- All the President's Men (1976)
- This film is largely the story of Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) who "discovered" that the trail of dirty tricks extended beyond Watergate to other underhanded actions in the Nixon White House and is also an attempt to show the inner workings of journalism. Heroically depicting the reporters as our "right-to-know" defenders makes the film not as useful as the book on which it's based, and students should focus on the latter for understanding the machinations of the Nixon White House. For those who wish to add to Reel American History with films that focus on journalistic practices, a project based on this film and the reporters' book All the President's Men would be an interesting starting point.
- Dick (1999)
- An interesting comedy that one critic calls a backlash to the sea of revisionist films about Richard Nixon that attempt to generate sympathy by portraying him as a complicated man who had achieved much in foreign policy. Dan Hedaya, who was also in the cast of Oliver Stone's Nixon as the president's aide Trini Cordoza, plays the president -- an excellent casting decision since Hedaya looks and feels more like the Nixon that we can see in documentaries and news footage than Anthony Hopkins' clumsy, more benign Nixon. The cast also includes several comedic actors who add a wonderful biting touch to the satire -- Will Ferell and Bob McCollough play Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and depict the two reporters as goofballs constantly fighting each other hunting for the story that will give them their big break. The cast also includes Dave Foley as Bob Haldeman, Jim Breuer as John Dean, and Ana Gasteyer as Rose Mary Woods. These Saturday Night Live and Kids In the Hall veterans do what Stone's Nixon seemed desperate to avoid -- imitate the real men and women they are playing, resulting in some wonderful parody.
The plot centers around two flighty, but well-meaning young girls Betsy and Arlene (Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams) who unknowingly stumble onto a suspicious man at the Watergate hotel, where the latter lives with her mother. On a visiting tour of the White House, they are recognized by G. Gordon Liddy (who was the strange man), and the two girls are hired by President Nixon to become White House dog walkers for Checkers. Arlene even develops a crush on the president, and when the pair discover Nixon's tape recorders in his office, she decides to leave him a "love message," which is -- you guessed it -- exactly 18 1/2 minutes long. However, they soon discover that the president is unkind, mean, and a liar -- he curses at Checkers, makes anti-semetic remarks, and yells at the girls when they attempt to confront him. The girls call the Washington Post as a prank, but through several twists and one or two misunderstandings, they hand over information that is damaging to the president and reveals some of the machinations of the Watergate break-in. One of the best sequences in the film is the ending where a familiar scene, Nixon walking to his Air Force One helicopter after his resignation, is revamped, with Carly Simon's "You're So Vain," playing over the defeated Nixon.
This delightful film is not meant to be historically accurate -- Checkers was not alive when the real historical events in the film were going on. However, it is worth looking at the movie to study how the director attempts to construct the much disliked president -- what the film depends on is knowledge of some, if not significant knowledge of the specifics of the Watergate scandal, Nixon's presidency, and his White House. I would argue that the film allows for a way in which a younger audience can begin to be educated about the historical record -- otherwise, why would it be funny for a person born after 1981 to see Nixon eating cookies laced with pot?
- Lords of Treason (1984) (sometimes titled Secret Honor)
- An odd, one-man film by director Robert Altman that shows President Nixon after the breakout of the Watergate scandal. Nixon is alone in his study, a dark room surrounded by the paintings of Kennedy, Eisenhower, and even a painting of Henry Kissinger. He rants into a tape recorder, stopping only to flip images on four televisions on a desk behind him that broadcasts pictures of several entrances into his home. We experience his notorious paranoia as he searches the screens for an "intruder," while ranting at a tape recorder, the portraits on his wall, and fingering a loaded pistol. At times he pretends to talk to an imaginary (Watergate) judge, at other times he speaks to an aide named Roberto, and the film is reminiscent of great Shakespearean figures such as Hamlet or King Lear delivering their frenzied soliloquys. Nixon attempts to explain the reasons for his involvement in the Watergate scandal but merely launches into tirades of cursing against the portraits of J. Edgar Hoover, Eisenhower, and Kissinger on his wall, recounting his early years in California and blaming those political leaders for his downfall. The president is depicted as racist, anti-semitic, drunk, paranoid, and spiteful -- blaming everyone from Jane Fonda and the liberal media to the Kennedys for destroying him and his reputation.
I would recomend this film for teachers and students of President Nixon, especially if watched in conjunction with reading one of the biographies of the president. It's interesting to note how Director Altman depicts the major events in the president's life: his brothers' deaths, his love and hate relationship to the Kennedy brothers, or his adversarial relationship with the media. Clearly Altman does see Nixon as an embittered figure, whose "rage against the dying of the light" is supposed to highlight how pathetic the man could be in his weaker moments. Watching Nixon repeatedly check his security system for anyone spying at him or cursing at Kissinger for being a "brown nosed...Kraut," one is left feeling sorry for the old man, and with even more questions as to how he ended up in such a hapless state. This is not a parady ala Dick, but an attempt to show the undoing of the president as both related to his own shortcoming, as well as those from circumstances beyond his control.
The Eric Hamburg book about Oliver Stone's Nixon does not mention the film as a source, but there are striking similarities between both films -- in one scene in Altman's film Nixon yells at his tape recorder, "They [the liberal press, American public] don't know me, they just know they don't want to be me!" A similar allusion is made in Stone's film when Nixon looks at a portrait of President John Kennedy and reflects, "When they look at you, they see what they want to be. When they look at me, they see what they are." Nixon's self-loathing is only one of the many similar themes that Stone seems to also highlight in his film; another would be the idea that Nixon was victim to a conspiracy in which several political leaders who wanted to be in power used Nixon as their patsy and vehicle. I recomend that those who get to see the film see Thomas Monsell's review in "Nixon on Stange and Screen." Monsell's essay features several prominent reviewers' comments, as well as information about the film's reception. Film critic Roger Ebert refers to the film as creating an "artistic truth," a descriptor that can also describe Nixon's work (Monsell 141).
- Millhouse: White Comedy (1971)
- The 30-year anniversary of the Watergate burglary as well as the recent Presidential election has brought a lot of attention to Richard Nixon's legacy – and, luckily, I stumbled across Millhouse: A White Comedy, a documentary/satirical film that pointedly looks at Richard Nixon's influence in modern politics. The film is a montage of newsreel and footage of Nixon, his family, and associates, and is not arranged in linear order. Instead, the director, Emile de Antonio, has created themes that exemplify Nixon's life and politics, such as his aggressiveness, his failure at bringing the country together, and his war-mongering. The film opens with a quote by Nixon that captures his aggressive approach to campaigning as well as his miraculous come-back to the political scene after two major defeats:
Anybody in politics must have great competitive instinct. He must want to win. He must not like to lose, but above everything else, he must have the ability to come back, to keep fighting more and more strong when it seems that the odds are the greatest. That's the world of sports, that's the world of politics. I guess you could say that's life itself.
In the clips following the above quote, de Antonio shows how Nixon's competitive approach to politics and life are connected to his deep resentment of the press ("You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore") or the escalating violence of the Vietnam War. Later De Antonio uses clips from films from Knute Rockne: All American ("Let's win one for the Gipper!") to continue his politics as sports metaphor. This movie is an attack on Nixon along the lines of Stone's Nixon but what makes it effective is the fact that all the footage is real and not dramatically recreated by actors. We see Nixon advocating the death penalty for big time "dope" dealers, endorsing the use of nuclear weapons in Indochina and other unfavorable clips of Nixon's passionate personality. I cannot stress how important it is to watch this movie – de Antonio captures the power of documentary to pointedly reveal the darker sides of government, but the film also doesn't place these clips out of context. Nixon insisted on competing, on attacking his components, and he had firm views regarding the infiltration of communists in American society. Clips aren't creatively spliced – we see the whole "silent majority" speech, and de Antonio compares its watered-down message to Martin Luther King's more visionary "I have a dream" speech. De Antonio comments, "I didn't made this film to elect Democrats, I made it to reveal the terrible comic theatre that is American Politics." The movie isn't anti-Republican, or anti-Nixon, instead, de Antonio even shows the Nixon was a product of a modern political system that was slowly bleached of its ethical foundations. Nixon would have blamed the press (and I agree with him), but de Antonio doesn't provide an answer as to what is wrong with the political landscape -- for him, it is what it is.
Blind Ambition (1979)
Born Again (1978)
Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
The Final Days (1989)