Advertisement

The Cinematic Watergate: From All the President’s Men to Frost/Nixon

  • Kingsley Marshall
Chapter
  • 257 Downloads
Part of the The Evolving American Presidency Series book series (EAP)

Abstract

Richard Nixon is frequently represented in Hollywood movies as the embodiment of presidential villainy, the polar opposite of filmmakers’ conventional representations of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy as heroic leaders.1 He provides a convenient metaphor for the shortcomings, inauthenticity, and antidemocratic tendencies of America’s political establishment.2 Despite this, very few made-for- cinema films have explored his Watergate downfall in purportedly realistic fashion. This chapter examines how these movies contribute to remembrance and understanding of one of the key events in American history. In its assessment, they have reinforced the image of Watergate as a scandal pertaining to Nixon, with a subtheme of the media’s fundamental role in exposing presidential wrongdoing, rather than a systemic crisis of the imperial presidency.

Keywords

Constitutional Democracy American Film Hollywood Movie Cinema Film Realistic Fashion 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    For discussion of cinematic presidents, see: Peter C. Rollins and John E. O’Connor, eds., Hollywood’s White House: The American Presidency in Film and History (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2003)Google Scholar
  2. 1.
    Iwan Morgan, ed., Presidents in the Movies: American History and Politics on Screen (New York: Palgrave, 2011).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Mark Feeney, Nixon at the Movies: A Book About Belief (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    David Greenberg, Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image (New York: Norton, 2003), xxxii, xxvi.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Daniel Frick, Reinventing Richard Nixon: A Cultural History of an American Obsession (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2008), 17.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, All the President’s Men (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1974).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Jimmy Carter, Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President (New York: Bantam Books, 1982), 27.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Robert Brent Toplin, History by Hollywood: The Use and Abuse of the Past (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996), 182–183.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    David A. Cook, Lost Illusions: American Cinema in the Shadow of Watergate and Vietnam, 1970–1979 (New York: Scribner, 2000), 201Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    Deborah Knight and George McKnight, “The Case of the Disappearing Enigma,” Philosophy and Literature, 21 (April 1997), 123–138; Feeney, Nixon in the Movies, 260–261.Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    Seth Cagin and Philip Dray, Born to be Wild: Hollywood and the Sixties Generation (Rochester, NY: Coyote Books, 1994), 160; Feeney, Nixon at the Movies, 258.Google Scholar
  12. 11.
    Leonard Garment, In Search of Deep Throat: The Greatest Political Mystery of Our Time (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 15.Google Scholar
  13. 12.
    David Von Dreble, “FBI’s No. 2 Was Deep Throat: Mark Felt Ends 30-Year Mystery of the Post’s Watergate Source,” Washington Post, June 1, 2005.Google Scholar
  14. 12.
    See also Bob Woodward, “How Mark Felt Became ‘Deep Throat,”’ Washington Post, June 2, 2005.Google Scholar
  15. 13.
    Stephen Holden, “Movies That Reflect Our Obsession With Conspiracy,” New York Times, August 11, 1974.Google Scholar
  16. 14.
    Alan J. Pakula, “Making a Film About Two Reporters,” American Cinematographer 57 (July 1976); “Cinema: Watergate on Film,” Time, March 29, 1976.Google Scholar
  17. 14.
    For the director, see Jared Brown, Alan J. Pakula: His Films and His Life (New York: Back Stage Books, 2005).Google Scholar
  18. 17.
    Peter Lev, American Films in the 70s: Conflicting Visions (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000), 49–50.Google Scholar
  19. 18.
    John W. Dean, Lost Honor (Los Angeles: Stratford Press, 1982)Google Scholar
  20. 18.
    Mark Feldstein, “The Myth of the Media’s Role in Watergate,” August 30, 2004, History News Network, http://hnn.us/articles/6813.html.Google Scholar
  21. 19.
    Edward Jay Epstein, Between Fact and Fiction: The Problem of Journalism (New York: Vintage, 1975)Google Scholar
  22. 19.
    Louis W. Liebovich, Richard Nixon, Watergate and the Press: A Historical Retrospective (Urbana: University of Illinois, 2003); Greenberg, Nixon’s Shadow, chapter 4. For an excellent summary, see Feldstein, “The Myth of the Media’s Role in Watergate.”Google Scholar
  23. 20.
    Gary Arnold, “President’s Men: Absorbing, Meticulous… and Incomplete,” Washington Post, April 4, 1976Google Scholar
  24. 20.
    Michael Schudson, Watergate in American Memory: How We Remember, Forget, and Reconstruct the Past (New York: Basic Books, 1992), 103–126.Google Scholar
  25. 21.
    “Katherine Graham 1917–2001—An American Original,” Newsweek, July 30, 2001; Katherine Graham, Personal History (New York: Knopf, 1997), 508.Google Scholar
  26. 22.
    Daniel L. Schacter, Memory Distortion: How Minds, Brains and Societies Reconstruct the Past (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 355–356.Google Scholar
  27. 23.
    William Elliot and William Schenck-Hamlin, “Film, Politics and the Press: The Influence of All the President’s Men,” Journalism Quarterly, 56 (3) (1979), 546.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 23.
    See also, Ernest Giglio, Here’s Looking at You: Hollywood, Film & Politics (New York: Peter Lang, 2007), 26Google Scholar
  29. 23.
    Robert Rosenstone, Visions of the Past: The Challenge of Films to our Idea of History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 57.Google Scholar
  30. 24.
    Elizabeth Kraft, “All the President’s Men as a Woman’s Film,” Journal of Popular Film & Television, 36 (April 2008), 31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 25.
    Nixon is the main character in The Final Days (1989), Kissinger and Nixon (1995), and Elvis Meets Nixon (1997). The best of these by far was The Final Days, based on Bernstein and Woodward’s sequel that explored the meltdown of the Nixon presidency from the inside. It so upset Nixon that he withdrew his custom from AT&T, who had sponsored production. Nixon also appears in productions about Watergate conspirators Charles Colson, John Dean, and Gordon Liddy, respectively Born Again (1978), Blind Ambition (1979), and Will: The Autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy (1982). It is widely agreed, however, that the best representation of Nixon was Jason Robards’ performance as the ‘fictional’ President Richard M. Monckton in the 1977 miniseries, Washington Behind Closed Doors, which was loosely based on The Company, a novel by another Watergate conspiracy alumnus, John Ehrlichman.Google Scholar
  32. 26.
    Michael Coyne, Hollywood Goes to Washington: American Politics on Screen (London: Reaktion, 2008), 81–82.Google Scholar
  33. 27.
    For more detailed discussion, see Charlene Etkind, “Richard Nixon as Dick (1999) and the Comedic Treatment of the Presidency,” in Rollins and O’Connor, Hollywood’s White House, 262–274 (quotation p. 272).Google Scholar
  34. 28.
    For discussion, see: Robert Brent Toplin, ed., Oliver Stone’s USA: Film, History and Controversy (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000)Google Scholar
  35. 28.
    Iwan Morgan, “The President Impeached: Tennessee Johnson and Nixon” in Morgan, The President in the Movies, 160–166. Vainly hoping to preempt attacks on the movie’s accuracy, Stone published a book explaining his approach in the Nixon movie: Oliver Stone, Stephen Rivele, and Christopher Wilkinson, Nixon: An Oliver Stone Film (New York: Hyperion, 1995).Google Scholar
  36. 28.
    For Mailer’s comment, see William Grimes, “What Debt Does Hollywood Owe to the Truth?” New York Times, March 5, 1992 (A22).Google Scholar
  37. 29.
    Christopher Wilkinson, “The Year of the Beast,” in Eric Hamburg, ed., Nixon: An Oliver Stone Film (London: Bloomsbury, 1996), 58–59; Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., “On JFK and Nixon,” in Toplin, Oliver Stone’s USA, 212–216 (quotation p. 215). For a defense of Stone’s metaphor, see Donald Whaley, “‘Biological Business-as-Usual:’ The Beast in Oliver Stone’s Nixon,” in Rollins and O’Connor, Hollywood’s White House, 275–287.Google Scholar
  38. 30.
    The play opened in London’s West End in 2006 and transferred to New York’s Broadway in the following year. Broadcast in four programs in May 1977 and a fifth later on, the Frost-Nixon interviews drew what remains at the time of writing the largest worldwide audience for a political interview. In the United States an estimated fifty million watched the first of these. For the story of their making, see David Frost, I Gave Them a Sword: Behind the Scenes of the Nixon Interviews (London: Macmillan, 1978).Google Scholar
  39. 31.
    James Reston, Jr., “The Legacy of the Frost/Nixon Interviews,” in Frost/Nixon Gielgud Theatre Programme (2006), 10–11.Google Scholar
  40. 32.
    David Edelstein, “Unholy Alliance: Frost/Nixon’s iconic TV moment seems quaint after Couric/Palin,” New York Magazine, November 30, 2008.Google Scholar
  41. 33.
    Jeff Dawson, “Sir David Frost on Frost/Nixon: His duel with Richard Nixon cost him £37 million,” (London) Sunday Times, January 18, 2009.Google Scholar
  42. 36.
    James Reston, Jr., “Frost, Nixon and Me,” Smithsonian Magazine, January, 2009.Google Scholar
  43. 38.
    George Custon, “Making History,” in Marcia Landy, ed., The Historical Film: History and Memory in Media (London: Athlone Press, 2001), 67–97 (quotation p. 69).Google Scholar
  44. 40.
    Mark Carnes, “Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies,” Cineaste (March 1997), 33Google Scholar
  45. 40.
    Marnie Hughes-Warrington, History Goes to the Movies (London: Routledge, 2007), 51, 21.Google Scholar
  46. 41.
    Dan Nimmo and James E. Combs, Subliminal Politics Myths and Mythmakers in America (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1980), 5.Google Scholar
  47. 42.
    Garrison Keillor, We Are Still Married: Stories and Letters (New York: Viking, 1989), xviii.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Michael A. Genovese and Iwan W. Morgan 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kingsley Marshall

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations