Directed by Sierra Pettengill and Pacho Velez, The Reagan Show is a fascinating and discerning documentary that looks at the presidency years of Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States of America. While they only use archived news stories and White House footage, or WHTV as you’ll learn, this feel like a documentary that holds an extra advantage, and edge, of intrigue due to the farcical nature of Donald Trump’s rise to the top.
The surreal thing about everything you watch, and the thing that makes The Reagan Show so watchable, is the reflection of everything that’s happened in recent years. Whether it holds up as a solid documentary in its own right is undecided because the air of the implausibility has been taken away in this era of Trump. However, we have to be fair to Reagan because there’s a huge difference between the two main characters, whereas Trump believes he’s a ‘real’ President and can make the big decisions, Reagan knew he was playing a part and instead of warmongering, he was a man who always wanted peace.
In the early days of his Presidency, Reagan wanted to ‘make America great again’ – another thing DJT ripped off someone else – but it was born out of nostalgia and, as many journalists commented at the time, he was living in the past and looking to something that wasn’t necessarily achievable but it did get him voted in. These continuing juxtapositions make for unerring viewing throughout and you wonder if history will literally start to repeat itself. Whereas Reagan had the fear of nuclear war with the USSR, Trump has his war of words with North Korea, where fear fuelled the fire of the unknown back then, it remains in America for the same reasons some 30 years later.
The Reagan Show also highlights that he was the first in power to make use of all the technology around him, they filmed him constantly, they set up very specific PR plans for positive coverage and while it worked for the early days, as the years went by the media started to question the reality of it all, and whether Reagan was actually ever going to ‘do’ anything beyond the words he spoke.
The one, very real, aspect of Reagan we witness is his relationship with his wife Nancy. Their marriage of over 50-years was clearly an honest and genuine connection. She cared for him endlessly, as he did for her and all they ever really wanted was to bring encouraging moments to the American people. He did make mistakes; the Arms-for-hostages deal with Iran being one, but admitted to them and this somewhat restored an image that, at one point, began to flounder. The documentary also highlights the highs and lows of his friendship and treaty agreement with the then-new Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev, it’s interesting to see how it nearly fell apart but the underlying desire of both parties to have a positive PR image meant a nuclear reduction deal was established.
The Reagan Show is a sturdy documentary that offers up some great behind-the-scenes moments with Ronald but it has accidentally ended up being a ‘compare and contrast’ type of affair, due to the current state of the American political landscape. However, it does also give us a rare insight into the early processes of successful PR and how anyone really can be president if it’s sold in the right way.
The Reagan Show opens in the UK on 6 October 2017.
Find more information and screenings: dogwoof.com/thereaganshow