The Reagan Show


Reviewed by: Jane Fae

The Reagan Show
"It's more an assortment of clips showing Reagan doing what Reagan did best, which was to project a sort of all-pervasive bonhomie through the camera lens."

Oh dear. The Reagan Show delivers a less-than-glittering serving of an inconsequential premise. According to the official write-up, it is an “all-archival documentary about the original performer-president's role of a lifetime.”

It goes on: “chock full of wit and political irony, and told solely through 1980s network news and videotapes created by the Reagan administration itself, the film explores Reagan's made-for-TV approach to politics as he faced down the United States' greatest rival.”

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Well, not exactly. It's more an assortment of clips showing Reagan doing what Reagan did best, which was to project a sort of all-pervasive bonhomie through the camera lens. Hardly surprising, given that he was an actor before he was a president. There is a little bit of pointed observation. Reagan's riposte, for instance, to the question of how an actor could run for President. He replied: “How can a president not be an actor? “

There's some not very hilarious footage of Reagan rehearsing a piece to camera and mis-pronouncing the name of John Sununu, later Republican governor of New Hampshire from 1983 to 1989.

There is footage demonstrating that having found a useful Russian soundbite, he repeated it ad nauseam, until he was rebuked, in good humour, by Russia's President Gorbachev for doing so. And there is a theme of sorts. Because while Reagan came to the White House as polished media manipulator, Gorbachev, equally skilled in media spin, seemed rapidly to run rings around him.

But. But. Watching this, I found myself repeating, over and over: so what? Reagan may have set new media precedents, but this was in part due to the media world changing, evolving. To remark that he did more broadcast than several previous White House incumbents added together is trivial. A bit like observing that Donald Trump uses social media far more than his predecessors. It's just a thing. Times change. Leaders either adapt or lose.

And making fun of people rehearsing to camera: that is such an easy own, I am surprised the film-makers (Pacho Velez, Sierra Pettengill, Houston King, Francisco Bello, Daniel Garber and Josh Alexander) thought it worth doing.

There are obvious difficulties in this film for anyone who hasn't lived through those times. Oh yes, I found myself going: there's David Frost. François Mitterrand. Dick Cheney. I'd forgotten this or that obscure politician and – I may have missed it – but the film was remarkably light on captioning some of thee more obscure players, which means that younger observers will not just be going “David Frost: who he?”, but as often “Who he?”

Themes were touched on and disposed. Did Nancy Reagan control her husband? His politics? His presentation? She said not. So that's alright then.

As the lights came up, I was left with nothing more profound than a sense that I had just watched a fairly second rate episode of You've Been Framed - the one where Harry Hill tacks together clips of political lookalikes and a few real politicians and makes it all work by use of a funny voice-over.

Except in this case, the voice-over was not especially droll; and while the work clearly is trying to trace its way through large themes, I couldn't help but feel it was little more than a portfolio of trouvailles, clipped together, with little thought for audience impact.

Reviewed on: 04 Oct 2017
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The Reagan Show packshot
A documentary constructed entirely from clips of archive footage, exploring Ronald Reagan's media persona.
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Director: Pacho Velez, Sierra Pettengil

Writer: Josh Alexander, Pacho Velez, Francisco Bello

Starring: Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, George Bush

Year: 2017

Runtime: 74 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

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