Judge P.S. Colbert would like to see more Ray Conniff Singers performances transferred to disc.
"Now more than ever." (????)
Full disclosure: Richard Milhous Nixon was a man I only had the slightest affection for when he was being played by Anthony Hopkins in an Oliver Stone film.
Venal, humorless, socially inept, chronically embittered and classically paranoid; that was Tricky Dicky, thirty-seventh President of the United States, and the only one—so far, anyway—to resign in disgrace.
Given its subject matter, perhaps it should be no surprise that Our Nixon is being sold under false pretenses.
In the run-up to the opening credits (wonderfully set to Tracy Chapman's pop hit "They Don't Know"), title cards tell us that "During the Watergate investigation, the FBI confiscated over 500 reels of Super 8 home movies filmed by Haldeman, Erlichman, and Chapin."
That would be H.R. "Bob" Haldeman, Nixon's Chief of Staff and right-hand man; Domestic Affairs Advisor John Erlichman; and Special Assistant Dwight Chapin, the man who kept the President's appointment book. All were apparently inveterate camera bugs, and the suggestion being made here is that after nearly forty years in a government vault, these now-released films "along with other rare footage," are available to make Our Nixon "an all-archival documentary…creating an intimate and complex portrait of the Nixon presidency as never seen before."
Now, technically, that may be true, as there's a marked paucity of documentary films that deal with the inner-workings of this most controversial administration. However, anyone hoping (as I did) to learn more about this fascinating, fallen President, and what really made him tick will doubtless be as disappointed as I was to discover that most of what emerges from "over 500 reels of Super 8 home movies" here are sound-free scans of offices, airplane trips, social get-togethers, official meetings and greetings, and eternally waving friends and family members.
Alongside these images, director Penny Lane (no, really) has strung together a brisk and enjoyable "Cliff Notes" version of the period roughly from Nixon's inauguration in January, 1969 through his evacuation of White House grounds on Aug. 9, 1974, with plenty of Television reportage from back in the day. The Watergate scandal that brought the administration down gets a cursory examination, mostly limited to the effects it had on Haldeman, Erlichman and Chapin, all of whom appear after their respective prison sentences, in various interview situations. And dib-ee-dib-eet-thuh-that's pretty much all, folks.
Cindeigm brings the whole kaboodle to you in a sleek DVD release with a solid full-frame presentation and an especially strong 5.1 audio track. Because of the heavy reliance on decades old source material, you'll notice grain, dirt, pops and hums occasionally, but they provide context, not annoyance. Instead of subtitles, there's a silent "Who's Who Supplementary Track," which, when chosen, identifies various associates by name, so you'll know, for instance, that Justice Earl Warren was standing to the president's left during his inauguration, and so forth. It's a unique little feature that works very well with this material.
The other bonus features are silent as well. "Travels With Nixon" is pretty self-explanatory, while "Nixon and Friends" takes liberties with the title, showing Dicky (while in office) hosting former Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Johnson, in addition to hob-nobbling with future Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
Our Nixon does a fine job of getting in and out fast enough to remain interesting throughout, provides some great moments of 'seventies kitsch, and manages to shed some spotlight on its three camera bugs, but it never gets any closer to Nixon than previous docs, which can't help but portray an awkward, nervous man with an off-putting alligator smile. Shame.
Guilty of misrepresentation and promises broken. Sentence suspended.
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