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A New Documentary About Reagan’s Legacy Has Some Glaring Omissions

While noble in its cause, "The Reagan Show" comes up short.

There are few people who would object to the claim that politics is a performance. The Reagan Show, a new documentary co-directed by Sierra Pettengill and Pacho Velez, promises a look into the pageantry and showmanship behind the presidency of Ronald Reagan, whose office was unprecedented in their use of video. Using archival news footage and White House video, the New York-based directors show Reagan in an array of candid situations, like the moments before the cameras start rolling, or when the microphones picked up on Nancy Reagan scolding her husband for not wearing a raincoat.

The Reagan Show makes its Portland premiere this week at NW Film Center. While noble in its cause, the documentary's theme fails to materialize, and there are several glaring omissions (Lee Atwater, anyone?). What's left is a cursory retelling of '80s Soviet relations interspersed with presidential bloopers, as if it's somehow revealing that a president would practice a speech.

It focuses mostly on Reagan's negotiations with Gorbachev and squeezes as much mileage as possible out of footage of the Gipper trying to pronounce "Sununu." But the film can't decide whether it's trying to show Reagan as a leader struggling with the gravity of his office or as an old, image-conscious fool just chasing the spotlight.

To look back at Ronald Reagan's presidency is to reflect upon some of capitalism's greatest hits, from the financial deregulation that made the housing crisis possible, to the increase in privatized prisons due to the War on Drugs, to his use of the "welfare queen" rhetoric to promote austerity measures.

Though the documentary sets out to reveal how Reagan and his team crafted his image, The Reagan Show comes up short by not addressing how he used his persona to advance policies that continue to affect national and even global politics. By not even mentioning the lasting effects of its subject matter, the filmmakers let Reagan off easy.

I'd say the Gipper won this one.

SEE IT: The Reagan Show is at NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 NW Park Ave., nwfilm.org. 7 pm Friday-Saturday, 4:30 pm Sunday, Oct. 6-8. $9.