Trump’s new documentary shows us exactly what he’s so good at

But even the Trumps’ great efforts to control their presentation here, to gloss over the post-election craziness, reveal something about the family’s mindset and how they might have collectively dealt with electoral defeat in 2020. How shows the documentary, long before Trump entered the political arena, when the family business was real estate and casinos and steakhouses and airlines, he cultivated his image in the service of a single idea: In Trumpland, everything is golden and perfect . No matter what explodes, shuts down, or fails, it’s critical to look like you’re a giant success.

This, “unprecedented” postulations, was also Trump’s approach to politics and his attitude before and after the assault on the Capital. None of Trump’s interviews, for example, suggest that he didn’t believe his claims of voter fraud, but nothing suggests that he actually did. In a sense, the series implicitly argues, that wasn’t the point. To be a winner you had to be presented as a winner. In his long experience as a public figure, he had always been able to make that image come true. The rest of the documentary shows what happens when Trump finally has to face the fact that the act is not always enough.

Political documentaries often attempt to reveal a gap between the front image of a campaign and the truth behind the scenes. “The War Room,” the 1993 documentary by Chris Hegedus and DA Pennebaker, focused on the brash popcorn-sniffing, scandal-suppressing operatives in Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign. “Travels with George “, Alexandra Pelosi’s film about George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign, shows the chasm between a candidate full of malaprop and a relaxed politician who loves reporters in the back of the bus . (There’s a lot of warm banter between the future 43rd president and Nancy Pelosi’s daughter, which feels like a dream in this age of hyper-partisan hate.)

In “Unprecedented”, on the other hand, there is no behind the scenes: if the cameras are rolling, it’s a performance. According to the News from New Yorkthe project was brokered by a former White House lawyer, and the Trumps agreed to participate because they felt that Holder, a relatively unknown British filmmaker outside the Washington press corps, would capture and burnish the family’s legacy.

Holder, it turns out, thought about the family dynasty in a slightly different way; he said The Hollywood Reporter that his film was a psychological study with the “feel” of HBO’s hit series “Succession,” about a Rupert-Murdoch-esque media mogul and the bitter feuds between his sons adults. The parallels are on the nose: the chamber music in the opening credits sounds like a note-for-note imitation of the HBO score. In glass-walled offices and elegant palatial halls, Don Jr., Ivanka and Eric recall growing up with Trump as their father with a strange mixture of awe and resignation. “He used to sing to me when I was little,” remembers Ivanka, in a moment that approaches tenderness, until she admits that her father “didn’t go to our sports games, that wasn’t his thing, and it was beautiful. no apologies.”

Much of the documentary revolves around her admiration for her father and her gratitude for his approval. A host of journalists and academics fill in the gaps where Trump’s children leave quips and platitudes, explaining, for example, that Trump’s extremely public divorce in 1990 from his mother Ivana was a largely tabloid frenzy because Trump made it so, secretly feeding the press to help promote a brazen Trump brand.

Now, politics is also part of the Trump brand, and in “Succession” style, “Unprecedented” spends a lot of time pondering which heir will become the next family politician. Cameras capture the three older kids on the campaign trail, talking to modest but enthusiastic crowds and waving to swooning supporters. The filmmakers engage in the irony that, while the real Ivanka is her father’s clear favorite, it’s Don Jr., who became an outdoorsman gunslinger to rebel against his absent father obsessed with golf, who has the skill and temperament to connect. MAGA nation. At a campaign rally, Don scoffs at the idea of ​​non-binary gender: “I’ll just say ‘boy’ because I don’t have time to listen to the other 4,239 genders! Are we OK with that? OK? He/him!” ” When he rolls his eyes and throws up his hands with an exasperated shrug, he looks, well, just like his father.

The closest “Unprecedented” comes to unguarded moments are the images, seen in trailers, of various Trumps in stage management mode as the filmmakers set up their shots. The president thinks long and hard about whether there should be a glass of water in the frame. Ivanka worries about an infinitesimal line of body fat that she believes is visible at the waist of her navy dress. (It’s really hard to see what she means, but if you’ve ever cringed when someone else’s Instagram post captured your bad hair day, you have to feel a little sympathy for Ivanka here. )

Then the election happens, and all this image-building comes crashing down on the legal system and politicians at all levels who refuse to participate in Trump’s fantasy show. It is clear that Trump will not give in. And as the filmmakers realize they are witnesses to history, the mood shifts from Palauan intrigue to a more sober documentation of events and a portrait of a family that doesn’t let go. Trump marvels that election officials across the country aren’t bending to his demands. “Signature verification and it’s a total win. They don’t want to do it and they’re Republicans. Now what’s their problem? They’re stupid, okay? They’re stupid people.” It’s left up to the viewer to decide what that means: are they stupid, in their own minds, because they can’t see the evidence of real election fraud? Or are they stupid because they are unwilling to use their power to bend the facts as Trump sees fit? Ivanka, who told the committee under oath on Jan. 6 that she believed former Attorney General William Barr when he said the election was not rigged, is much more camera-friendly as she describes her crusade father “As the president has said, every vote must be counted and every voice must be heard,” he says, analyzing each syllable.

That’s the real insight of the documentary: We’re watching, in real time, Trump’s mythmaking hit a snag. Finally, he has met a fact that he cannot contort to fit his personal history, as he has done with so many other parts of his life.

The filmmakers are there to capture how the Trumps’ public denials affected the people who remain in their thrall. They document the still-adoring crowds at Trump’s post-election rallies, watch Trump pump up the crowd in Washington’s Ellipse Park on the morning of Jan. 6, and get an inside look at the storming of the Capitol building. In some hard-to-watch scenes, the insurgents howl in pain as they are tear-gassed outside the building, paying a physical price for their loyalty to the family they’ve put on a pedestal.

Meanwhile, this family stays safely in palatial rooms, declining to say a word on the record. “Let’s skip to the 6th,” Eric says in an interview, and when the filmmakers catch up with the Trump kids in Florida again, after Trump has finally left the White House, they’re all spinning again. “We’re two and a half in terms of impeachments,” boasts Eric. “I’m trying to be very present right now with my family,” Ivanka says, declaring that she’s at peace with her White House experience. And while the former president won’t answer the big question, will he run again in 2024? — he insists that everything is going his way: the polls, the people, the arc of history. “We are all working together. We get along incredibly well,” she says.

If you’re a Trump, that’s a matter of faith. Or so you say.

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