerry was the winner, Butler said.
“It doesn’t seem to bother him if he’s down in the polls,” Butler said. “He almost plays possum; it’s a very odd thing.”
Butler also talked about his expectations for Schwarzenegger’s political future. Despite constitutional provisions currently preventing the Austrian immigrant from becoming president, Butler said he thinks Schwarzenegger will run for president in 2008. Butler said Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch has introduced a constitutional amendment that would change the rule prohibiting immigrants from running for president.
“You can be sure that whoever is running for president in 2008 will be running against Gov. Schwarzenegger,” Butler said.
When he was making “Pumping Iron,” Schwarzenegger already had a “master-plan” for success in America, Butler said.
“I will come to America; I will become the best bodybuilder; I will make millions of dollars,” Butler said, paraphrasing Schwarzenegger. “I will go to the White House; I will intermingle with the Kennedys.”
Many students said they attended the talk because of the political relevance of “Going Upriver.”
“We were interested, just because it’s kind of politically important to come to,” said Julie Carney ’08, who planned to see the film Tuesday evening at a free York Square Cinema screening.
Peter Starr ’06 said he came to the event because of Butler’s contribution to the history of documentary filmmaking.
“‘Pumping Iron’ was the first real bodybuilding movie ever; it was almost visionary in that sense,” Starr said.