Presidents in movies and TV

As a result of a reader of the WHM Movies and TV page, I was prompted to consider how the US president is portrayed in movies and TV. I thought it would be a good discussion topic.

SPOILERS AHEAD

One thing that comes to mind is political party. Without studying it in depth, I think few movie presidents have actually been described as Republican or Democrat. They just don’t talk about it. Jed Bartlett of The West Wing TV show was a Democrat, tho.

I’ve also noticed that there aren’t many presidential marriages portrayed as happy. Notably, in the movies Dave and The Sentinel, the first couple were estranged, and in Murder at 1600 and Absolute Power, the president was cheating on his wife. In The American President, the president was widowed shortly before taking office. Real presidents get the benefit of the doubt, tho. In Nixon, the marriage seemed solid, for example.

I can’t think of any works that portray fictional presidents as really corrupt, altho I think the president murdered his mistress in Absolute Power. I can’t remember if we see much of Nixon in All the President’s Men. It’s actually surprising, now that I think of it, that pretty much all fictional presidents are portrayed as thoughtful, well-meaning, tough-minded, and kind-hearted, even when they’re ordering mass destruction (Failsafe and Dr. Strangelove).
The president takes forceful action in Independence Day and Air Force One.

In the new movie, Vantage Point, I believe the president uses a double who gets murdered. Dave also featured a double, but for the-prince-and-the-pauper comic effect.

Presidents are probably most often the target of assassination. In the Line of Fire and The Sentinel come to mind, as well as JFK. I think both Parallax View and Manchurian Candidate are about candidates for president.

Diversity is pretty important to Hollywood. Female presidents feature in 1964’s Kisses for My President (gotta see that one) and the TV shows Commander in Chief and 24. Black presidents feature in The Fifth Element and the TV show 24.

Even so, the great majority of fictional presidents are white, middle-aged, male, and of European descent, just like every president so far in real life. I can’t think of any fictional presidents from the South, however, and we’ve had a number of those. Their names are almost uniformly bland too: Bartlett, Shepherd, Marshall, Palmer, Taylor, Allen, McKenna, Ballentine, Neil, Mitchell. One exception is Dr. Strangelove’s President Merkin Muffley, and–of course–The Simpsons Movie’s President Arnold Schwarzenegger.

List of fictional presidents from Wikipedia (as usual, way overdone, including presidents in short stories).

Welcome, Nick Cage fans

I saw National Treasure: Book of Secrets this past weekend. The titular book is a diary passed from president to president that holds all their deepest secrets. Given the vagaries of politics, that seems unlikely (Carter wouldn’t release Nixon’s missing 18-minute tape?), but the point of it is that the book contains a photo of a wooden plaque that was formerly concealed in a secret compartment of the Resolute desk—one half of a treasure map that has something to do with the Queen of England. Her Resolute desk (the feminine fraternal twin to our president’s) contains the other half. Naturally, Nick Cage must sneak into the Queen’s private office and the Oval Office (it looks just like GWB’s) to get the information that he needs, only it’s not there, and he has to ransack the Library of Congress. Unfortunately for him, the president’s secret book is one of the 17 million items I purloined from the Library of Congress a few months ago and the movie ends with him being nonplussed, chagrined, arrested, indicted, arraigned, and other French terms. The End.

Anyway, as a result, Resolute Desk” is now the top term that brings visitors to the White House Museum. Welcome!

New old photos

Added several more historical photos forwarded by Pete. Thanks, Pete!

Also, I saw The Simpsons Movie and posted my review of its depiction of the White House, which didn’t change from seeing it in the trailer.

PS— I still don’t have a review of Commander in Chief. Didn’t anyone watch that show?

My eyes! The goggles do nothing!

Just saw a trailer for the new Simpsons movie with “President Schwarzenegger.” We’ll have to review the accuracy of their depiction of the White House. My first impression:

There are too many windows on the north face. The proportions of the Oval Office are right, but the sofas are too far apart. The blind doors have been turned into normal doors, and the east side doors to the Rose Garden have been switched with the door and book cases on the west side. There is a naval painting over the mantle, which is appropriately Kennedy-esque, but I don’t think any previous president has actually had a nameplate on his desk; it seems… unnecessary. The rug is rather Clinton-esque.

Goggles clip….

Dave

I watched the 1993 comedy Dave and posted my analysis on the Movies & TV page. The great majority of the movie takes place in the WH and most aspects of the mansion are reproduced quite well. But some of the changes are strange—like putting a giant bathroom for the president in place of the West Sitting Hall.

I also rearranged the Movies & TV page to be in alphabetical order instead of in the order they were written.

The American President audio commentary

I’ve completed the second White House-oriented audio commentary, this time for the movie The American President, starring Michael Douglas as a widowed top exec wooing Annette Bening. It’s over on my other website. The filmmakers managed several visits to the WH to get the details right. One of the things I note is the really beautiful blue watered silk wall-covering they chose for the president’s bedroom and the elegant, yet girlish, patterned wallpaper for the first daughter’s bedroom—really well done.

Also, Patrick P has contributed a detailed analysis of the film Wilson, which I put on the Movies page. Thanks, Patrick!

Update: Dennis points out that the French PM state dinner was modeled closely after the Yeltsin dinner, as depicted in the Inside the White House documentary. I’ve altered the page descriptions, but I think I’ll rerecord that part. Thanks for the tip, Dennis!

The Sentinel audio commentary

I’ve been doing audio commentaries for movies over on my other Web site, and I’ve just done one for The Sentinel, the 2006 Michael Douglas movie about the Secret Service’s efforts to stop an assassination. I put particular effort into my commentary on the White House scenes, of course. If you listen to it, you’ll have to pardon my tubercular voice; I still haven’t quite shaken a bronchial infection.

TV West Wing page

Using a new, more accurate layout by Pete and screen caps from the DVDs, I’ve created a page just for The West Wing‘s version of the West Wing. However, this now creates a weird situation where Pete’s detailed reviews of TWW by season are on the Movies & TV page and the floor plan and photos are on another page. I hesitate to put the detailed reviews on the new page with the floor plan and photos because I’m afraid they’re going to end up quite lengthy once Pete has reviewed a few more seasons.

I’m hoping for some comments that will help solve this dilemma. What would WH enthusiasts prefer and what would TWW enthusiasts prefer?