Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Tuesday, 6 January 2009


I've reviewed a book or two on this blog, so will attempt the same with a movie.

The film is Ron Howard's "Frost/Nixon", a dramatic retelling of the post-Watergate television interviews between British talk-show host David Frost and former president Richard Nixon.

I remember the original interviews, and watching them on a small black and white TV in our newly-purchased home, the first year of our marriage. It seems a long time ago.

The screenplay is excellent, and despite the limited opportunity for visual impact, (the interview situation) it engages and entertains from beginning to end. The characterisations of both Frost and Nixon are also engaging. I felt that I understood the motivations and actions of both very well, and was gently led into this understanding as a viewer by a thorough and careful preparation, which the storyline neatly paralleled with its lead-up narrative.

Howard also used an interesting in-camera interview technique as a device to provide the audience with the background it needed to understand exactly what was going on. Because I've always been interested in this time in American political history, I didn't need the backgrounding, but didn't find it intrusive.

Nixon's decisions leading to the bombing of Cambodia were covered in the narrative of the interviews, and this held particular resonance for me, as I was in the north of Phuoc Tuy in March/April 1970; close enough to the B-52 bombing to hear it. There is a school of thought that his decisions back then led to the savagery of the Killing Fields, as it effectively radicalised Cambodians behind Pol Pot.

What was new to me in all of this was an interpretation of Richard Nixon, the man. I left the movie feeling a vague sense of sympathy for Nixon. He was obviously a deeply-flawed individual, but he had an enormous drive and determination, and a master of the art of the application of political power. In this, he resembled Mao Zedong, and it appears the two understood and respected each other.

The detail touches add impact to the screenplay, and it seems that the production was researched very carefully. I'm one of those annoying people who watches very closely for anachronistic bloopers and didn't see any in this offering.

I'd recommend it strongly, even if you have no interest in political history. If you do, it's a must-see.


Boy on a bike said...

Apparently Nixon did the interviews to cover the legal bills that he racked up during his time in office. Frost paid him enough to cover his bills, and that was it. Until then, with the exception of LBJ, ex-presidents did not trade on their name to make a fortune when leaving office.

1735099 said...

Much of the dialogue was devoted to the money question, although most of it was about Frost's difficulties in raising the ante to pay Nixon for the interviews ($600000 US from memory). The networks didn't want to know, because they regarded it as "cheque-book journalism". They were also worried about getting their sponsors offside. Consequently they wouldn't fund it and Frost used a lot of his own money.
Nixon was portrayed as being very keen to get his hands on the cash, but there was no explanation as to why.

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