The legacy of Lady Bird Johnson is explored in detail in director Dawn Porter‘s “The Lady Bird Diaries,” an outstanding achievement in historical documentary storytelling. Porter’s meticulous film captures a time capsule in our nation’s history, with an expert assemblage of archival footage, private recordings, and White House records that paint a thorough picture of one of America’s least understood First Ladies.
The film’s historical significance is off the charts. Combing through over 123 hours of personal audio recordings made my Lady Bird herself, Porter matches footage and photographs to the First Lady’s own words. The complimentary videos create a compelling, thorough picture, making this film a rare achievement in assemblage alone.
Even more fascinating is that these secret tapes have rarely been heard, released only by the authorization of Lady Bird upon her death. The recordings give an intimate and revealing look into her role in LBJ’s presidency, and it’s a fascinating record of her time spent in the White House.
The documentary’s opening sequence is its most chilling, as Porter starts with a backdrop of footage from November 22, 1963 that’s accompanied by Lady Bird’s voice and words of how what she observed and felt on the day JFK was assassinated. It’s bold, memorable, and one heck of a way to kick off a film.
Most of the documentary is crafted in a newsy style which feels a bit dry in parts, and it could benefit from some editing. Much of the material gets repetitive and feels like something that could play on a nonstop loop in a museum. It’s more palatable to watch in small portions rather than sit through the full 100 minutes at once, but that’s due to the richness and scope of the information that’s presented. It’s tough to take it all in, especially in one sitting, but this is a film that history buffs will absolutely love.
“The Lady Bird Diaries” is a character study about a woman who was a savvy political strategist, a champion for environmental issues, and a deeply insightful person who was a great judge of character. It’s also a celebration of the contributions the First Lady made during her life, too. Porter ends her film with an acknowledgement of the achievements, passion projects, and the lasting legacy that Lady Bird left behind.
By: Louisa Moore