I’m a huge lover of history. Always have been. Probably always will be. That’s why I tend to get overly jazzed by releases that offer us – as a culture – perhaps something fresh, new, and original. I want to see something that I haven’t seen before, and I’d like to done in a respectful way that preserves the honesty and integrity of the person, place, thing, or event being captured for the ages on celluloid. If it’s fiction, then I have no problem with that so long as it does the same – preserves the honesty and integrity in much the same way. Get the facts right, and leave the historical revisionism out of legitimate media.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
I’m getting old. I know it. The older I get, the more jaded I am when I review certain materials. I do try not to allow my personal politics (and my personal mores, choices, and beliefs) color my writing, especially when it comes to covering mass media like I do … but every now and then I have to climb up on my soapbox. After all, that’s what it’s there for, no?
Narrated by Martin Sheen (the actor who would be President), THE SMITHSONIAN CHANNEL: WHITE HOUSE REVEALED promised an in-depth look at the people who serve the White House behind-the-scenes. It’s called the Usher’s Office – a man no one has ever truly liked – and they are the maids, groundspeople, electricians, and kitchen help who work to make the most important ‘home’ in the world exactly that: a H-O-M-E. It takes some talent to make the most powerful people in America feel special – itself an idea I don’t quite agree with, but it is what it is – and, while the folks at the Smithsonian may think they’ve done us a service I think they missed the bar quite a bit here.
Instead of focusing on the challenges of remaining at all times as non-partisan as workers can, the Smithsonian Channel decided that what viewers needed to know were the dirty little secrets. Nancy Reagan wanted her priceless knickknacks arranged a specific way at all times. Other Presidents required that the staff never (and I mean NEVER) be seen, going so far as to ring a bell in advance to signal the staff to get into hiding. Granted, there are some frank disclosures in here – how the White House staff dealt with the immediate aftermath of the Kennedy assassination and what steps they had to take to assist Mrs. Kennedy in processing her grief – but those moments are too far, too few to elevate this mere 50 minutes “investigation” into anything that appears truly ground-breaking.
And then there’s the fact that so much of the program was spent with the Executive Pastry Chef.
Seriously? The White House has an Executive Pastry Chef … and that’s all the man does?!?!
Arguably, way too much is being invested (along with way too many tax dollars) if “We, the People” are affording the President of the United States his very own dessert chef. Yes, I get that there are a lot of executive dinners and whatnot, but couldn’t this be something handled by the general kitchen staff? I hate to feel like I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill – or is that pasta salad out of mere pasta? – but I felt this truly cheapened the program. This man’s singular claim to fame to knowing both Bill and Hillary Clinton so well that he knew exactly what to serve them the very night after the media broke the scandal involving Monica Lewinsky.
That’s history that deserves preservation?
“What’s that, Mr. President? The Twin Towers have been destroyed? Can I get you a scone?”
Don’t get me wrong: I think the idea of spending some time interviewing these folks IS something I would like to have seen. I’d like to think that the material of greater substance just didn’t make it into the final cut, and that somewhere there exists a wealth of material that examines in greater detail what it’s like to know what secrets these walls truly hold. This? This wasn’t it, so far as I could tell. This was the usual fluff, and I honestly expected better.
THE SMITHSONIAN CHANNEL: WHITE HOUSE REVEALED was produced by Jody Schiliro. DVD distribution is handled by Inception Media Group. As for the technical specifications, the highest quality sight and sound clearly went into producing this documentary. As is often the case in releases of this nature, there are no special features to speak of.
MILDLY RECOMMENDED. Really, Smithsonian Channel? Is this really what history has become? I’ve no problem with about half of WHITE HOUSE REVEALED – those that stick to the facts of the place and the people who’ve served Presidencies behind-the scenes – because that’s fascinating. To have been so close to power? To so many decisions? To so much history taking place right there where it happened? Still, did I really need to know what President Clinton wanted to eat the day the media broke the scandal on Monica Lewinsky? Did I really need to know that Mrs. Clinton wanted mocca-flavored cake to cope with her grief? That’s history by way of the Kardashians, and that just doesn’t interest me in the slightest. Perhaps that’s what we’ve become? Or is it just I who’ve become so jaded I can’t find any greater value in this release.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Inception Media Group provided me with a DVD copy of SMITHSONIAN CHANNEL: WHITE HOUSE REVEALED by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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