And Then You Destroy Yourself: Nixon at the Movies

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Finished this tonight. It’s close to artless--there was one nice shot of Andy Griffith/LBJ and Cliff Robertson/Richard Helms outdoors as the camera drew back at a critical moment--and it lurches along from storyline to storyline, with occasionally pointless detours (the entire marital situation of Robertson). But then there’d be a really strong scene and it’d pick up for a while. Robards is as valid as any other Nixon I’ve seen. He emphasizes some things (Nixon’s persecution complex), minimizes or bypasses others (the social clumsiness), adds little flourishes the whole way through (his bizarre clowning around on Air Force One seemed especially Nixon-like). Robert Vaughn’s Haldeman is so robotically sycophantic and callous, he’s funny--his ongoing exasperation with Nicholas Pryor (most annoying character in the whole thing, not sure who exactly he was supposed to be) is great. Two people I knew from Save the Tiger: Thayer David as Hoover, also Lara Parker. Matches up well with All the President’s Men, ending at exactly the moment where the earlier film begins. Meg Foster’s eyes are weird beyond compare. She looks like a glassy-eyed Stepford wife.

clemenza, Friday, 17 January 2014 03:41 (six years ago) link

two months pass...

Looking through my VHSs, I found a copy of The Final Days. I bought when Sam the Record Man shut down their rental store--the sticker's still on there.

Very good, very odd. It aired in '89--not sure what prompted them at that particular moment to make a TV movie of a Nixon book that had been out for over a decade. I knew virtually nobody in the cast: Richard Kiley as Nixon's lawyer, David Ogden Stiers as Haig, and that was it. Lane Smith plays Nixon. I don't know that I've ever seen him in anything.

Smith's Nixon is the least histrionic, least mannered, most normal Nixon I've ever seen. You won't like it if you can't accept that a version of Nixon like that. (Two or three times he goes full Nixon, most notably when joking about his lawyer's reluctance to take a drink.) The film is mostly the familiar scenes of getting briefed by advisers, huddling in his office, weighing options, etc., but he rarely loses his temper and doesn't start ranting and spinning off wild schemes. It's all very slow and methodical, different from everything else I've seen. The direction seemed unusually good for an '80s TV film.

Most bizarre scene is where Brezhnev accepts the gift of a car from Nixon, then promptly takes him on a Bullitt-like joyride around Camp David.

clemenza, Thursday, 3 April 2014 00:52 (six years ago) link

I saw it. That car scene is faithfully reproduced from the book.

Quite disappointed in Our Nixon. They played some good tapes (when RN realizes Ehrlichman might rat him out), but the rest was an unwieldy mix of the arbitrary and trivial. (schlump otm)

images of war violence and historical smoking (Dr Morbius), Thursday, 3 April 2014 01:00 (six years ago) link

even better:

Bryan Fairy (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 3 April 2014 01:01 (six years ago) link

Worth it for Warren Burger musing aloud about the limits of pornography's redeeming social value: next thing you know those kids will have orgies and it'll be okay if they mention the Vietnam War!

Bryan Fairy (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 3 April 2014 01:07 (six years ago) link

five months pass...

I rewatched Dick this morning. The best line is still "They'll never lie to us again."

should've faded out w/ "You're So Vain" instead of Oval Office rollerdisco tho.

son of a lewd monk (Dr Morbius), Monday, 29 September 2014 21:31 (five years ago) link

I played a kind of Nixon movie for my class today: a short clip from the first Nixon-Kennedy debate (Friday was the anniversary).

It's perfect for media studies. Play the part from 1:25-1:45, and--whatever your feelings about each guy--everything of legend is right there. Kennedy looks straight at the camera, appears confident and the picture of health (anything but, of course); shifty-eyed Nixon couldn't look more guilty. (His famous five-o'clock shadow isn't quite as bad as reputed, though--or maybe the clip is forgiving.) It's a great clip for talking about how one set of people, the radio audience, could have thought Nixon won the debate, while TV viewers reached the opposite conclusion. Everything people hate about politics in 20 seconds. Unless you believe that television is a godsend here, revealing the real Nixon in a way that radio can't.

clemenza, Monday, 29 September 2014 23:55 (five years ago) link

four weeks pass...

haha this was made just for me wasn't it

Οὖτις, Tuesday, 28 October 2014 18:55 (five years ago) link

sorry, just way too "cute" for a feature film, even w/ Shannon.

things lose meaning over time (Dr Morbius), Thursday, 6 November 2014 15:53 (five years ago) link

this sounds... unnecessary

Οὖτις, Thursday, 6 November 2014 16:08 (five years ago) link

this was already a movie:

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Thursday, 6 November 2014 17:51 (five years ago) link

Elvis Presley: Well, gee, Mr. President, I kinda wish I had a tape of this meetin', so I could play it for muh wife and muh little daughter.
Richard M. Nixon: Tape-record meetings.
(suddenly intrigued)
Richard M. Nixon: Hmm...

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Thursday, 6 November 2014 17:52 (five years ago) link

Spacey as Nixon sure to be insufferable.

things lose meaning over time (Dr Morbius), Thursday, 6 November 2014 18:14 (five years ago) link

one year passes...

BAM here is showing the 33-minute Cockettes film Tricia's Wedding on Thursday! "The high jinks start when Eartha Kitt adds LSD to the punch bowl."

Sylvester (that one) plays Coretta Scott King.

we can be heroes just for about 3.6 seconds (Dr Morbius), Monday, 21 March 2016 15:35 (four years ago) link

three months pass...

excellent poster and tagline! anyone seen this?

piscesx, Tuesday, 21 June 2016 15:18 (four years ago) link

I missed the names at the top of the poster and read this to mean that Alex Pettier and Johnny Knoxville were playing Elvis and Nixon, which actually might have been interesting.

rhymes with "blondie blast" (cryptosicko), Tuesday, 21 June 2016 19:19 (four years ago) link


rhymes with "blondie blast" (cryptosicko), Tuesday, 21 June 2016 19:19 (four years ago) link

two years pass...

— Richard M. Nixon (@dick_nixon) November 28, 2018

a Mets fan who gave up on everything in the mid '80s (Dr Morbius), Wednesday, 28 November 2018 22:23 (one year ago) link

Amazing. I can't top that, but I like this picture a local rep theatre is using to promote the Roger Ailes documentary they're screening next week. That's kind of almost Nixon at the movies.

clemenza, Thursday, 29 November 2018 20:48 (one year ago) link

I wonder if Dick got to see it and then asked Julie why she loved a movie where he is referred to as "the Asshole"

a Mets fan who gave up on everything in the mid '80s (Dr Morbius), Thursday, 29 November 2018 20:53 (one year ago) link

Wouldn't be surprised if Nixon just heard about the film and is making up the Julie part of that letter. She was fiercely protective of her father--it's a real stretch to believe she liked the film (not sure I even believe she saw it).

I don't know who the Clinton-like guy on the left is in that Ailes picture.

clemenza, Thursday, 29 November 2018 20:58 (one year ago) link

two weeks pass...

Didn't much care for the Roger Ailes documentary. Not surprisingly, more of a Trump movie than a Nixon movie. It lost me right from the start: one of the very first interviewees is Glenn Beck, who is treated throughout (they go back to him a number of times) as serious and legitimate. Besides being a total fraud and a clown, I can't think of many people who were more disgusting during Obama's two terms.

clemenza, Thursday, 13 December 2018 23:52 (one year ago) link

three months pass...

Nixon on the television...The CNN series starts tonight.

There's so much out there already, you never know if it's going to be little more than a rehash, but the promos they've been running the past month have been really good.

clemenza, Sunday, 17 March 2019 15:15 (one year ago) link

oooh. would watch.

my future think tank (stevie), Sunday, 17 March 2019 20:15 (one year ago) link

One of my favorite books AND movies ever is All the President's Men (I love them about equally) so I was over the moon to find this documentary on YouTube and found it just amazing:

The Colour of Spring (deethelurker), Sunday, 17 March 2019 20:54 (one year ago) link

Also, if you were born after the fact and wanted to know how the "Saturday Night Massacre" played out on the news, this valuable upload from the Obscure Video channel is a must-watch:

The Colour of Spring (deethelurker), Sunday, 17 March 2019 20:57 (one year ago) link

I may have seen the first, can't remember, but definitely not the second--thanks.

clemenza, Monday, 18 March 2019 00:33 (one year ago) link

Good start (although they kind of wrote Whittaker Chambers out of the story--you see him, but he's only referred to as a "former Communist"). To paraphrase Hannibal Lecter, loved the blue suit.

clemenza, Monday, 18 March 2019 02:04 (one year ago) link

there's a three-part BBC documentary on watergate that you can find on youtube that's really excellent.

even though i've read and watched lots of stuff about nixon (did a report on him in eighth grade and have been fascinated ever since), the exact details of the watergate scandal are so convoluted that i still somehow find myself being surprised by a lot of the story every time i see/read something about it.

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Monday, 18 March 2019 02:16 (one year ago) link

It took a while, but I think I have a pretty good handle on Watergate by now; the various Trump scandals I find more impenetrable, but that's maybe a function of the world today, with the details scattered over a million internet pages, instead of one central narrative like All the President's Men. Maybe the Muller Report will end up serving the same function. Probably not.

clemenza, Monday, 18 March 2019 02:26 (one year ago) link

I may have seen the first, can't remember, but definitely not the second--thanks.

You're welcome; the channel, which is actually named OBSOLETE Video (I keep getting that wrong even though I'm subscribed to it) is fantastic for watching Watergate-era news broadcasts recorded using early home TV recording technology. It's fascinating seeing news broadcasts dated from 1972 that seem very innocent and almost naïve compared to the news broadcasts from 1974. BTW, we don't see a narrative to current events because we're too busy living through them, but with the distance of time we'll be able to "have a pretty good handle on" what's going on right now with the corrupt orange bastard.

The Colour of Spring (deethelurker), Tuesday, 19 March 2019 18:41 (one year ago) link

The Pentagon Papers has always been the Aleph to Watergate.

recriminations from the nitpicking woke (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 19 March 2019 19:11 (one year ago) link

if the BBC documentary aired in the '90s and has interviews with most of the living players (including a flanneled Haldeman), then I've seen it and it's excellent.

recriminations from the nitpicking woke (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 19 March 2019 19:16 (one year ago) link

Some elaboration on my blue-suit aside, the most interesting new thing I learned watching part 1. Everyone knows the standard story about the first Nixon-Kennedy debate: Nixon won post-debate polls among radio listeners but lost with TV viewers because he came across as shifty-eyed, had a bad case of five-o-clock shadow, and was sick with the flu besides. But Nixon (in voice-over) also suggested that his gray suit looked really terrible against the neutral backdrop, whereas Kennedy's dark suit stood out. Except his suit was gray only if you were watching in black-and-white; he had a rather youthful-looking powder-blue suit on, which actually looked kind of sporty next to Kennedy's dark-blue suit. The accompanying visual supported what seemed like a pretty astute reading, I thought.

(Yes, they also talked about the world during that debate.)

clemenza, Tuesday, 19 March 2019 22:13 (one year ago) link

Keep in mind that in 1960 almost everyone was watching in black-and-white and didn’t see the youthful powder-blue suit; color TV had only been around for 6 years at that point

Lee626, Tuesday, 19 March 2019 23:01 (one year ago) link

I think that's what he meant--that because virtually no one was watching in colour, that possible advantage evaporated. I've never seen any mention of the suit anywhere, and I've read a ton on Nixon, so that was really interesting to me. Having said that, there's the small possibility it would have taken more than a good-looking suit to make Nixon more photogenic than Kennedy...

clemenza, Tuesday, 19 March 2019 23:13 (one year ago) link

I realized that right after I posted it (from a phone)

Lee626, Tuesday, 19 March 2019 23:18 (one year ago) link

Also: Anyone who had a color TV in '60 was probably already leaning Nixon.

a large tuna called “Justice” (C. Grisso/McCain), Tuesday, 19 March 2019 23:22 (one year ago) link

i watched the actual debate on youtube for the first time a couple years ago. in the context of 2016, i have to say that nixon's "bad" performance didn't register nearly as sharply as it once did. i feel like i've read countless descriptions of these debates that made them sound like the beginning of the reality-tv age, with an inexperienced candidate beating an experienced one due to his good looks and charm -- but if anything the debate seemed almost absurdly serious and issue-based compared to what we get these days. at one point i think they spend like 10 minutes talking about farm subsidies, or something like that. tbh, if i hadn't known who nixon was or the kind of president he would become, my response to the debate would probably have been to envy the voters of 1960 who got to choose between these two remarkably qualified and intelligent candidates.

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Tuesday, 19 March 2019 23:34 (one year ago) link

The CNN thing made the valid point that Nixon had to be mindful of his reputation--Hiss, Helen Gahagan Douglas--and downplay the already entrenched perception that he was ruthless. So his supporters thought he wasn't aggressive enough and came across as almost deferential to Kennedy (which he actually was anyway).

(xpost) True--but I bet Nixon would tell you that Kennedy's "Harvard boys" owned all the colour TVs. (Sure sign I've seen Oliver Stone's film too many times: I hear "Harvard boys" in Anthony Hopkins' voice.)

clemenza, Wednesday, 20 March 2019 00:27 (one year ago) link

Part 2 tonight. Or at least I hope it doesn't get cancelled for an extra hour of nocollusionnocollusion talk.

clemenza, Sunday, 24 March 2019 21:08 (one year ago) link

Which is exactly what they've done--not happy at all.

clemenza, Monday, 25 March 2019 01:09 (one year ago) link

ha, I interrupted Animal Crackers to turn on CNN for the first time since December.

recriminations from the nitpicking woke (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 25 March 2019 01:23 (one year ago) link

three weeks pass...

The CNN series finished tonight. When Nixon resigned, his approval was 29%, the Supreme Court had just ruled against him 8-0, and his party was starting to line up against him. I've read a thousand variations on this story, but the distance from there to here is still astounding.

clemenza, Monday, 15 April 2019 02:22 (one year ago) link

Was it good? I've been skeptical of CNN series after their decades ones. I did watch this 2018 Watergate documentary over the weekend, and found it fairly gripping. They had actors re-enacting the transcripts, which was a bit cheesy at first but often worked for me — it drove the point home a bit more to see "Nixon" ranting about "liberal Jews" or hush money as part of regular conversation rather than a tinny recording or words on paper. Wish it had touched a bit more on the public reaction to the transcripts, though; Perlstein's Invisible Bridge has a great bit on all the moral conservatives clutching their pearls on discovering Nixon's vulgarity. (IIRC, Nixon once scolded Truman for un-presidential language by using "damn" in a public statement.)

blatherskite, Monday, 15 April 2019 18:59 (one year ago) link

I actually enjoy those decade shows...The Nixon series was 97% contemporaneous audio and video, which was great. I'd seen a lot of it already, but there was stuff I'd never seen or heard. Definitely caught Nixon at his worst: besides the racial epithets, you hear him saying that the opening of China was exactly the sort of thing that "the grey middle America" ate up because they were suckers. Definite allusions to Trump throughout, especially the ending.

clemenza, Monday, 15 April 2019 22:38 (one year ago) link

three weeks pass...

Watched black dynamite on mubi, pretty good

milkshake chuk (wins), Sunday, 12 May 2019 18:29 (one year ago) link

one month passes...

When the first explanatory title of Charles Ferguson's Watergate - Or, How We Learned to Stop an Out-of-Control President had to do with re-enactments and 100% true, my heart sank--was I really sitting down to four-plus hours of re-enactments? (I read as little as possible ahead of seeing a film, and I'd read nothing on this one.) Happily, no. They appear somewhat regularly in Part 1, almost not at all in Part 2; in total, there's maybe 20 minutes' worth. They're all inside the Oval Office, most prefaced by a real audio clip from the tapes. They're kind of awful, and I'm not sure why they're there.

The rest is quite good, especially all the footage from the hearings, where you usually just get Dean, Butterfield, and maybe Mitchell; there's much more here. (Why doesn't someone release the entire hearings on DVD? I know TV networks were pretty bad at archiving stuff then, but the footage must exist somewhere.) Two biggest revelations: one, Elizabeth Holtzman, the AOC of her day every which way; two, how badly compromised Howard Baker's "What does the President know..." question was. It wasn't heroic--he was a mole for the administration, and the question was meant to get Dean to perjure himself. In all that I've read and seen on Watergate, I don't think I ever knew that.

clemenza, Monday, 17 June 2019 04:30 (one year ago) link

By the way--today is the anniversary of the break-in.

clemenza, Monday, 17 June 2019 18:15 (one year ago) link

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