Movie Review: Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President
When Jimmy Carter quoted the great Bob Dylan in his University of Georgia speech on May 4th, 1974, there was not a person in that room who could have or would have expected an honest speech from a plucky, Georgia-born politician. Two years later, he was President of the United States. Was he just another suit working on the inside? That reference to Dylan and his craft was no ploy. He was not mentioning the great lyricist for clout or attention, but because he truly did respect and appreciate the artist. Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President hopes to show the respect Jimmy Carter has for the musicians he adores as best it can, detailing the slightly unknown truth behind the 39th President’s unwavering love for rock ‘n’ roll.
Key to the success of this documentary is how likeable Carter comes across. Reminiscing not about his time in the White House, but his friendship with the great musicians of a golden, defining era of music, Carter discusses candidly their influences on him, and he on them. Some moments discuss his character and calibre as a person, rather than as a president. Directors Mary Wharton and Bill Flanagan build their way toward discussing his politics, rather than diving into it immediately. His representation of the “New South” and his championing of the civil rights movement is exceptional, and shown with pride. Those that knew of Carter’s early days call him an odd anomaly, a man integrated into a culture that most politicians were passively or, in some cases, actively, fighting against.
Wharton and Flanagan showcase an interesting man over the course of this comfortable, well-paced documentary. Carter was not just a president, but a poet too. His poetry is surprisingly good, and it’s this association between artist and suit that Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President looks to bring together. Old footage and select photos show Carter as a salt of the Earth peanut farmer, a hard worker regardless of what he was throwing himself into. How he utilised the music he loved and their support to propel himself to the presidency doesn’t feel disingenuous or tactful, but genuine and happenstance.
Regardless of what his politics involved, or how unmemorable his presidency was, there is no denying his deeply-rooted love for music that defined a generation. Benefiting greatly from a soundtrack pumped full of Dylan, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and The Allman Brothers, Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President coasts along with a surprising comfort to both its stylish choices and its person of interest. Painting an unlikely figure as a stalwart supporter of rock ‘n’ roll, Wharton and Flanagan craft a meticulously detailed, well-rounded piece of film. As much a documentary on the rise and rise of a rock ‘n’ roll loving politician as it is a showcase of the music scene of the post-Watergate world, and a stunning time it was at that.