Movies, Documentary

Frost-Nixon: The TV Interview

14 February 2009

image Even if you have already seen the 1976 film All the President’s Men with Dustin Hofmann and Robert Redford playing the two Washington Post journalists (Woodward and Berstein) who exposed the Watergate scandal or the 1994 BBC documentary Watergate: Third Rate Burglary, this 1977 interview of a British journalist with Richard Nixon about Watergate is a fascinating 75-minute documentary. Initially, Nixon’s arguments that he did not commit a criminal act reminded me of Bill Clinton’s parsing of language when he was asked in a courtroom whether he had sex with Monica Lewinsky. But later in the interview Frost pushes Nixon into the corner where Nixon let’s down his guard and makes some amazing declarations.

Nixon was a nightmare for America but as a character is wonderful material for any dramatist. Nixon is a liar. He cannot look the viewer in the eye. His need for recognition in history not only led him to order the self-incriminating recordings of all his White House conversations (the tapes provided the chief evidence of is conspiracy to obstruct justice) but three years after his downfall made him sit down for 26 hours worth of questions. Nixon did not know Frost’s questions in advance and all subjects were open for discussion. When most people are presented with overwhelming evidence that they are lying they ordinarily have enough decency to shut up. Nixon agreed to these interviews because he truly believed that somehow he could still persuade history that he had no criminal intent. History is not buying this, as was so evident in the BBC documentary that proved that Nixon was still lying in the interview with Frost. This in part makes it so fascinating to watch because his face tells you he is not being honest but he has this deep psychological need to make himself look better than he was.

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Peter

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