The Reagan Show

 

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An intriguing but superficial survey of Reagan's years as President.

 
Reagan Show, The
  

Reading a book such as Charles Moore's authorised biography of Margaret Thatcher brings home to one how telling such a work rich in research and insight can be - and that is so regardless of one's attitude to Thatcher and to the viewpoints regularly expressed by Moore as a political journalist. From a film you might expect less, and that is all the more so in a work like this one surveying Ronald Reagan's eight years as President since it contains no voice over and no fresh interview material. Instead, this feature consists only of pre-existing footage, much of it from news coverage of the day but also from the abundant images of the President generated by Reagan's fondness for White House Television.

 

Despite starting with Reagan's farewell to the White House in 1988, the film quickly settles into a chronological approach until it ends where it had begun. Early on, when an interviewer refers to his acting days, Reagan jokes that his ability to take on the role of America's president wouldn't have been possible if he hadn't been an actor. This is in keeping with the notion (hinted at in the film's title) that he was a great showman. However, despite covering his relationship with Gorbachev and their conflicts over nuclear weapons that nevertheless led to an agreement on reductions, The Reagan Show gives us a portrait of man who rarely seems up to his job and who, as an actor, appears second only to Marilyn Monroe in fluffing his lines and thus necessitating retakes. This is stressed at the outset and his ineptness is a major feature of The Reagan Show long before we reach his climb down over his initial denial that any deal concerning hostages was involved in the decision to supply arms to Iran in 1986.

 

The film comes in at just under 75 minutes which is wise for a work which, although it can often indeed be fun, is lacking in analysis. But that was probably always the intent, alongside an unstated invitation to compare this president with America's current incumbent. The filmmakers offer early on a brief montage of clips from Reagan's film career and, significantly as a sign of their outlook, choose a number of feeble-looking little-known titles rather than Kings Row (1942) or The Hasty Heart (1949) - but the only real surprise here is the absence of Bedtime for Bonzo (1951) in which Reagan starred alongside a chimpanzee.

 

In passing I would add that films of this kind with no new footage make one question what certain familiar credits entail. With no commentary, the writing credit would appear to relate to the selection and ordering of old material and that seems very close to the role of editor (here there are three credits in each category). But what does that leave for a director to do? One of the two given that designation, Pacho Velez, is also one of the writers, but Sierra Pettengill, with an additional credit as producer, is named as co-director without any acknowledged contribution to the writing or editing. Is it just me, or is this confusing?

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  archive footage of Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, George Bush.

 

Dir Pacho Velez and Sierra Pettengill, Pro Sierra Pettengill, Screenplay Francisco Bello, Josh Alexander and Pacho Velez, Ed Daniel Garber, Francisco Bello and David Barker, Music Laura Karpman.

 

Impact Partners/Artemis Rising Foundation-Dogwoof.
74 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 6 October 2017. Cert. PG.