sábado, 17 de agosto de 2013

SXSW (2013) - Our Nixon Teaser - Documentary HD / ‘Our Nixon,’ a CNN Documentary About White House Cameras

The President’s Men, at the Lenses
‘Our Nixon,’ a CNN Documentary About White House Cameras


It always comes back to the tapes.

Many biographers have tried to reach beyond the infamous soundtrack of Richard M. Nixon’s presidency, those secretly recorded hours and hours of unguarded discussion, invective and delusion. But it’s impossible to stay away from the audio archive for long. Even Thomas Mallon, who wrote “Watergate,” an ingenious novel about the scandal, studied the Oval Office tapes to get inside the minds of Nixon’s aides and sometime allies.

A new documentary, “Our Nixon,” which will be shown on CNN on Thursday before a theatrical release at the end of the month, seeks a fresh approach by sifting through 500 reels of recently recovered Super 8 movies shot by three top Nixon aides: H. R. Haldeman, John D. Ehrlichman and Dwight Chapin. These silent films were confiscated by the F.B.I. during the Watergate investigations and left in a vault for decades.

The first music that introduces these supposedly intimate peeks behind the curtain is mocking and even ironic: Tracey Ullman singing “They Don’t Know.”

But it’s not what’s captured on film that is revealing, but all that is missing. There are few shots of the president’s men laughing or fooling around. No one’s playing tennis or poker, no one’s having singalongs at Camp David or roughhousing on the White House lawn.

Parties are official affairs, and private moments show the three aides to the president relaxed and smiling, but always at work, be it on the Great Wall of China, pacing outside the Vatican or conferring on Air Force One. There are no pretty Parisiennes or sidewalk cafes in the footage of a presidential visit to France, just the Arc de Triomphe, de Gaulle and a panning shot of the bidet in a hotel bathroom.

All too soon, “Our Nixon,” directed by Penny Lane, surrenders to the inevitable and relies on the many familiar Oval Office audiotapes, television news clips and presidential library material to tell the tale of Nixon’s ascent and his undoing.

There’s no shame in it; the Nixon presidency is endlessly fascinating, and his taped conversations, even now, are shocking, revealing and addictive.

Particularly in the era of WikiLeaks, Pfc. Bradley Manning and Edward J. Snowden, the more interesting moments revolve around Nixon’s reaction to the leaking of the Pentagon Papers, which eventually led to the Watergate break-in. As the audiotapes make clear, Nixon may have tried to block publication of the papers in The New York Times and The Washington Post, but he didn’t dare prosecute the newspapers for publishing them. Even given our preoccupation with leaks now, the documentary doesn’t connect those dots to the Obama administration’s current effort to investigate leaks of classified information, which includes subpoenaing reporters’ phone records and portraying a Fox News reporter as a conspirator to obtain a warrant for his e-mails.

It’s not entirely clear what the film’s vivid pastiche of home movies and archival material amounts to. It’s an engrossing but somewhat aimless and impressionistic ramble through the Nixon presidency and tumult of the 1970s. At times it leans too heavily on artistic license.
A snippet from Nixon’s “Silent Majority” address of Nov 3, 1969, is followed by a phone conversation in which he can be heard soliciting praise from Haldeman. The viewer assumes that they are discussing that famous 1969 speech, but its turns out that this conversation took place in 1971 and was about an entirely different address. What matters in that instance is not the speech, but Nixon’s craving for approval. It’s a misleading and quite unnecessary fudge that erodes the viewers’ trust in the film, and in CNN, for allowing it.

“Our Nixon” shows Haldeman and Ehrlichman in a more sympathetic light than most documentaries, though, oddly enough, their humanity is revealed less in their stilted home movies than in the candid, plain-spoken television interviews they gave after being released from prison. (Haldeman died in 1993, Ehrlichman in 1999.)

Mr. Chapin, who also went to prison, was only 27 when he went to work with the Nixon campaign, and he is perhaps the most likable figure. In 1969, he was a nice-looking, eager-to-please young man, a little like Bob Benson in “Mad Men,” and his West Wing memories are at odds with conventional wisdom. “I’ve never laughed as much as when I worked in the Nixon White House,” he says in a 2007 interview.

After two hours, Nixon remains a riveting enigma. And, as usual, his timing is terrible. “Our Nixon” is being shown just a few months before the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy; Kennedy’s library this summer released yet another never-before-seen home movie of the former president at Hyannis Port, Mass., in the summer of 1963.

There is no sound, and there doesn’t need to be: Kennedy is shown swinging a golf club; diving from a boat into the ocean; talking to friends; cuddling with his daughter, Caroline; and gleaming, bare-chested and golden, at the back of a yacht.

There is one shot of Nixon on vacation in the CNN documentary. He is filmed from a distance, slowly walking alone on a narrow stretch of beach, in a polo shirt and bathing trunks, his head down and arms hanging limply at his sides.

Camelot, it’s not.

Our Nixon

CNN, Thursday night at 9, Eastern and Pacific times; 8, Central time.

Produced by Dipper Films. Directed by Penny Lane; Dan Cogan, Jenny Raskin, Louis Venezia and Rebecca Ritchie Brower, executive producers; Bryan L. Frye and Ms. Lane, producers.

He came to believe that politics is a jungle and that to survive, one must observe the law of the jungle: Either eat or be eaten.
David Gergen

I will always believe that Nixon had elements of greatness in him but he was ultimately the architect of his own downfall.
David Gergen

The inner demons that drove Nixon
By David Gergen, CNN Senior Political Analyst

(CNN) -- CNN's new documentary, "Our Nixon," tugs open the curtain for a moment on one of the most complex, haunted presidents in modern times.
I worked on his White House staff for more than three years and can attest that that while this isn't the complete Richard Nixon, viewers get a revealing, first-hand look at parts of the man rarely seen.
It is hard for younger generations to grasp just how dominant a figure Nixon was for over four decades in American life. With the exception of Franklin Roosevelt -- the Babe Ruth of 20th century politics -- only Nixon has been nominated by his party for high office in five national elections.
From the days he rocketed to power as a young, ambitious congressman until he went to his grave, Nixon made the cover of Time magazine 56 times. No one else in his time was as widely respected or reviled; no one else won a massive re-election only to leave the White House in disgrace.
Nixon almost had it all -- and then he lost it. Why? Why do colossally powerful men make a colossal hash of things, even down to today?
I was a relative innocent when I left the Navy in the early 1970s and by serendipity, was offered a job in the Nixon White House by Raymond Price, then the head of the speechwriting team and soon a wonderful mentor. Ray asked me to be his administrative assistant and within weeks, I was a note taker in Cabinet meetings, where I had a bird's-eye view of Nixon at his best.
The CNN documentary captures some of those heady moments through the home movie cameras of Bob Haldeman (chief of staff), John Ehrlichman (top domestic adviser) and Dwight Chapin (RN's aide-de-camp and television impresario).
The films show how much Nixon doted on the pomp and circumstance of the office -- the balloon drops at conventions, waving to mammoth crowds (7 million turned out when we went to Cairo), walking the Great Wall in China, sipping champagne with Zhou Enlai. Nixon lapped it all up.
What is missing from the films are the serious, thoughtful conversations of Nixon away from cameras. In truth, he was the best strategist I have seen in the presidency -- someone able to go up on a mountain top, look 30 years into the future and try to bend the arc of history to favor the nation's security interests. He was a student of the past and like one of his heroes, Winston Churchill, thought that a leader who can see farther back can see farther ahead.
Americans knew he could be mean and duplicitous, but I sensed they voted for him because they also thought he was smart enough and tough enough to keep the Soviets at bay. They were right.
If your home is threatened, you want a German shepherd, not a cocker spaniel.
In my early days as a junior lieutenant, I mostly saw the bright side of Nixon -- the one who read books recommended to him by his early counselor, Pat Moynihan, and debated the virtues of World War I generals with Henry Kissinger. Only when I had more experience and he invited me in closer did he begin to reveal the rest of him -- the dark side.
That darker side is woven through the CNN documentary, mostly through the secret tapings that he made of himself and those with whom he was talking. Only a select few knew of the taping system; learning of it was a shock to all the rest of us on staff.
I had not heard most of the tapes here but found them consistent with the Nixon I eventually came to know: a brooding, deeply insecure man who laments how little support he has from his own Cabinet and how much bias he sees in the press.
It has been said that even paranoids have real enemies. Indeed, Nixon had plenty of real enemies, but his insecurities prompted him to create even more in the way he lashed back. He came to believe that politics is a jungle and that to survive, one must observe the law of the jungle: Either eat or be eaten.
Zelizer: Four lessons from Nixon's presidency
The late Leonard Garment -- along with Ray Price, one of the white hats in that White House -- thought Watergate could be traced back to the Vietnam War. Nixon came to power not only with insecurities but with a bitterly divisive war on his hands, one that threatened to tear the country apart.
As was his wont, Nixon thought he had to control events, not be controlled by them. So, he started bugging the phones of reporters and his own appointees and eventually he set up a "plumbers" unit to stop national security leaks. In view of Garment, who served as a close legal adviser to Nixon, that effort to control anti-war fever turned into a political operation during the 1972 re-election. From there, it was only a tiny step to the Watergate break-in at Democratic headquarters.
That is a persuasive theory, but I concluded there was something more basic also at work in Nixon's downfall -- and we see pieces of it in the CNN documentary.
Fundamentally, I believe that as Carl Jung argued, each of us has a bright and dark side, and that the task of becoming a mature, integrated adult is to conquer one's dark side or at least bring it under control.
Nixon simply did not have that dark side under control -- he had demons inside him and when they rose up in fury, as they did so often, they could not only destroy others but destroy him, too.
There have been moments since his downfall that I have actually felt sorry for him. As a wise counselor of his, Bryce Harlow, once observed, we will never know what happened to Nixon when he was young, but it must have been something terrible.
A word about the three men behind the cameras in the documentary: I knew each of them in varying degrees and am sure they never envisioned themselves as Nixon "henchmen."
As their films suggest, they thought they had a ringside seat on one of the greatest shows ever -- and loved it. But they were swept into the web of intrigue in that White House and went along with the deceits, the dirty tricks and yes, the criminality. Ehrlichman eventually felt bitter and betrayed by Nixon; Haldeman, as the film represents, felt the critics were terribly wrong and that one day, Nixon would be better understood.
Emotionally, I was drawn more to Chapin: he was young and relatively innocent, too, and he was one of the most creative advisers I have seen in the White House -- an impresario in the league of Mike Deaver and Jerry Rafshoon.
His "sin," I believe, is that he was so devoted that he would do anything to protect Nixon. He paid with a broken career -- the price reckless leaders often exact from the young.
Forty years later, Dwight -- to his credit -- is still trying to protect what he can of Nixon, telling me and others where he thinks the CNN documentary film is wrong (too one-sided, he thinks, and misleading in various ways).
To this day, historians as well as those of us who lived through the Nixon period, disagree in our judgments.
I will always believe that Nixon had elements of greatness in him, but he was ultimately the architect of his own downfall -- he could not control that dark, inner fury and, for the good of the country, he had to go.

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