Ronald Reagan An American Journey
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Ronald Reagan An American President

For many years little boys, and now little girls, can dream of someday achieving what is general considered the high office in the world, the President of the United States. To date forty four men have worked their way up the political ladder to occupy that greatly lauded office. As with many aspects of historical significance it is difficult to properly ascertain the effectiveness and lasting legacy of any President until years after the step down from that prestigious position. History, much like a fine cut of Kobe beef needs to rest after coming off the heat of the grill; time to allow the juices to simmer bringing out the true flavor. The Presidency of Ronald Wilson Reagan has now had twenty two years to coalesce allowing what some could consider the proper historical perspective for a rational examination of his two teams in office. One such consideration has been made available on DVD through the film ‘Ronald Reagan: An American Journey’ this DVD takes a reasonably honest look back at the man and the impact he man not only in American history but his affect on the global stage. The two terms of the Reagan administration span the eighties defining the decade politically, economically and even socially. Reagan was the kind of President that divided the population into those that lionize him and those that hold view him as a villain; virtually none are lukewarm about this President or his policies. You can barely hear any conservative rhetoric in the media where some pendant does not refer to the administration of Ronald Reagan. Time has not mitigated the public’s passionate reaction to this man; if anything it has intensified in the light of the current hostile conflicts and economic reversals. What this means is no matter where you are on the ‘President Reagan appreciation spectrum’ you will take a lot away from watching this documentary. It is a balanced, thoughtful view of one of the most interesting Presidents this nation has ever had.

This documentary was produced and directed by award-winning filmmaker Robert Kline. He has already established himself as one of the leading figures in this field with many films on his record, each focusing on a significant American or time in our history. His previous opus demonstrated the non-partisan nature of his work; ‘The Kennedys: America's Emerald Kings’, discussing a President as important to the liberally as President Reagan has been to their conservative counterparts. His historically keen eye has come to rest on topics ranging from Vietnam to terrorism; speaking to returning veterans of war to influence women shaping our times. He even extended his talents as an executive producer to fiction working on an episode of the cult classic science fiction series ‘The Star Lost’.

Ronald Reagan was already a well known face to the American people long before his entrance into the political arena. He was a working actor that may have fallen short of the ‘A’ list but he did appear in many films and hosted a popular TV western series, ‘Death Valley Days’. Some of the taste for politics may have manifested when Reagan began the president of Screen Actors Guild, one of the more liberal labor organizations of the time. He would also serve as the governor of California, not the last former actor to hold that position during the turbulent sixties elected as a citizen politician as opposed to a political ‘insider’. The film opens with a montage of the President’s more noteworthy contributions to history such as his success in ending the cold War with the Soviet Union which also encompasses nuclear disarmament and dismantling the symbol of Communist oppression, the Berlin wall. One of the first actual scenes depicted in the documentary is the fail well speech Reagan gave just before leaving the White House. An innate likability comes through, perhaps aided by years of experience acting but certainly due to his personality. He doesn’t dwell on the majesty of the White House but rather how he will miss a few favorite windows were he would stop to look out and think. This ability to speak so directly to the American people using terms and language that was readily identifiable made him one of the most popular men to hold this controversial office. The film relates this to his becoming Governor of California in a landslide. The sixties saw the generation gap fueled by the opposition to the Vietnam War dividing the country. As governor he ran on a platform to restore a sense of order and direction to the state. In his inauguration he called on the Federal Constitution and prays to God to guide his administration.

The film goes into detail over the factors that paved the way for Reagan’s ascent to the White House. President Johnson was overburdened by the Vietnam War unable to seek a second term. Trust in the Presidential office was greatly damaged by President Nixon’s forced resignation and President Carter was viewed as ineffectual in defending our nation and a disastrous national economy marked by runaway inflation and unemployment. The stage was set and Ronald Reagan was in the wings. The death blow to the Carter administration was American nationals held hostage in Iran of 444 days. Reagan rode this crisis to become the 1980 Republican Presidential candidate handily winning the election. As the 40th President of the United States he immediately cited how wrong it is for a government to live beyond its means by spending in excess of what is brought in through taxes. The documentary offers up a lot of the President’s own speeches. He was a highly effective speaker able to sway an audience with ease. The piece does examine the rough patches that began to invade this administration including in September 1983 when Soviet fighter jets shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007 killing 269 people. This came on the heels of Reagan’s speech a few months before were he referred to the Soviet Union as ‘The Evil Empire’. This did give momentum to Reagan’s assault on Communism that would result in the infamous ‘Star Wars’ anti satellite defense system. He would be very visible less successful in South Africa where he could not arrange for the freedom of Nelson Mandela. Mostly Reagan’s own speeches provided the historical placement of his actions and policy with the off screen narrator providing the context. In all the work is skewed in the late President’s favor but there is a sense of objectivity afforded making this worthwhile to view.

Posted 01/25/11

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