President Donald J. Trump astounded the world again on Sunday, revealing that, in addition to mastering trade policy, real estate, and golf, he is also a visionary filmmaker. Eschewing Hollyweird traditions of trailers and trailers for trailers, the auteur in chief released his masterpiece directly to the people, 100 percent free. So crank the volume, because this film should be played LOUD:
Wow. While Trump has always worn his influences on his sleeve—D.W. Griffith, Leni Riefenstahl, Veit Harlan, the list pretty much ends there—his latest work exceeds them all from Frame 1. Has any single image captured the modern condition of despair better than Trump’s opening shot?
A still photo of the president of the United States angrily explaining something to his wife, who is not paying attention, badly compressed so that it looks pixelated beyond belief, with audio that has been carefully miscued to allow a full second of sheet-music rustle before the brass comes in: David Lynch couldn’t fit that much unease on screen if you gave him two TV shows and a feature film. Our authority figures are crumbling as digital technology scrambles and distorts our feeble attempts to connect with each other, Trump seems to be saying, and for the rest of his film, he pokes and prods at the disconnect between the country’s traditional conceptions of leadership, heroism, and happiness and the all-consuming black hole occupying the White House.
It becomes clear almost immediately that the cleverly disquieting use of miscued audio at the beginning wasn’t an anomaly: Like Martin Scorsese or Mikheil Chiaureli before him, Trump considers the soundtrack to be a crucial part of his project. In this case, he’s selected the First Baptist Dallas choir and orchestra’s legendary Kennedy Center performance of its original song “Make America Great Again.” That’s Robert Jeffress’ congregation—you may remember him from his beliefs that Catholicism, Mormonism, and Islam are Satanic cults—and it’s clear that Jeffress’ outspoken support of Trump has put the filmmaker-president in a biblical mood (specifically, an ostensibly Christian denomination embracing fascist kitsch in order to suck up to a morally depraved leader suggests Matthew 7:15, just for starters).
As Trump pulls us deeper into his personal cinematic nightmare—there’s a chilling montage of bad photos of him smiling unconvincingly at other world leaders—the ever-widening disconnect between sound and image brilliantly echoes the disconnect between America’s self-image and our actions on the global stage. “Step into the future,” the choir sings, as Trump reminds us that this was apparently one of the best photos taken at the G-20 Summit:
Step into the future, indeed! And that’s before the montage of pictures of unelected adviser Ivanka Trump hanging out with world leaders, or the bizarre shot of a video-conferencing monitor with an even-more-blurry-than-usual image of Trump on it. It all builds to an astonishing climax: Trump pairs the song’s highest, loudest note—a “great” so high-pitched that the choir can’t quite sing it—with this image of Putin staring at him with equal parts contempt and disbelief:
Another masterpiece from our philosopher-king!