Trump: What’s The Deal?: a distinctly 90s takedown
Donald Trump’s legal team put the kibosh on Libby Handros’s documentary in 1991. Now on Vimeo for all to see, it’s a quaint reminder of a more restrained era in non-fiction film-making
by Charlie Lynn
“In 1991, the only way for a film to be seen was on television or in the theatre,” explains a statement from Libby Handros, producer of a hitherto unseen documentary about beauty pageant magnate and all-round dickbag Donald Trump. That made life difficult for Handros, after Trump threatened to sue any broadcaster or distributor that picked it up. Whether you agree with her that the project was therefore “suppressed”, as opposed to simply ignored, will depend on what you make of Trump: What’s The Deal? now that it’s out in the open.
Handros uploaded the film (a flagrant hit piece documenting Trump’s mafia connections and myriad legal troubles) to Vimeo earlier this month, hoping to revitalise interest in the doc now that its subject has emerged as the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination. Still, there’s no mistaking What’s The Deal? for a contemporary release. At times, the film’s 1990s setting feels almost prelapsarian, as guys dressed like Ted Danson do street interviews in a Brooklyn entirely devoid of cereal cafes, and the film-makers balk at the cost of an apartment in Trump’s New York HQ, noting that “at $1m for two bedrooms, they’re some of the most expensive in the city”.
The film’s stylistic choices are similarly hackneyed, though in an era when even the most perfunctory of TV docs is now expected to look like Days Of Heaven, there’s something quite charming about such uncomplicated aesthetic ambitions. A bumptious, sarky voiceover couldn’t make its bias against Trump any clearer if it made fart sounds every time he appeared on screen, while the camerawork doesn’t so much capture the film’s interviewees as investigate their pores for blackheads. One standout interview, with Trump’s disgruntled (and deliriously rich) neighbour, takes place in a candle-lit dining room, with a bottle of wine and an extra glass put out for the viewer. The retroactive Oscar campaign starts here.