It’s nearly unimaginable to look at Sierra Pettengill and Pacho Velez’s found-footage docu-essay The Reagan Present with out enthusiastic about the White Home’s present occupant. The connections are intentional. Pettengill and Velez constructed The Reagan Present totally from outdated media protection of Ronald Reagan, utilizing interviews, punditry, and amusing flubs and outtakes to color an image of a presidency that traded on the celeb of its chief government to promote easy, reactionary concepts about taxes, social welfare applications, and nationwide protection to fiercely devoted supporters. Within the opening minutes, the movie even has a clip of President Reagan talking to backers about his imaginative and prescient for the nation, and promising, “Collectively, we’ll make America nice once more.” The message is evident: The voters simply elected a person who invoked nostalgia for a person who invoked nostalgia.
But it surely’d be improper to consider The Reagan Present as some type of a takedown of its topic. (Or not less than the topic in its title; as an prolonged, delicate dig at President Donald Trump, it’s extra devastating.) If something, the film has a refreshing “’twas ever thus” high quality. Solely probably the most partisan viewer may stroll away from The Reagan Present with out imagining that Pettengill and Velez may simply as simply have made The Bush Present, The Clinton Present, The Obama Present, or The Bush Present Half II. The obsessively stage-managed photo-ops, the inadvertently damning off-the-record feedback, the fixed nettling of the press: Nothing a lot has modified since 1980, save for the capabilities of the folks within the Oval Workplace.
The filmmakers most likely couldn’t have made The Carter Present or The Nixon Present, although, as a result of one of many key observations on this documentary is that Reagan and his workforce reinvented the White Home communications operation. The film opens with the president doing an end-of-second-term interview with David Brinkley, the place he admits, “There have been occasions on this workplace once I puzzled how you may do the job in the event you hadn’t been an actor.” Probably the most outstanding behind-the-curtain moments in The Reagan Present reveal the outdated Hollywood professional fussing over small particulars, from whether or not or not his friends at press conferences are standing shut sufficient to the microphone as to whether Nancy Reagan appears engaged sufficient throughout photograph shoots. Reagan’s employees have been keenly targeted on placing out a single, unified message to the press every day, and so they orchestrated the president’s schedule in order that he’d be seen interacting with folks and areas that strengthened their agenda. However Reagan himself wasn’t a passive participant within the technique. As seen on this movie not less than, he had loads of his personal good concepts about stagecraft.
The Reagan Present isn’t nearly documenting how a lot the president and Mrs. Reagan considered their public picture. A lot of the film considers how that side of the administration carried over into a few of its most high-pressure moments—together with the Iran-Contra scandal and the arms-reduction negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev. When the Communist Get together’s reform-minded new basic secretary took workplace in 1985, he captured the creativeness of the worldwide media, and challenged Reagan’s repute as a morally righteous warrior towards a rampaging “evil empire.” A few of the extra revealing moments right here present Reagan, considering he’s off-camera, grumbling about how Gorbachev seems to be successful the propaganda warfare.
There’s rather a lot in The Reagan Present that could possibly be thought-about flattering to the president, too—particularly for viewers in 2017, who now know what among the alternate options to Reagan will be. The movie reveals him eloquently quoting nice writers, and standing up towards members of his personal occasion to push for his treaty with the Soviet Union. And it additionally places well-known Reagan moments just like the “tear down this wall” speech into a bigger political context. Even individuals who lived by way of the Reagan years could also be jolted by among the particulars in The Reagan Present—from Lee Greenwood performing the then-new “God Bless The USA” in entrance of the president on the 1984 Republican Nationwide Conference to the best way that the TV film The Day After affected each the general public dialog and the administration’s insurance policies concerning nuclear weapons.
What could also be most eye-opening to fashionable audiences is how brazenly vital the mainstream media was on the time, as anchors and commentators—a lot of whom would later body Reagan because the type of robust, wildly standard chief that the nation wants—spent a part of their airtime questioning the president’s stamina, and noting the methods the administration used to govern the general public. Even the best way the reporters shout questions (a necessity, because of the deliberately awkward logistics of press availabilities) made them sound each bit just like the obnoxious enemies of earnest American patriotism that right-wing media-bashers say.
Principally, although, this film is supposed to make audiences replicate on the legacy of the Reagan method to presidential theater, which was designed to place the person and his concepts on the information each night time, offered simply so. It’s an method that works nicely when the viewers enjoys the corporate of this one who’s grow to be a everlasting fixture on their TV. But it surely’s additionally one which enrages opposing voters, who can solely ever see the maddening fakery.