The Reagan Show
In a climate abundant with films and documentaries making the generic claim to be “of this moment” and “for our times”, The Reagan Show seems that rare thing – a documentary worthy of that title. it is comprised entirely of news footage chronicling, in particular, Reagan’s enmity with Gorbachev, whose nascent rise to power paralleled the USSR’s decline. A heady swirl of press conferences, behind-the-scenes asides and new interviews, it may be a Cliff’s Notes introduction to Reaganism, but it’s nonetheless an engaging watch.
Produced by CNN films, the project sets out to depict Reagan as the first “reality television” president. His crew of cameras in constant pursuit, hallway strolls and murmured conversations with Nancy become fodder for the nation. We see him endorsing a senator, only to find, when the cameras stop rolling, that he’s never heard the senator’s name before. Nancy blankly smiles behind, shepherding him here and there, her non sequiturs revealing more about her than their bland press conferences. The Reagan Show depicts that the liminal space when the cameras are off, but the mic is still rolling, is where the true character of a president, or any person, is revealed.
It’s this latter stance that makes the documentary startlingly relevant. As private recordings of Trump, such as last year’s Access Hollywood tape, or the rumoured The Apprentice ones, reveal how thin any veneer of respectability he has, maybe we understand the power of 24/7 coverage. Unfortunately, beyond this point, The Reagan Show fails to deliver any more nuanced critique of Reagan’s policies, especially in the context of his growing enmity with Gorbachev. While the image of a blankly smiling president dismissing a creeping doomsday clock while asserting the supremacy of the White House is shudderingly familiar, some may crave a more thorough assessment of the nuclear climate from that late 80s period. But as an introduction into how the White House became a theatre, a stage from which to perform rather than preside, The Reagan Show is a valuable document.
The Reagan Show is released on 6th October 2017.
Watch the trailer for The Reagan Show here: