Tuesday, August 27, 2013

OUR NIXON: A really odd walk down memory lane -- from Penny Lane

Whew! This is one bizarre documentary, particularly for folk like me who lived as an adult through the Nixon years, often kicking and screaming. (It is made further strange for me by the connection with the bizarre Christian Science religion that I shared with some of Nixon's top staff -- Haldeman, Ehrlichman and Egil Krogh -- though I had left the faith by the point in time that this documentary covers.) What makes OUR NIXON strangest of all is its style: Collected here are what looks like a bunch of home movies, often made by the people at and in the Nixon White House, so that these snippets most resemble the kind of thing that you and I and our own families might have put together. Except, of course, that front and center is -- not granny or your favorite uncle, but instead Richard Milhous Nixon and his parade of (what he would surely want us to imagine as) world-shattering events.

Director and co-producer (with Brian L. FryePenny Lane (shown at left) has contrived to give us many of the typical events and usual suspects but not from the usual viewpoint we received at this time from newspapers or the nightly news. Instead we get the view as though it were via the one big happy family that served its master and just happened to film it all. All this functions in a couple of ways: defusing, at least somewhat, much of what many of us feel about this 37th President of the U.S. and at the same time giving us a look at things from a perspective we have not seen. The effect is bracing, often disorienting -- and undeniably weird.

Though maybe it will all seem much less strange to dyed-in-the-wool Republicans. Here it all is: the Pope arrives; there goes John Mitchell (but where is some wonderful footage of his Martha?!); Nixon blathers as men walk on the moon; we get a look at the very early Barbara Walters (above, center, right) as Nixon "opens" China; wow--a visit from Romania's Ceaucescu and his wife (the USA always did -- still does -- love those dictators!); the "Don't tell Henry" moment (gosh, the petty jealousies between Nixon and Kissinger!); and of course Watergate and so much more. There's even a song (below): "Nixon Now for You and Me!")

If you are in any way political, you'll already know how you feel about all of this. Yet, as they say, time is a healer of sorts, so seeing it again via home movies does rather tamp down those angrier feelings. All-home-movies-all-the-time would require more narration, I suspect, so Ms Lane smartly includes quite a bit of official or news footage from the era, which has the effect of adding some professionalism into the mix, while helping keep us alert.

By the time we see "our Nixon" send packing his two right-hand men, Haldeman (above, quite the shutterbug!) and Ehrlichman (below) to prevent, the Prez hoped, his own resignation or worse, and then follow this with his sanctimonious "God bless America -- and every one of you," we're more than ready to bid this guy the long good-bye.

But don't leave your seat too soon. Stay for the end credits that fill you in on what happened and to whom -- as well as let you see the famously unbearable, and it turns out also un-airable, TV commercial for ice cream hawked by Mr. Ehrlichman in his post-administration days. This is a hoot-and-a-half.

Our Nixon -- from Cinedigm and CNN Films and running just 80 minutes -- opens theatrically this Friday, August 30, in New York City at the IFC Center, followed by a limited national rollout.

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