The Reagan Show

reagan show 2

June 28, 2017.  As a sociology teacher of mass communication and popular culture, I especially enjoyed the new documentary, “The Reagan Show.” For those of us who lived through the Reagan presidency, the title alone should tell it all.

The Reagan Show” is a fascinating look at the Reagan years from the inside and the outside – the White House’s in- house media and the mainstream media. The story is told partly through archival footage shot by the White House TV production crew, dubbed “White House TV.” We see the expected flubs that were never shown – Ronald Reagan mispronouncing a name, Reagan saying something official to the camera and then making a humorous, off-camera remark, that negates what he just said. In addition to the in-house footage, there are interviews, commentaries and news footage of the time. It is also a primer on how media can be used to shape an image, to put it mildly.

Directors Pacho Velez and Sierra Pettengill have made the wise and very interesting, yet counter intuitive, decision to simply let the footage speak for itself. In other words, there are no modern day interviews with current political figures, historians or “those who were there.” The only commentary comes from news reports, editorials, and interviews shot in the 1980’s. Editors Francisco Bello, Daniel Garber and David Barker must have gone through hundreds (dare I say thousands?) of hours of footage and have created a well structured telling of the Reagan presidency from the point of view of public relations (PR).

As I often tell my students, in a documentary we are given a construction of the truth, a particular point of view, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is just important to be aware of this. ‘The Reagan Show” is no exception.

The premise of “The Reagan Show” is that Reagan was never really in charge and that his main concern was his image. To this end, it is pointed out that the Reagan administration shot as much footage as the previous five administrations combined, in an attempt to manage how the president was presented to the public.

In “The Reagan Show” we see Reagan go from a Hollywood actor playing tough, “all American” heroes to a real life, older president hoping to leave his mark on history. He attempts to accomplish this via the nuclear summits with the Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev, to Reagan’s surprise, proves to be just as good, if not better, in the PR “charm” department than he. The news commentators of the time speculate as to what, if anything, the first two nuclear summits actually accomplished, aside from being great PR opportunities for both men. As Reagan candidly admits, during an interview, “There are times in this office where I wondered how you’d do the job if you hadn’t been an actor.”

Later, during the Iran Contra scandal, Reagan is put in a position in which a wave and a smile just will not do the trick. When asked about the damage to his presidency, Reagan replies, “Always save something for the third act.” This, he certainly does.

At 74 minutes, “The Reagan Show” is a trim, well paced, humorous and fascinating look at a chapter of US history captured via media. While the film does not address the attempt on Reagan’s life or the contentious relationship between Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev during the summits, hopefully these will be included in future DVD extras.

The Reagan Show” opens on Friday, June 30 at the Metrograph Theatre, located at 7 Ludlow Street. “The Reagan Show and will also be available on Video on Demand (VOD) starting July 4.


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on June 28, 2017, in Documentary, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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