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Dowd: On Hillary films, Reince is right

  • (DANA SUMMERS / Tribune Media Services)

Reince Priebus says a lot of goofy things, but the chairman of the Republican National Committee has a point.

Films can dramatically alter the way famous people are viewed, making them cooler, more glamorous, more sympathetic — and the reverse. Clever filmmakers can offer up delicious soufflés of propaganda and storytelling, putting a new imprint on the historical record.

Priebus has complained to NBC and CNN executives about plans for what he calls Hillary Clinton “puff pieces” while Hillary is “on the dance floor.” The NBC entertainment division is doing a four-hour miniseries starring Diane Lane, and CNN Films is producing a documentary to be shown in theaters next year directed by Charles Ferguson, who won an Oscar for “Inside Job,” his scorching 2010 documentary on Wall Street.

Priebus says the films would be political ads “masquerading” as unbiased productions. He should know, since Republicans popularized full-length attack films, sliming the Clintons and Obamas. (In the 2008 documentary “Hillary: The Movie,” produced by the conservative Citizens United, one woman claimed the Clintons put a hit out on her cat.)

NBC is planning to make the miniseries soon, before Hillary formally announces, so that the network doesn’t run into problems with less scintillating rivals demanding equal time. Priebus says that shows “a guilty conscience.”

You need look no further than “The Queen” — Helen Mirren’s Oscar-winning turn in 2006 as Queen Elizabeth — to see how reputations can be burnished. After Princess Diana’s death in 1997, the royals were seen as bloodless ice cubes, and there were questions about the viability of the monarchy. But when the sympathetic movie came out, the queen’s popularity soared. Peter Morgan, the British screenwriter of “The Queen,” acknowledges he played “a small part” in that.

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