Most of “A President to Remember” is culled from cinema-verite pioneer Robert Drew’s groundbreaking ’60s documentaries on President Kennedy. But, like the word-for-word rewrite of “Don Quixote” in a Borges story, the work is completely transformed by its modern-day context. Thus, breathlessly charming Jacqueline Kennedy, flashing a shy smile during the Wisconsin primary, now surprisingly resembles Marilyn Monroe, while the Kennedy brothers’ handling of the desegregation showdown in Alabama contrasts favorably with President Bush’s deer-in-the-headlights response to 9/11. Dovetailing perfectly with the ongoing presidential campaign, this black-and-white docu could ride election coattails in ancillary.
Drew developed lightweight equipment that allowed unobtrusive, direct filming of events. Granted extraordinary access by Kennedy himself, Drew and his cameramen (Richard Leacock, D.A. Pennebaker and Albert Maysles) recorded his actions in shots relativelyunfiltered by considerations of “image.” At a crucial moment in the confrontation with George Wallace, a small Caroline Kennedy runs into the frame to be with daddy, the president tending to both crises simultaneously. With fittingly old-fashioned narration by Alec Baldwin, the pic unfolds with an extraordinary openness only possible in a hands-on administration before handlers overtook the political process.