Our Nixon is a compilation film by Penny Lane about the only U.S. President (so far!) who resigned and had to leave that office is disgrace. The documentary is largely composed of and culled from 500 hours of never-before-publicly-seen Super 8 home movies shot by three Nixon aides that were seized by the FBI during the Watergate investigation, then filed away and forgotten — until the intrepid (and obstreperous) Lane unearthed and rescued this cinematic treasure trove for posterity. She has shaped out of the raw material of this footage an eye-opening insider’s glimpse of President Richard Milhous Nixon and his benighted administration.
Lane painstakingly matches sound and wry musical choices to the silent chronicles and adds archival video from network news vaults. From a film form point of view this is a fascinating exercise in cinema verite. The fly-on-the-wall Nixon remix includes celluloid shot by advisor John Ehrlichman, Chief of Staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman and special assistant Dwight Chapin. The documentary reminds us how young this regime’s hacks and hatchet men were — Ehrlichman was 43, Haldeman 34 and Chapin a mere 27. But boy were they ever on the wrong side of the ’60s/’70s generational divide!
Chapin, the youngest, went to college with dirty trickster Donald Segretti, whose Nixonian specialty was “ratfucking,” (pardon my French, but the Nixon administration was known for its “expletives deleted”) the Democrats, such as that phony “Canuck” letter to presidential candidate Senator Edmund Muskie that supposedly caused him to cry and appear weak; tossing marbles on the ground at a Democratic rally, and other pranks gone beserk. The film discloses that “Segretti” translates, appropriately, from the Italian to “secrets” in English. This is who Nixon’s henchmen hobnobbed with: Verily, ye shall know them by the company they keep!
Our Nixon contains great behind-the-scenes footage of historic events, such as Tricky Dick’s 1972 breakthrough Beijing trip, where the veteran anti-communist met with Mao and applauded a performance of the revolutionary ballet The Red Detachment of Women. The doc also has surprises, such as: Did you know that the right’s idiot savant, William F. Buckley, was on Nixon’s China trip? And Tricky Dick’s comments on Henry Kissinger (the National Security Advisor’s sex life is far more offensive to Nixon than his mass murder), eavesdropping, approval ratings, etc., are eyebrow- and hair-raising.
The documentary’s most jaw-dropping moment took place not behind closed doors in the Oval Office but in the White House’s East Room on Jan. 28, 1972 when Nixon — presiding over a dinner marking the 50th anniversary of Reader’s Digest — introduced the decidedly unhip Ray Conniff Singers by defiantly snarling: “And if the music is square, it’s because I like it square.” But then, one of the singers did something cool enough to give Nixon indigestion. Canadian alto Carole Feraci pulled a Medea Benjamin, held up a banner saying, “Stop the Killing” and proclaimed to the astonished crowd that included aviator Charles Lindbergh, astronaut Frank Borman and Alice Roosevelt Longworth: “President Nixon, stop bombing human beings…You go to church on Sundays and pray to Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ were here tonight, you would not dare to drop another bomb.” As the bandleader tried to snatch Feraci’s banner the 30-year-old held onto it and added: “Bless the Berrigans and bless Daniel Ellsberg.”
Penny Lane is the perfect name for someone who compiles documentaries out of archival footage — after all, the Beatles song entitled “Penny Lane” is all about a trip down, well, memory lane. After the LAFF screening, Penny Lane did a Q&A and buttons declaring “Hi. I’m an effete, impudent intellectual snob,” were handed out to viewers. Our Nixon is a pointed reminder about the U.S. surveillance state run amok as America grapples with another presidential Big Brother snooping scandal under Tricky Baracky. (See: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1222291754/our-nixon-found-footage-documentary.)
For more info see: www.LAFilmfest.com.