The Reagan Movie I want to see

Over at GreenCine, David puts the Reagan TV movie in perspective; it doesn't sound like it's worth going to the mat for.

And instead of reading the 213-page script, I just rebought Joan Didion's NYRB article, The Lion King, and I'm glad I did. I say rebought, because it's also included in her collection of essays, Political Fictions, which is sitting in a box in our storage unit.

Didion's got an agenda, sure, but she backs it up with a screenwriter's eye for wicked detail and dialogue, and a relentless slog through the quagmire of firsthand accounts. She reads the right wing's literature, so you don't have to.

Here's a timely but damning excerpt she pulls from Donald Regan's memoir, For the Record: From Wall Street to Washington ["585 used copies available, starting at $0.01"]

As President, Ronald Reagan acted on the work habits of a lifetime: he regarded his daily schedule as being something like a shooting script in which characters came and went, scenes were rehearsed and acted out, and the plot was advanced one day at a time, and not always in sequence. The Chief of Staff was a sort of producer, making certain that the star had what he needed to do his best; the staff was like the crew, invisible behind the lights, watching the performance their behind-the-scenes efforts had made possibleÖ. Reagan's performance was almost always flawless. If he was scheduled to receive a visitor at ten o'clock, he would finish whatever else he was doing at 9:58, clear off his desk, clear his mind of whatever had gone before, and prepare himself for the next scene.

The CBS hacks were criticized for putting words in the president's mouth. Didion shows us that's not their real crime; Reagan's "accomplishments" are his speeches, and his texts must be approached with enough infallible literalism to make an evangelical Christian proud. But this is also where he's vulnerable; he who lives by the word dies by the word.

What Reagan demands, it seems, is a "making of" movie which hews tightly to the accounts of his crew. A Player, an 8 1/2 a Jour et Nuit, an Irma Vep, or an Adaptation, even. [A Project Greenlight? That'd hurt too much.] This isn't a network TV movie, or even a cable movie; it's DVD, with a pile of bonus disks.

Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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first published: November 9, 2003.

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