Thursday, October 17, 2013

Our Nixon (October 20th at the Cleveland Cinematheque)

[OUR NIXON screens Sunday October 20th at 6:30 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

The new documentary OUR NIXON is a collection of choice moments taken from the approximately 500 reels worth of 8mm home movie footage shot by President Richard M. Nixon's chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, his domestic affairs adviser John Ehrlichman, and his special assistant Dwight Chapin. For 40 years this material was held by the FBI, but now it has been made available to the public. Director Penny Lane has taken this footage and married it to interviews with the three amateur filmmakers who shot it, excepts from Nixon's secretly recorded office tapes, and bits of commentary provided by news reports of the time.

There are a lot of good moments to be found in the film, but my personal favorite had to be when Nixon introduces the Ray Coniff Singers as his kind of “square” musicians, only to have one of their members make a considerably less than supportive statement about the President. Even though the member who made the statement, Carol Feraci, certainly didn't speak for the group or its leader, it's pretty stunning nonetheless.

There is no traditional narrative structure here; OUR NIXON is more like a tone poem with the various scenes tying together on an emotional level. None of which is to imply that the film is just randomly thrown together. The way the various bits of film are edited and the choice of sound clips to go along with them puts everything into all the context needed for the film to get its point of view across. The end result is a portrait of Nixon that shows him in lights both good and bad and, while certainly no love letter to Tricky Dick, in a way it serves to humanize the man without letting him off the hook. And no matter how you look at it, this is a great wealth of historical material that anyone seriously interested in 20th century American history needs to see. 3 out of 4 stars.

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