documentaries for understanding how we got President Trump, and for ensuring we never get him or his like again
it’s not exactly movie-movie escapism, but it’s important
First one’s free, kid...
Welcome to the very first installment of the soon-to-be-paid version of MaryAnn Johanson’s Flick Filosophizing, what I anticipate as a once-weekly roundup of movies around a particular issue or topic, plus occasional other tidbits. (I’m imagining a once-a-month DVD commentary, for starters.)
This material will also be available for supporters of my work via Patreon, so if that’s a platform you’re more comfortable with, feel free to sign up over there.
The once-a-week digest linking to everything I’ve posted in the past week at FlickFilosopher.com will continue to be free here at Substack. (Patreon supporters get individual notice of every new review each week, which may end up being too much email for Substack users, who seem to me to be people who want pithy explainers rather than give-me-everything fans.)
For the first roundup, I take a look at documentaries — and a few docudramas, and one fictional satire — examining the sorry state of national politics in the United States, particularly in how it culminated in the election of Donald Trump as president. Even if you’re not in the US, this impacts you... as a few of these films show.
As I often say when I review political or current-events docs, if you have been paying attention, nothing these films cover may come as much of a surprise. But it’s been difficult, especially in this pandemic era, to be able to maintain the focus needed to pay attention, even if you are strongly politically minded. So here are films to help to catch up.
The topic here is not one with a lot of entertainment or diversion value, but it is important nevertheless. And while I will certainly cover serious topics in these roundups in the future, I promise that they won’t all be so grim!
Links in film titles go to my reviews at FlickFilosopher.com, if you’d like to know more; those reviews include links for streaming and DVDs. You’ll also find a quick-and-easy checklist with streaming links at the end of this email if you want to jump right in to watching.
Thanks for reading! I very much welcome your feedback, and suggestions for future roundups as well as other movie-related topics you’d like me to cover.
Happy viewing… as much as is possible with this bunch!
Donald Trump, loser
This past Sunday, presidential loser Donald Trump closed out the 2021 CPAC conference — quite literally a 21st-century Nazi rally — with a Two Minutes Hate rife with his usual bullshit: that the election was stolen from him, that the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t dramatically damaged the US economy, that green energy is unreliable, and other horrors. He threatened to run again.
The CPAC audience ate it up.
We knew that neither Trump nor his toxic followers among GOP officials and ordinary citizens alike would be going away anytime soon. Any sense of relief we might have felt needs to be put aside now — though it was nice for a few minutes, wasn’t it? — so we can get back to the job of fixing America so that the likes of Trump can fade away into pathetic obscurity.
But in order to blaze a path to that brighter future, we need to understand how we got here. Donald Trump is but a symptom of long-term ongoing problems in America (problems that have also spread around the world, particularly to the United Kingdom and Europe). Trumpism is the culmination of a 40-year-long neoliberal project to walk back all the small gains that had come for ordinary working folk in the immediate wake of World War II.
There are movies that can help with this.
You could start with, perhaps, Michael Moore’s wonderfully entertaining 2018 screed Fahrenheit 11/9, in which he lays out in his usual rowdy terms how Trump is but a symptom of the political rot in America, the beginning of the endgame of the decades-long neoliberal takeover of the country. Or you could go back further in actual time (but less in moviedom) to docudrama The Front Runner, also from 2018, in which Hugh Jackman in a bad wig (yet still hot as hell) plays Gary Hart, the 1988 Democratic presidential candidate whose scuppered election bid is an enraging, ironic look at the tabloidization of American politics and how a reality-TV resume ended up becoming a legit qualification for the American presidency.
Or — hello! — remind yourself about W., the 2008 Oliver Stone nightmare docudrama, or else a brilliant satire from a better parallel universe, about an incurious, perpetually adolescent idiot ascending to the highest office in the land.... and his advisors, a pack of cunning jackals manipulating the president for their own nefarious purposes. Which is, of course, exactly what Trump was and continues to be. Those same cunning jackals are behind the Fox News–ization of mainstream news media in the US, as 2016’s The Brainwashing of My Dad delves into.
One big reason why Trump got elected — and how so many awful, self-serving GOP senators and congresspeople manage to achieve and maintain office despite the fact that their policies are often favored by only a small minority of the American citizenry — is because of active voter-suppression campaigns around the US. Schemes such as gerrymandering (redrawing the lines of congressional districts in a way that ensures the election of candidates of certain stripes), the closure of polling locations, attacks on by-mail voting, voter-ID laws, and other measures disproportionately impact poor people and people of color, who are more likely to vote Democrat. These are by no means new strategies of the right wing, and last year’s terrific All In: The Fight for Democracy offers a enlightening, enraging history of all the ways in which the United States has tried to bar citizens from voting, from the nation’s very founding. The 2008 film Stealing America: Vote by Vote was already discussing these issues, with how they manifested during the 2004 presidential election as its jumping-off point... but this was a micro-budget film with a minuscule release, and was hardly seen at all. It feels prescient now in its outrage.
Make no mistake: Voter suppression by Republicans in the US continues in full swing:
How to push back against it? The aforementioned All In offers a primer on what Americans can do to ensure that our voices are heard going forward. Last year’s John Lewis: Good Trouble, about the legendary congressman who was instrumental in the ongoing fight for civil rights for African-Americans — for all Americans — is also an inspiring look at what can be done, and the mindset that is helpful for making a success of it.
And if you’re not already convinced that Trump and the puppet masters behind him pose an enormous danger to the US, and to the world, do check out 2019’s The Brink, about Steve Bannon, the Joseph Goebbels–esque Svengali behind Trump (who was also key in manufacturing the British Brexit vote in 2016, and who is now working to fan the ultra-right-wing flames already burning across Europe). One particular threat of Trump and other right-wingers comes in their alliance with evangelical Christians, who believe they are actively working toward actual Biblical armageddon... and they are being assisted in this project with GOP policies toward Israel, as covered in the brand-new ’Til Kingdom Come.
Need more? #Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump, released in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, introduces us to the mental-health professionals who have been screaming that Trump is uniquely dangerous, a literal menace to society. Also fresh in the heat of the election came the sarcastically titled Totally Under Control, a brutal recounting of Trump’s utter failure to contain and respond to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s a case history of the right-wing’s attitudes writ large: disdain for experts, dismissal of science, ineffectual nepotism appointees bungling their jobs, and so on. It’s a glimpse at the future — particularly when it comes to dealing with global warming — if this way of “governing” continues to prevail.
To end on a lighter note — and to assure you that it’s not only Trump and the Republicans that I take issue with — I’ll direct you to last year’s satirical black comedy Irresistible, from former Daily Show honcho Jon Stewart. It’s a highly amusing look at what happens to one small American town when big-money politics, Republican and Democrat, hit it like a hurricane. Its solution to this bipartisan problem with how we elect people in America might be farfetched... or is it?
When you buy or rent a film via my Amazon and/or iTunes/Apple links, I earn a small affiliate fee that helps support my work without increasing your costs. Please use them if possible. Thank you!
Movies are always coming and going from streaming services, but links are accurate as of date of this newsletter’s publication. Films may be available in other regions not specifically listed here; click through for any local availability.
stream free at the film’s official site
streaming in virtual cinemas in the US, which help support bricks-and-mortar cinemas during the coronavirus pandemic