Thursday, August 8, 2013

Movie Review: Our Nixon

Our Nixon
Directed by: Penny Lane.

Has there been a President who has had more movies made about them than Richard Nixon? Over 40 years since Watergate have gone by, and we will cannot get enough of Nixon. The dramatic features about the man range from Robert Altman’s wonderfully profane one man show, with Philip Baker Hall as the President on the eve of his resignation, Secret Honor, to the absurd comedy Dick, with Dan Hedaya being undone by two blonde bimbos, to the two-hander of Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon, with Frank Langella at his paranoid best, and best of all, Oliver Stone’s Nixon, which elevated the story into an almost Shakespeare like tragedy. I’m not sure how many docs have been made about the man, or how many books, but I think it’s safe to say that pretty much everything that could be said or written about him, has probably already been done. Which is why I was drawn to Our Nixon – which shows Super 8 footage shot by three top Nixon aids – H.R. Haldeman, John Ehlrichmand and Dwight Chapin – all of whom served time as part of the Watergate scandal. What the filmmakers promised was a more intimate look at the man than had been seen before. Unfortunately, that’s not really what we get here.

It’s true that the Super 8 footage seen in Our Nixon has never been seen before – it was confiscated as part of the Watergate investigation, and been kept under lock and key ever since. Haldeman, Ehrlichman and Chapin seem to have been three of those people who document everything they do – and so we do see footage of Nixon that the media would never have gotten. The problem with the movie is simple – the footage isn’t all that enlightening. By itself, it doesn’t really show you much of anything about Nixon that you didn’t already know. And the movie relies heavily on previously recorded interviews with the participants, and old news reports, and portions of Nixon’s “secret” White House tapes to tell the story. And the story is the same one that has been told about Nixon for years now – how his pettiness and ego got in his way – it was his ego and drive that got him to the highest office in the land – and also forced him to resign from it.

I’m not sure who the target audience for Our Nixon really is. I’m hardly a Nixon expert, but still, I didn’t find anything in the movie to be all that enlightening or new that I didn’t already know about Nixon. If you’re surprised how he talks about Daniel Ellsburg, the Washington Post or “fags”, than you probably don’t know much about Nixon in the first place. And if that’s the case, I’m not sure Our Nixon would be the place to start. The film seems to rely on at least some prior knowledge of Nixon and Watergate in order to function.

In short, I think the problem with the film is that director Penny Lane found there wasn’t much of interest in the released footage, and tried to string a narrative out of it anyway. Our Nixon isn’t a bad film – it held my interest – it’s just that some old home movies from some of Nixon’s advisers doesn’t seem like enough of a reason to be to make a documentary.

Note: I saw the film during one of it’s Broadcasts on CNN in early August ahead of its theatrical release at the end of the month. This wasn’t the best way to see the film – which is only 84 minutes, but was slotted in a 2 hour time slot – meaning that CNN seemed to take extended commercial breaks every 10 minutes or so, which undeniably altered the flow of the film. I stand by my review, which I didn’t find all that enlightening, but fully admit that I may have liked it more had it been allowed to play at a more natural pace.

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