Tuesday, September 23, 2014
(December 1995, U.S.)
Having been born in 1967, the first United States president I was aware of in my lifetime was Richard M. Nixon. Because of that knowledge, the first major political event I became aware of (at the age of seven) was Nixon's shameful resignation from office in August 1974. Of course, at that tender age, you verbally simply an event like this by saying something like, "Did you hear that the President quit?" among your elementary school peers. Several years later, I would become aware of the film ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (1976) and it's cinematic implications on real life political events that had only just taken place a few years prior. Some time after that, I would watch some of the infamous PBS interview between Nixon and David Frost, not understanding one damn thing I was hearing. Many years after that, I would write a twenty-one page college term paper on the Watergate scandal for which I'm happy to say I got an 'A' on (horray for me!)! So I suppose it's safe to say that while I wouldn't consider Richard Nixon himself an obsession with me, it's the latter years of his scandalous time in office that inevitably lead to his disgrace that's always been a source of fascination with me. Clearly, and to no surprise, Oliver Stone had a thing or two to say about him, too.
Having watched NIXON again for this post, I also found myself watching ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN again in order to gain some additional film perspective toward the man and his presidency. Know what I learned, or should I say reconfirmed? Anthony Hopkins looks and sounds nothing like Richard Nixon! And yet, despite these obvious flaws in physicalities and vocals, Hopkins has mastered the art of playing the man and a very lonely and isolated president whom it seems always had his back against the wall and was constantly fighting a world that hated him. In other words, Hopkins is perfect in every respect! Certainly a far cry above Beau Bridges who played Nixon in a TV movie and Frank Langella who played Nixon in Ron Howard's FROST/NIXON (2008). Like JFK (1991), Oliver Stone takes us through many of the pivotal events of Nixon life, childhood and presidency in a non-linear fashion with much of the same style of film cuts and edits. Whether you were a fan of Nixon or not, one cannot help but feel a degree of empathy for a man who was experiencing so much pain and despair, both personally and professionally. For myself, who knew only the latter part of Richard Nixon and his political crimes, the film gives a good deal of depth of who he was during his earlier years as Vice-President under Dwight D. Eisenhower and just how the assassinations of both John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy affected his political future. Just as an example, I knew nothing of Nixon's parents and siblings and that two of his brother's had died at a young age. Of course, one shouldn't take a cinematic biopic too seriously in terms of facts and accuracy, but I also have to remember that I put a certain degree of faith and confidence in Oliver Stone as a man who does his homework and is every once in a while compelled to teach us a little something about history through his films.
Now here's an interesting piece of information that I can't help but talk about. Upon the film's release in 1995, the Nixon family apparently issued a statement claiming that it was designed to "defame and degrade President and Mrs. Nixon's memories in the mind of the American public". Excuse me? Really?? You don't think perhaps Richard Nixon's illegal and shameful activities within the walls of the White House between 1972 and 1974 didn't actually accomplish that on its own?? Well, you have to figure that with every biopic, there are always those who will rise up and shout "Wrong!" and "No fair!". Regardless, NIXON does give the film viewer a fuller understanding of the life and career of a U.S. president that history may forever negatively brand. Whether you choose to view NIXON as true history is up to you, of course. Regardless, the film is, if nothing else, an outstanding achievement in psycho drama in both language and skilled performance. As a "presidential" film, it may also serve as the second act in a trilogy of such films, JFK preceding it and W. (George W. Bush) following it. Now if only Stone would do Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton (and make sure to include some good ol' fashioned cocksucking by Monica Lewinsky!).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Pat Nixon (to Richard Nixon): "How much more? How much more is it going to cost? When do the rest of us stop paying off your debts??"