Sunday, September 22, 2013

Our Nixon

Thinking Our Nixon would provide some interesting glimpses behind the scenes at the Nixon White House, I went to the Roxie on August 17.

Our Nixon; documentary; directed by Penny Lane; (2013) - Official Website

Our Nixon had an interesting premise.  Apparently, Haldeman, Ehrlichman & Dwight Chapin were avid film camera enthusiasts.  They filmed Super 8 movies during their time working in the Nixon White House.  H.R. "Bob" Haldeman was Nixon's White House Chief of Staff for the first five years of his administration.  John Ehrlichman was Nixon's chief adviser on domestic affairs for the same period.  Chapin was Nixon's appointments secretary.  At the beginning of Our Nixon, it was stated that either 500 reels of Super 8 film was seized as part of the Watergate investigation.

Our Nixon eventually becomes a rehashing of the Watergate scandal and largely abandones its focus on the home movies.  Relying on network news broadcasts, second hand talking head interviews (Haldeman & Ehrlichman died more than 15 years ago) and audio from the Oval Office's voice-activated tape recording system (the one with the infamous 18½ minute gap), Our Nixon devolves into Watergate 101 for the final half of the film.  The home movies fade into the background or are used as filler material between newscasts and televised speeches.

The Watergate scandal is an infinitely fascinating subject for those who are interested in the topic.  Our Nixon plays an audio segment in which Nixon states only five people know about the recording system.  Nixon and Haldeman were two of the five.  Ehrlichman & Chapin were not among the five.  Later in the film, there is a segment where Haldeman and Nixon are having a conversation about the Watergate burglary.  Nixon states he doesn't recall discussing the burglary before.  Haldeman corrects him in a deferential manner.  Nixon hems and haws and is left dumbstruck by Haldeman's contradiction.  You have to wonder what is real and what is for show in that conversation.  Both men knew they were being recorded.  I would think Haldeman would want to get out in front of this and pass the buck to Nixon.  I would also think Nixon would want to refute Haldeman's assertion in clear and uncertain terms.  Instead the conversation is far from definitive.

Our Nixon doesn't really get into why Haldeman, et al. were so loyal to Nixon.  Ehrlichman mentions that the staff knew about Nixon's foibles and made fun of him.  Nixon's contradiction, insecurities and character flaws has filled volumes and is displayed repeatedly in Our's just that the home movies are not most illuminating parts of the film.

Another very intriguing episode comes when Nixon addresses the nation on Watergate scandal.  During a nationally televised speech, he announces that Haldeman and Ehrlichman were resigning.  Our Nixon shows the televised address in its entirety and when the clip is over, an audio clip is played where Nixon speaks with Haldeman after the speech.  Nixon complains that Caspar Weinberger was only cabinet member to call him in support after his speech. Despite having just announced Haldeman's resignation on national television, Nixon asks Haldeman if he could call around to get a sense of how politicians felt about the speech.  Haldeman has the good sense to decline the request and Nixon quickly backs off the idea.

The screening I went to was beset with technical problems.  Projected from a DVD, the audio and video would pause for several seconds before resuming.  The film was stopped while they restarted it but the problems persisted throughout the screening.  Our Nixon screened inside the Little Roxie which I have repeatedly called the worst venue regularly screening "films" in San Francisco.  Noise from the lobby and next door were audible in the auditorium and it's always stuffy in there.  I also have to question the choice  of Christmas lights which are strung on the inside of the auditorium.  I don't recall those lights before. They are vaguely annoying from a visual standpoint.  They turn them off during the screening but they created a halo effect during the previews.

I had never head the song accompanying closing credits.  It's called "San Clemente's Not The Same (Mr Nixon You're to Blame)" by Barbara Foster.  I liked it. I'm referring to the song; the film was a rehash of other Watergate documentaries.  I will say, it's probably good that the Watergate scandal gets a new look every few years so as not to forget it.  I recall a well made BBC produced documentary on the subject.

As for Our Nixon, I wonder if there was footage from the home movies which would have provided an insightful glimpse of Nixon which would have reinforced or contradicted his public persona.  If there was, i would have liked to have seen more of it.  If there wasn't, I wonder what the purpose of Our Nixon was.  The home movie images shown in Our Nixon were largely uninteresting to me.

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