So big that it makes Donald Trump now loom that any examination of the US presidency – even one that is purportedly historical or fictional – can be seen through the shadow cast. Audiences can’t help themselves. No matter at what point of the director or the novelist may be doing, the viewer or the reader is running a mental silence compared to the current occupant of the White House.
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That tends to produce one of two results. We will see the presidents of the past as paragons of strength and wisdom when it is judged next to the feet of sealed narcissistic – the child part of small part of the predator – that is sitting in the Oval Office today. Or else we see in the distant, the administrations of the seeds of Trumpism and the roots of our present problems.
Both conclusions can be drawn from The governments of Reagan, a 75-minute documentary made by Sierra Pettengill & Pacho Velez by CNN Films that it consists entirely of footage of the era, including outtakes and candid fly-on-the wall moments collected by an in-house initiative of the then so-called White House of the TV. The film tells us that this effort, which seems to have kept the camera runs through each of Reagan’s media appearance or photo-op, brought together more video of the last five administrations combined.
What became the Triumph of a practical joke in the gossip columns in a national figure were his stints on TELEVISION as well as in the room of boards of the supreme
The Reagan Show, without a doubt, gives abundant evidence of that is to tell the story which contains the origins of the Triumph of the odyssey. The film closes with a commentary by the ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, delivered as Reagan was leaving office. “Not of the presidency before this is was so often judged as if it were a performing art. I shudder when it is suggested that the politicians who come after him will have to succeed first in television.”
The phrase resonates, because, of course, was the television that took the Victory to the White House. It can be described as a real estate tycoon or a magnate of business, but the truth is that the Triumph was a failure as a business man – deep in debt and always on the verge of bankruptcy. What saved him, what turned him from a joke in the gossip columns of the tabloids of New York into a national figure, was his 14 highly rated seasons as the hall of the supreme council in The Apprentice. In this sense, the Triumph was not really a tycoon corporate at all: he just played one on TV.
This echoes the criticism of Reagan, who was a constant refrain in the 1980s. He was not a real politician, but an actor who plays one on TV. Critics make much of Reagan, the use of a teleprompter, suggesting that it depends on “reference cards” or even the occasional nudge from his wife. (We see again that moment when, as Reagan was lost for words before a group of reporters and cameras, Nancy murmured kindly, “we are doing everything we can.” He repeated the line immediately.) In this version, the Reagan presidency was the last act of the spectacle of life, Hollywood has been delivered to the final end of the function.
In all seriousness … Donald Trump in the Apprentice, USA, 2005. Photo: BBC
Sure enough, his successor, George HW Bush – briefly glimpsed in the film like Reagan, the vice-president – he fought in the top of the slot, and he failed to win a second term, in part because he and the camera were not good. He was famously wrong-footed by an autocue, the reading aloud of a speechwriter, the statement of intent as a silent stage direction: “Message: I care.”
The men who followed the example of Bush – Clinton, Bush Jr, and Obama – were all more comfortable in front of the camera. But Trump, like Reagan, is a TELEVISION professional. True, your gender is different: the reality TV thrives on conflict, surprise, and rough edges, rather than the white bread, the softness and the brightness of 1950s television, Reagan’s natural environment. But Trump has dominated the media of his age as surely as Reagan to dominate her. Then it was the radio and B-movies; now it is the reality of the TELEVISION and Twitter. But the deep affinity is similar.
And, however, the differences between them are very instructive. True, The Reagan Show persists in the scenario that was to make his presidency look as good as it did. Each photo was meticulously staged, in what was then a relatively new discipline. We see Michael Deaver, Reagan’s chief image maker, in the work, putting his star on the settings that the project of him as a movie-style hero. (Photo of the president and the first lady riding in his ranch in California was not an accident, but as meticulously produced in a film of David Lean.)
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But, with all, there is much more to Reagan than a relationship of communication with the target. The documentary does not show, but he is carried out a transition from showbiz to politics and was the work of several decades. Reagan was the leader of the stars’ trade union, the Screen actors Guild in the 1940s and in the 50s, a period of tense relations between staff and management. And, of course, was twice governor of California, leading a state with the population and the economy of a major country.
There is no indication that the pre-presidential political career in this film, but its relevance is obvious: it means that the parallelism with the Triumph diverge, even before the start. The current president walked off the set of The Apprentice through the campaign to the White House, with no experience in elected or public office along the way. Reagan may have been an actor, but he was a politician for a long time.
Meticulously simulated … President Reagan, George Bush, left, meets with General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and to the extreme right, and interpreter Pavel Palazchenko in 1988.
Even so, this is not the contrast of The Reagan Show invites nor is it what matters. Unexpectedly, and rather unevenly, the look of the film, finally, is based on Reagan’s relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev, and especially the steps of the two men took toward the control of nuclear weapons.
We see that in Gorbachev, Reagan had met his match: the Soviet leader was almost as accomplished in front of the cameras as he was. But we also see that Reagan rose to the moment and the opportunity Gorbachev presented. Looking down bitter criticism of the American right, including a number of Fox-type talking heads that are still in active – Reagan tap in the search of the limitations and possible reductions in the US nuclear arsenal. Once he inveighed against “the evil empire”, Reagan animation of purpose towards the end of his mandate, he said, to “fight for peace”.
There is No disguise. Reagan’s presidency was not the march of social progress: inequality increased, and many advances towards justice have been reversed. But still, it is striking to note that when faced with the facts of the arms-for-hostages deal with Iran, that do not accuse the press of spreading “false news”, but it was on TV to admit that his previous account had been false.
When the Ku Klux Klan planted a burning cross on the lawn of an African American family in the states of Maryland, Reagan, not to praise the ku klux klan, as “very good people”, but it was to visit, and walk with the black family whose home had been violated.
Simply, they can both be Republican presidents who owe their political success to their skills in front of the camera, but the current man is a pigmy beside that of its predecessor. As this film makes clear, and to adapt the formulation of another contest: Mr Trump, you’re not Ronald Reagan.
• The Reagan Show is released in uk cinemas on the 6th of October.