“Frontline” closes its good work during President Trump’s tenure with “Trump’s American Carnage,” a documentary about the chaos and disagreement that described Donald Trump’s time in the White House, outlining issues from his first days in office until the Capitol uprising.
Even now, as new stories emerge, there is a temptation to imagine how those “scenes” will play out in a movie. But the real future for dramatizing the Trump years likely resides in the former President’s preferred medium, TV.
‘Ming-Boggling Yet Predictable’
To those who have been paying attention – and many people have been doing it – there seems to have been some inevitability in Trump’s administration which ended in tragedy as it began. As New York Times reporter Peter Baker told in “American Carnage,” the events of January “were” confusing … yet of course, completely predictable. “
The well-documented arc of those years — already presented in numerous bestselling books and documentaries and one scripted miniseries, “The Comey Rule” — underscores why the pop-culture aftermath of the Trump years probably won’t resemble the last administration to which the Trump scandals have often been compared, Richard Nixon’s.
Nixon’s resignation in 1974 produced a blockbuster book, “All the President’s Men,” and the subsequent filming into movies two years later. It also spawned the golden age of conspiracy theorists in the late 1970s, such as “The Parallax View” and “Three Days of Condor.”
The world of entertainment, however, was moving at a different pace back then. There were no real-time reports on the internet or on streaming channels to hit the watery subject like this. Even TV services were still in its infancy, before “Roots,” in 1977, showed great power of scale.
The end of the Trump years, by contrast, has had to compete in our imaginations with over-the-top portrayals of Washington, from “House of Cards” to “Veep” to the presidential corruption featured in “24” and “Homeland.”
Shift In Movie Preferences
Critics of Hollywood’s cultural and creative genres have joked about Trump’s management giving those writers a chance to get their money’s worth, “They’re either taking from our show or doing their own version of it,” “Veep” executive producer David Mandel told Politico.
The HBO series was not alone in its political views. The movie business, meanwhile, has changed dramatically in terms of the kind of films that honestly attract audiences and have been harmed in a way that is still unknown due to the coronavirus.
The 1970s movies mentioned above, along with similar titles such as “Marathon Man” and “Capricorn One,” became very popular in their day but would be hard pressed to compete with the blockbuster world of superhero sequels, “Star Wars” and I -franchise for “Fast and Furious”.
Inevitably, the Trump years will still be dissected and dramatized. The first exposure for most of those projects, though, will likely be in living rooms, catering to smaller audiences.
Writing in Esquire, Chris Nashawaty noted that films in the 1970’s reflected the anxiety of the times, when “messy truths weren’t dismissed as bitter medicine and box-office poison.” While TV has filled “that vacuum” for such fare, he lamented that the movie business no longer possesses much appetite for it.
“In American Carnage,” the narrative describes Trump’s presidency and its violent end as “a crisis in plain sight for his party, his country, democracy.” Those elements certainly provide the stuff of great drama, with various books already painting vivid portraits of what transpired behind the scenes.
However while Trump’s age stories will be told and repeated, unlike post-Watergate movies, they might be seen at HBO or broadcast or expand into four-part docuseries and a limited series of episodes. Indeed, there are already plans for one of the latter about the UK’s response to the coronavirus, with Kenneth Branagh playing the role of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.