June, 1972 and the revelations about a break-in at the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the Democratic Party started a chain of events that led to the impeachment and resignation of Richard Nixon as President of the United States just two years later. As the news and exposes slowly make their way into America's consciousness everyone begins to realize that the President had been orchestrating, behind the scenes, much of the pre-1972 election. The United States got about as close as it's ever been to living under Fascism. Two films have documented the events of those two years.
In 1976, two years after Nixon resigned the Presidency, All the President's Men debuts in theatres. Based on the 1974 book, written by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, it documents their partnership as investigative reporters assigned to the Watergate scandal. Ably portrayed by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman they have been paired by Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards) to get everything they can on the case and follow all leads no matter where they wind up. As the pair get information from clandestine sources (the famous "Deep Throat" has since been revealed to be a senior member of the F.B.I.) a disturbing picture of an orchestrated campaign that leads to the most senior members of the White House staff. People like John Haldeman, Nixon's senior staffer and John Mitchell, the U.S. Attorney General, plus assorted ex-C.I.A. members, had been assembled into a covert team to disrupt and ruin the Democratic Party's chances of winning the 1972 election. Smear campaigns and the famous "dirty tricks" become part of America's daily news cycles. The famous office and apartment complex itself, Watergate, entered the American lexicon and any future scandals would forever be dubbed "-gates" as a reminder. The two reporters are tenacious as they almost weekly peel away another layer of deceit and reveal more and deeper involvements by the White House and the Justice Department in the cover-up. Remember the book came out the same year Nixon resigned and only two short years from actual events. Once Americans knew about the scandal the demand for information, hopefully the truth, was undeniable. The real pain hit everyone when it was revealed that Nixon himself instigated the entire affair. He probably would have won the election regardless; his deep-seated paranoia fueled the fire that eventually consumed him and his entire staff. The film won eight Academy Awards.
Frost/Nixon premiered in 2008, based on the hit 2006 play of the same title. It chronicles the events leading up to the 1977 interviews conducted by the famous British television personality, David Frost, and former President, Richard Nixon. The two stage actors, Michael Sheen as Frost and Frank Langella as Nixon, were reunited for the movie. We see Frost becoming interested in Nixon just as the President is making his resignation speech from the Oval Office. The extraordinary idea of a United States President leaving office voluntarily sparks Frost's showman's imagination as he foresees an even bigger television audience (400 million) for interviews than the actual resignation speech. His close friend and producer, John Birt (Matthew Macfadyen), doesn't think Nixon will go for the idea. Nixon's post-presidential chief-of-staff, Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon) doesn't think Nixon will go for it at all. Negotiations begin. David Frost had gained vast popularity and a reputation as a television personality willing to show the world many interesting people and places. But this venture into the world of politics and scandal was new for him and his producer warned him of negative consequences if he didn't nail Nixon down decisively. Getting an astute political animal like Nixon to admit to the truth would be difficult, if not altogether impossible. Frost's television career was going to be on the line.
Nixon agent, Swifty Lazar (Toby Jones) gets Frost to offer 600,000 dollars for four interviews, each 2 ½ hours long, with the former President. Frost encounters difficulties selling the idea to the major television networks who would rather not re-hash the pain Nixon put the country through and remind everyone of President Gerald Ford's hasty pardon he gave Nixon, sparing America a lengthy trial. Frost will have to put up his own money to make things happen. His financial future, his entire career, are both in jeopardy.
Nixon dominates the first three interviews, never really allowing Frost to get to the meat-and-potato questions about Nixon's true involvement in the entire Watergate affair; letting America and the world hear the truth from Nixon himself on the depths of dishonesty and paranoia that made Nixon tick. The former President ties up the conversations with "highlights" of his foreign policy and meetings with top leaders from Russia and China. The bombing of Cambodia, "The Killing Fields", is revealed but it still isn't what Frost is trying to elicit from Nixon.
Not long before the final interview Frost gets a late-night surprise phone call from a tipsy Nixon who tells him point-blank that the series of interviews will ruin Frost's career, will revive Nixon's flagging fortunes and popularity, if Nixon can finish them without answering the truly tough questions they both know are just above their heads. Frost decides to come out swinging. He gets Nixon to admit his role in the entire conspiracy and eventual cover-up; Nixon says he "let the American people down." His shame is obvious. His entire political life was a struggle for popularity, a fight against real and imagined enemies, a reputation for toughness and prejudices. Frost's career is revived and he decides to visit Nixon in San Clemente before returning in triumph to England.
Does it seem like forty years? Did the entire event almost look and sound like a soap opera? Or was it in reality a nightmarish picture of what could happen when, to quote Lord Acton, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." Is it one of the prices of living in a so-called democratic society? As men gain fame, fortune and stature in the United States, as they get a whiff of the power and influence that comes with high public office, does something happen to their morals, their scruples, their basic principles of humanity and fair play? It isn't anything new either. The only difference is that today we read and hear and see it instantaneously on television and the internet. Bad news travels even faster than ever. Will there be another President as bad as Nixon. Or, shall we say, more famous for his mis-deeds than any good he may actually have done?
email this column to a friend
Comment on this Column:
|Sorry, you must be a member to add comments to columns.|
Join or Login.
Jul 26, 2012 1:25 PM
|Good column, Jon. Both movies are great and I even think All the President's Men was better than the book. |
And, not to create a political debate, but I think an argument can be made that George W. was at least as bad a president if not worse than Nixon.
Subscribe to MatchFlick Movie Reviews through RSS
Every other Thursday
My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for over 20 years.I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theatres. I have been married 41 years and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).|
If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jon Schuller by clicking here.|