How Jimmy Carter Rocked the White House

B Political & musical documentary
Directed by Mary Wharton

Jimmy Carter Rock & Roll President. It’s a ridiculous title for a political documentary, and yet it’s appropriate. This extremely flattering portrait of the 39th President spends most of its time covering Carter’s love of music. But melody isn’t what we think of when we consider Carter. We might remember the Iran disaster. Or his post-presidency work with Habitat for Humanity. We don’t really need to know that he loves Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, and the Allman Brothers. And that they love him back.

And yet I kind of liked the movie. Between the great music and Carter’s innate decency, it’s an enjoyable documentary to watch.

There’s no single narrator; Carter, his wife Rosalynn, and his son Chip tell most of the story. Growing up on his family’s peanut farm in rural Georgia, he was raised to despise the Jim Crow segregation all around him. His family’s beliefs made them outcasts amongst other white people in the region. As an adult, he fell in love with his children’s music. Popular folk and rock musicians helped him raise the money and visibility he needed to become Governor and President.

The Carter administration was not a happy time for America. Carter failed to control the run-away inflation left to him by Nixon and Ford. Skipping lightly over the bad news, director Wharton gives us concert clips starring Bono, Paul Simon, Mahalia Jackson, Jimmy Buffett, Garth Brooks, Muddy Waters, Rosanne Cash, and others.

The documentary doesn’t completely ignore the job of the presidency. Madeleine Albright discusses Carter’s successes and failures in international diplomacy. His grand achievement was bringing together Israel and Egypt to sign a peace treaty. But it was the Iran hostage crisis that took over his last year in office and gave the White House to Ronald Reagan.

Aside from the love of rock music (rare in a man born in 1924), the film’s image of Carter is very much what I expected. He appears to be a Very Good Christian in the best sense of the phrase. He doesn’t judge people. He works tirelessly to help the poor. He’s proud that during his four years as President, the US military never fired a missile, dropped a bomb, or fired a gun in warfare.

I’m sure Carter has some faults, but you wouldn’t find them in this documentary.

There’s one scene that seems almost impossible in our currently polarized America. The famously conservative movie star John Wayne spoke at Carter’s inaugural ball. He described himself as “the opposition; the loyal opposition, with the emphasis on the loyal.” Could you imagine someone saying that now?

Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President will be available Wednesday through the Balboa, Rafael, and Vogue Theaters. It will be available at the Roxie on Friday.

[Note:] I have added a few facts since I posted this article.