“In Plain Sight: The Lady Bird Diaries” opens with images of a drizzly November day in Fort Worth, and the voice of Claudia Alta Johnson. Lady Bird Johnson — a nickname she acquired as child growing up in Texas — is recounting the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Her cadence is measured, her account riveting. But it is a sliver of wrenching poetry that distinguishes the memory and hints that the subject of this documentary, directed by Dawn Porter, will be a singular and deeply observant guide to her own — and the nation’s — story. As their car sped off — a secret service agent physically covering her husband, the vice president, to protect him — Johnson looks back and sees, “a bundle of pink, like a drift blossom, lying in the back seat. It was Mrs. Kennedy lying over the president’s body.”
Shortly after Lyndon Baines Johnson was sworn in on Air Force One, the new first lady began recording her thoughts. Those 183 hours of audiotape became a trove for the journalist Julia E. Sweig’s best-selling biography “Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding in Plain Sight,” which makes a persuasive argument that the first lady was the president’s go-to adviser for good reason. Based on Sweig’s book as well as her subsequent podcast, the documentary cements that reappraisal with first-person force.
Many of the archival images Porter so fluidly employs will be familiar, but they gain fresh energy and timely urgency from Johnson’s absorbing narration and her often stirring observations about Lyndon Johnson, their political partnership, the environment and the two events she so presciently knew would shape us for decades to come: the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War.
The Lady Bird Diaries
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes. In theaters and on Hulu.