OUR NIXON (2013)
Running Time: 84 mins. Rating: x Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: NR
Director: Penny Lane
Distributor: Cinedigm/CNN Films
Even if you don’t know much about history, you may remember some U.S. presidents by their famous quotes. Lincoln: “Fourscore and seven years ago…” Roosevelt: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Clinton: “I did not have sex with that woman.” Bush 41: “Read my lips. No new taxes.” Bush 43: “Mission accomplished.”
But one quote blows the others away; the awesome statement by Nixon on nationwide tv: “I am not a crook.”
An equivalent sound bite by Pope Francis would be: “I am not an atheist.” And yet, mirabile dictu,
Nixon really was a crook but virtue of his cover-up of the break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel and, similarly, of the break-in at the office of Henry Fielding, who was Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist. Ellsberg is known for leaking the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times, a large document that deals with U.S. involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1962. (Sound familiar re Edward Snowden’s leak of the Obama administration’s surveillance project?)
Though the televised “I am not a crook” speech delivered to 400 Associate Press editors on November 17, 1973 is strangely missing from the doc, director Penny Lane gets in our ears and in our eyes through a film expertly edited by Francisco Bello covering the years 1969-74. Lane edits from hundreds of clips of home movies shot by top Nixon aides H.R. “Bob” Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, the president’s chief of staff and domestic adviser respectively. In addition Nixon tapped 27-year-old Dwight Chapin as his appointments secretary. Not only does Nixon show himself on these 8-millimeter celluloids, but also more important, his taping everything that went down in the Oval Office via a voice-activated recorder helped to doom his administration.
On the tapes (featuring clear subtitles for the film audience) we hear Nixon’s phone calls to Haldeman and Ehrlichman, including such scholarly aperçus as “Homosexuality brought Greece down. Socrates and Aristotle were homosexuals. And the Roman emperors were all fags.” Next to this, his statement on tape that Henry Kissinger should be seated at state dinners next to interesting women rather than young, attractive ones is a mild rebuke to the alleged womanizer.
The home movies come across with relatively high resolution. Interviews with Haldeman, Ehrlichman and Chapin are self-serving in each case. Everything Nixon says to them by phone, whether accusing the Washington Post and New York Times of near treason for publishing the Pentagon papers meets with “yes-sir” up and down the line from his advisers. Contrary to what high execs say, they really do want yes-men on their staffs. Still, we wonder how Bob and John felt about their boss when instead of accepting the brunt of Watergate break-in accusations, RMN allowed his best friends to take the fall by forcing their resignations.
In fairness to the 37th president, Lane allows footage of Nixon’s historic meeting in Beijing (then Peking) with Premier Chou En-lai and party Chairman Mao Tse-tung. Archival footage of Neil Armstrong’s landing on the moon during Nixon’s watch is featured, an event that took part in July 1969.
To this day we don’t really know the motive of the Watergate break-ins, considering that Nixon had every reason to believe he would emerge the victor for a second term in the 1972 election. He chalked up 49 states (losing only D.C. and Massachusetts) while his far more qualified opponent, George McGovern, came in with only 17 electoral votes. Goes to prove that the majority, even overwhelming numbers, do not equal Truth.
Hrishikesh Hirway supplies upbeat original music, though the soundtrack includes segments of Mozart’s 40th, John Denver’s “Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream,” and the Ray Conniff’s singers doing “Ma! He’s Making Eyes At Me” (though Eddie Cantor’s interpretation is the one to hear, using full video).
OUR NIXON, the title’s implying that we the American people are largely responsible for the failed second administration of the principal character, won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival.
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