Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch: Shailene Woodley Gets NSFW In 2 Clips From 'White Bird In A Blizzard' Plus New Pics Watch: Shailene Woodley Gets NSFW In 2 Clips From 'White Bird In A Blizzard' Plus New Pics TIFF Review: 'Cake' Starring Jennifer Aniston, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington & More TIFF Review: 'Cake' Starring Jennifer Aniston, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington & More First Look: Matthew McConaughey & Ken Watanabe In Gus Van Sant’s ‘Sea Of Trees’ First Look: Matthew McConaughey & Ken Watanabe In Gus Van Sant’s ‘Sea Of Trees’ Tom Hardy Says He'll Never Do Another Romantic Comedy Again Thanks To 'This Means War' Tom Hardy Says He'll Never Do Another Romantic Comedy Again Thanks To 'This Means War' David Fincher Apparently Thinks 'Dragon Tattoo' Sequel 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' Could Get Made David Fincher Apparently Thinks 'Dragon Tattoo' Sequel 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' Could Get Made Revisiting On The Rise: Where Are Our 2012 Picks Now? Revisiting On The Rise: Where Are Our 2012 Picks Now? Oscars: Dust Settles On The Fall Festivals With No Clear Best Picture Front-Runner (Yet) Oscars: Dust Settles On The Fall Festivals With No Clear Best Picture Front-Runner (Yet) Fall TV Preview: Our 22 Most Anticipated Shows For The Rest Of 2014 Fall TV Preview: Our 22 Most Anticipated Shows For The Rest Of 2014 Watch: NYFF Trailer Has Snippets Of ‘Inherent Vice’ Footage For Those Checking For Trailers Several Times A Day Watch: NYFF Trailer Has Snippets Of ‘Inherent Vice’ Footage For Those Checking For Trailers Several Times A Day TIFF Review: 'Still Alice' Starring Julianne Moore, Kristen Stewart, Alec Baldwin & Kate Bosworth TIFF Review: 'Still Alice' Starring Julianne Moore, Kristen Stewart, Alec Baldwin & Kate Bosworth Review: 'The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby: Them' Starring Jessica Chastain & James McAvoy Review: 'The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby: Them' Starring Jessica Chastain & James McAvoy Jason Reitman Calls ‘Labor Day’ "A Misguided Effort" Jason Reitman Calls ‘Labor Day’ "A Misguided Effort" David Fincher & James Ellroy Plotting 1950s Crime Noir Series For HBO David Fincher & James Ellroy Plotting 1950s Crime Noir Series For HBO Chris Evans On His Directorial Debut ‘Before We Go,’ Filming In New York, & ‘Avengers: Age Of Ultron’ Chris Evans On His Directorial Debut ‘Before We Go,’ Filming In New York, & ‘Avengers: Age Of Ultron’ Boardwalk Empire - Season 5 - Episode 1 Recap: “Golden Days For Boys & Girls” Boardwalk Empire - Season 5 - Episode 1 Recap: “Golden Days For Boys & Girls” The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

L.A. Film Fest Review: Documentary 'Our Nixon' An Illuminating & Hilarious Look At The Former President

Photo of Katie Walsh By Katie Walsh | katiewalshwrites.com June 18, 2013 at 11:57AM

The documentary "Our Nixon" by Penny Lane serves as a bit of a complication to the popular narrative of Richard Nixon as our most scandalized and scheming of Presidents. While it doesn't seek to alter the this narrative, it does attempt to add another layer to the story, a perspective offered by those closest to Nixon, and those who fell the hardest. The results are an illuminating and often hilarious portrayal of the man and his myth, and those who surrounded him.
2
Our Nixon

The documentary "Our Nixon" by Penny Lane serves as a bit of a complication to the popular narrative of Richard Nixon as our most scandalized and scheming of Presidents. While it doesn't seek to alter the this narrative, it does attempt to add another layer to the story, a perspective offered by those closest to Nixon, and those who fell the hardest. The results are an illuminating and often hilarious portrayal of the man and his myth, and those who surrounded him.

Our Nixon
The film is comprised entirely of archival footage from television news reports, interviews and the Super 8 home movies of Nixon's closest advisors, H.R. "Bob" Haldeman, John Erlichman, and Dwight Chapin. This young and energetic group of staffers were known for constantly shooting footage everywhere they went, from China to the Vatican, and these tapes were seized by the FBI during the Watergate investigation and kept in a vault for 40 years. Eventually they were released and made public domain (without much fanfare), and Lane and her co-producer Brian L. Frye were the first to make a video transfer of these tapes. The Super 8 footage was silent, and as Lane described in the Q&A at our screening, she wanted to tell the story that these films were trying to.

Though Nixon is ostensibly the star of the film, it focuses much more on Haldeman, Erlichman and Chapin and their personal experiences with the President, gleened from TV interviews and other voice recordings (Haldeman died in 1993 and Erlichman died in 1999). There are recordings of many personal phone calls between Haldeman (Nixon’s Chief of Staff and right hand man), as they discuss everything from Nixon’s latest news appearance, Henry Kissinger’s loose lips, war protestors on the Mall, Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon papers, and culminates in Haldeman’s eventual resignation and prosecution. Listening to Nixon tell him multiple times “I love you” during this call is oddly poignant and heartbreaking, his true affection and friendship shining through. And that is often the tone of “Our Nixon,” oddly poignant, as we are taken into this intimate and unseen world of Nixon’s lighter side (dancing with his daughter at her wedding, cracking wise at White House events).

Our Nixon

Working with archival footage is always an interesting undertaking, because you can only shape the story so far as what you have to work with. The story of the footage must reveal itself to you. Lane creates a sophisticated and finely wrought piece of storytelling, weaving together the news reports, voice over, secretly recorded tapes from Nixon’s office, recorded phone calls and interviews in order to tell her story, which isn’t necessarily to explain what they did or explore their guilt. Instead, one comes away with the sense that these men were sort of well-meaning but misguided individuals making stupid decisions; that it wasn’t so much of a smoky back room conspiracy that we imagine it to be. Erlichman says that Nixon, the ultimate control freak, embroiled himself in these shady goings on because he needed to be involved in all of the minutia in order to control it. That is made especially clear with how he bugged his own office but only told certain people about it— carefully regulating and controlling information that was his eventual downfall.

“Our Nixon” is often a laugh out loud funny affair, whether it’s intentional (Nixon’s corny White House jokes) or not (Nixon declaring he wants to “prosecute the prick” responsible for leaking classified documents; his assessment that homosexuality led to the downfall of the Greek empire; his review of “All in the Family”). But it’s also a celebration and preservation of a uniquely 1970s aesthetic, and images of singing groups and cheering fans at rallies and the Republican National Convention are yes, delightfully cheesy and also somewhat disconcerting. But it’s important to remember this other side that also existed. While “Our Nixon” is not trying to exonerate or prove anything other than what has already happened, it is trying to understand this other side of the Nixon administration, not necessarily a warm and fuzzy side of Nixon, but one of a complicated man whose own foibles led to the downfall of his empire and also his personal relationships. [A-]

This article is related to: L.A. Film Fest, Reviews, Review, Our Nixon


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.

E-Mail Updates