Yesterday, I wrote CBS Cancels Reagan Biopic–Craven Capitulation to Reaganites, about CBS’s withdrawal of the Reagan biopic from its fall schedule. In my post, I excoriated Les Moonves and CBS executivedom for surrendering in the face of Reaganite pressure.
This incident brought to mind another Presidential biopic, Primary Colors, the brilliant portrayal of the Clinton Presidential campaign (from a far inferior book by Joe Klein). Directed by Mike Nichols, it portrayed Clinton as an admirable (well, most of the time) political leader, but deeply flawed human being. While watching the film, you often felt sympathy or even admiration for him, but never did Nichols allow you to relax in the comfort of your admiration. Clinton’s moral flaws (and this was BEFORE l’affaire Lewinsky) are never far from view.
I wonder why Clintonians did not scream bloody murder at the distortions and negativity in this film. Of course, it would be silly to say that Democrats possess a more highly refined sense of irony or a greater ability to accept moral ambiguity. But it is instructive to think of the difference in public reception of both films.
What type of portrayal would satisfy Reaganites? Hagiography? Well, I got news for you guys–that type of portrayal wouldn’t even play on CSPAN let alone Showtime. Primary Colors was terrific entertainment because it was a warts and all portrayal. I have no doubt that the creative team behind the Reagan picture will create an equally riveting portrayal of the Reagans.
Anyone who’s seen the Judy Garland biopic produced by the same folks undertstands that they know how to portray deeply flawed characters who’ve made supreme contributions to society. In this film, Judy Garland is a gifted entertainer possessing deep flaws fueled by childhood fame, drugs and alcohol. I have no doubt that the Reagans would’ve come across in precisely the same fashion: as compelling, but flawed characters.
So I have a final invitation to my Reaganite friends, come join me and my wife in our living room to screen the film when it broadcasts on Showtime. But I do have one condition: you can’t say anything negative about the film until you’ve heard the absolute last line of dialogue. But it might be too hard for you all to muzzle it: anything less than sainthood is unacceptable for you in a portrayal of your political heroes. As for me, given a choice between saintliness and flesh and blood people I’ll choose flesh and blood every time.