Our Nixon: movie review
Before it even ended, Richard Nixon’s presidency was already the most scrutinized in history, so it’s hard to believe there still remains some unearthed bit of dirt (barring an 18-minute gap here and there). And yet Our Nixon, an unusually intimate documentary, finds its way to something special: a patchwork of home movies taken by giddy high-level aides who assumed their catbird seat would one day be envied. In a postresignation interview, domestic-affairs counsel John Ehrlichman calls that time “a great big brilliantly lighted, badly run television show,” and that’s exactly the thrill of this doc, which assembles stealthy Super-8 footage of a meeting with the Pope, a jittery Oval Office phone call to astronauts on the moon and plenty of don’t-film-me blushing.
Of course, it’s not all happy times: While director Penny Lane sometimes leans a bit too heavily on Walter Cronkite newscasts to establish the already well-known chronology, there’s finesse in the way she infuses a growing sense of unease. The pageantry of Tricia Nixon’s lovely 1971 White House wedding—including a sweet dance between father and daughter—is followed by a concert in which one of the angelic Ray Conniff Singers goes off-book into political protest. Office meetings take on a furtive tone as Watergate swirls; out come the notorious recordings of Nixon railing against Archie Bunker and “fags.” Having a backstage view of the momentous trip to China adds color, but the real takeaway here is a tone of dawning tragedy, sourness sneaking into even the most innocuous of visual records.