8 February 2009 | bob the moo
A bit too populist to be really engaging or insightful but a reasonably entertaining little documentary despite the weaknesses
Assuming that a) you are outside the UK and b) anyone is actually reading this, it is worth starting this review with a little introduction to the channel that showed this documentary. With the tagline "everyone needs somewhere to think", BBC4 has generally done two things. The first is to produce interesting films with a cultural value and something to say that does make it different from other channels and get closest to being the channel that most justifies the use of the license fee. Unsurprising perhaps the second thing it has generally done is fail to get many viewers. The reason I mention this is that it is a fair expectation that a documentary on BBC4 will be worth watching and that sentiment is relevant here because President Hollywood is barely that it is a film that could easily have been made for any channel.
It is not the idea that is bad though because that is interesting on the face of it. The relevance of the media in regards the Presidency is unquestionable in this recent campaign (the film was made before the election while the winner was still to be decided by American voters) and this film offers something along those lines by seeing how reality and Hollywood have both influenced one another down the years. It starts with the West Wing and the way that Jimmy Smits character was based on Obama and the way that the fictional character would parallel the path the man himself would take before the film then steps back with the roots of the idealised President as seen in films. This part makes good points as it highlights where things have perhaps grown from and how the campaigns have mirrored this perception, feeding it and making it become a reality and norm (morally pure, humble background, Washington outsider etc). It then goes further, tracing the changes in Hollywood's presentation and linking it to key events such as Nixon, Clinton, 11th September etc. All potentially very insightful, interesting stuff that could appeal to a larger audience by being based in popular culture as a subject.
Problem is that the documentary is far too populist and seems to have more clips than anything else. At a quite lean 60 minutes (for what it covers) the film could have benefited from being another 30 minutes longer and using that extra time for more discussion and insight and fewer clips. As it is the film makes mostly general points that, while valid are nothing that amazing or insightful they are not quite "well, duh" moments but they are nothing that surprising either. It is a shame because I had hoped for more but it isn't really there. Don't get me wrong though, the weaknesses disappoint but they do not destroy the film. The recognisable clips and generally interesting points do make it serve as an accessible, unchallenging and entertaining documentary that doesn't inform a great deal but makes you feel like it is while also delivering clips of movies and show many viewers will recognise.