Returning to the festival with “Reagan,” Eugene Jarecki presents a complex and evenhanded profile. While the film reveals little that’s new, Reagan’s top advisers and confidantes provide frank commentary on the White House in the 1980’s matched with footage of Reagan apologizing in a series of PR maneuvers for the Iran-Contra affair and montages of Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee and others fawning over the late President. And son Ron Reagan provides some insight into the presidential home life.
Jarecki, who left the 2005 Sundance Film Festival with the jury award for Best Documentary for “Why We Fight,” noted that the only films made about Ronald Reagan are hagiographic direct-to-DVD films that are “sold on cable television commercials.” (One might also add the ill-fated CBS-turned-Showtime made-for-TV movie to that list.) For a generation that seems to have lost sight of who the man actually was, the film provides a nice corrective. Below are 10 things you forgot (or never knew) about Ronald Reagan, as told by the documentary:
1. The family tried to get Ronald to address the AIDS crisis.
Ron and Nancy Reagan tried to make AIDS a priority for Ronald, who didn’t mention the disease for years after the start of the epidemic. With warnings that people close to him would be affected, the death of Rock Hudson from the “mysterious disease” did indeed make it real for the President.
2. Mount Reagan? The Mississippi Reagan? Reagan Park?
The Reagan Legacy Project is an organization that attempts to change of establish various national or state landmarks with the name of our 40th President. The group’s successes include the naming of the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, and is currently working to name a mountain in Nevada after Reagan.
3. The President was a “near-sighted lifeguard.”
A section titled “The Near-Sighted Lifeguard” emphasizes Reagan’s early career as a lifeguard and uses it as a metaphor for how he made sacrifices to save others’ lives. His near-sightedness prevented him from seeing combat in WWII, something he always regretted.
4. Reagan’s family was greatly aided by the New Deal.
Despite developing a brand of economics now considered the antithesis of Pres. Roosevelt’s, like many in his generation Reagan became disenchanted with the welfare state and spent his political career trying to make government smaller.
5. Reagan was the “Errol Flynn of the Bs”
In archival footage, a charismatic Reagan gave himself that colorful, somewhat humbling moniker referring to his dashing profile in some of Hollywood’s lesser action movies.
6. Reagan was a union man.
For the Sarah Palins and Pat Buchanans of the world: Let us not forget that Reagan was the President of the Screen Actors Guild.
7. Reagan talked behind his comrades’ back.
Despite his union ties and generally sympathetic view to the plight of those targeted in the McCarthy era witch hunts, Reagan betrayed his official position when he testified at the HUAC committee meetings. In private, he cooperated with the commie-hunting investigations as informant T10. Son Ron Reagan admits that “[this] thought is troubling.”
8. Reagan worked for six years as the face of General Electric.
After spending six years as the GE spokesperson, for which he and Nancy even recorded a dining room table commercial for household appliances, he was let go as his public persona became too political, traveling the country on the company’s dime spouting off about a bit more than toasters.
9. Nancy ran the show.
Ronald Reagan, many people confessed, would never have become President if he did not marry Nancy. She also did much of Ronald’s personnel advising, especially firing staff members, something that Reagan refused to do.
10. Reagan made many policy decisions that don’t jibe with the talking points of those who cite him most frequently today.
As governor of California, Reagan granted amnesty for 2.6 million illegal immigrants and the number of federal employees actually grew under his reign.
And one more for good luck:
Jarecki had footage and letters from the archive covering a seven-year pen pal relationship between Reagan and a young black boy. Jarecki cut a 10-minute segment of the film that covered this story, but dropped it because it was more an anomaly than representative of Reagan’s long-range character.