Wednesday, June 28, 2017

THE REAGAN SHOW: a course in Presidential television from Sierra Pettengill & Pacho Velez

As one commentator points out early on in THE REAGAN SHOW -- the new documentary from filmmakers Pacho Velez and Sierra Pettengill about how a certain U.S. President (more probably, his handlers) mastered made-for-TV politics -- the national stage is now television, and the important question turns out to be: Is the White House going to mange that stage, or will it be the television networks? For anyone old enough to recall the fetid 1980s (Ronald Reagan held office from January 1981 through January 1989), the answer will be readily apparent.

Oddly enough, it won't matter much what your feelings are, pro or con, about Reagan because the filmmakers (Ms Pettengill is shown at right, Mr. Velez below) simply offer up a nonstop procession of this President's TV coverage while he was in that office, along with snippets of his preceding movie career, ending with his final day as President of the United States.

Reagan supporters can and will come away from the documentary thinking this was the most wonderful, and most abused, President in U.S. history, while
detractors (like me) will finish the film mumbling, "What an asshole. Good riddance!" Both sides can and probably will admit that no one before had ever made such constant and productive use of TV as the tool to convince the masses -- which is, I guess, the filmmakers' point here.

From Reagan's daily "life" (as phony as his rhetoric but shown us with utter ease and credibility) to his appearances with everyone from Michael Jackson and Mr. T. to various heads of state, we get oodles of this guy, who was dubbed by those handlers, the right-wing press and finally most of our media as "The Great Communicator." We also see just enough of Nancy to set our teeth on edge.

We view Reagan lying on screen, as he makes a campaign ad endorsing New Hampshire gubernatorial candidate John Sununu, claiming to know the guy well and believe in his abilities -- when he doesn't even understand how to pronounce Sununu's name! And yet, from his Make America Great sloganeering to his demonizing of the USSR, he will bring to mind Donald Trump, even though our current President would now have us view Russia as our new BFF.

Even President Reagan's enormous push for that ridiculous Star Wars defense initiative is handed to us without comment (except by some of the TV media), as is all else. For those of us who've followed history, The Reagan Show does make it clear that, even prior to Trump, America had elected an idiot to highest office -- though, back then, the leader was only a passively aggressive puppet, not an actively aggressive one like our current bully/bigot, coward/crook, fool/fraud "leader."

And then a new Russian big boy named Gorbachev appears, and everything seems to change. Here was someone from the other side that the media also loved. We hear Reagan state the Russian proverb that he claims to have learned in Russian -- Trust, but verify -- over and over until, as time passes, the Prez seems to slip further into the Alzheimer's with which he was later diagnosed. At this point he is kept farther and farther away from the press and is mostly seen either coming or going and doing the usual PR nonsense in front of the camera (like his appearance at Camp Ronald McDonald).

By the time we get to the Iran/Contra scandal, things have grown depressing as hell, as we realize that so much of the U.S. populace couldn't give a damn or would readily ignore the whole thing and actively close their eyes and mind to what is happening. Perhaps the most interesting segment in the doc comes as we watch Republicans back then rail angrily against Reagan for finally reaching some agreement with the USSR on arms control, even as today's Republican Party embraces Russia, Putin and Trump's sleazy regime. This combination ought to make more of us understand that the Republican Party -- one that consistently places the feet of the wealthy and atop atop the heads of the masses -- has now reached fully corrosive insanity. But it won't, of course.

From Gravitas Ventures and CNN Films, the 75-minute-long doc arrives in theaters this Friday, June 30 -- in New York City at the Metrograph and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Playhouse 7. A national rollout will immediately follow, and the film will also become available on VOD on Tuesday, July 4. 

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