Last week, the last of the Nixon white House tapes were made available online. These remind us of a few things concerning the president, including his paranoia, his vulnerability, and his conscious efforts to cover up the Watergate scandal. They don’t quite show other, more elusive aspects of this complicated figure, however, and for that you might turn to the excellent documentary Our Nixon, opening in select theaters on 30 August.
Comprised of Super 8 footage shot by John Erlichman, H.R. Haldeman, and Dwight Chapin, as well as TV reports of Vietnam war protests, TV interviews, and clips from the White House audiotapes, Penny Lane’s film prompts more questions than it answers, including the one presented by its title. Whose Nixon might these movies reveal, as he performs for television and other cameras, makes speeches, waves from podiums, stands and smiles alongside Pat or dances at Tricia’s wedding? How do the men around him create or cause him, how do they curb or incite? Our Nixon shows views of the president framed by particular filmmakers, views that are now reframed as worrying, because you know what might have been going on off camera, what you don’t see when Nixon hunches his shoulders and flashes his V signs. But you can’t know what you don’t see, you can’t guess at what someone means when he makes even the most alarming comment. The movie is, more than anything else, about the limits of possession, of knowledge, of trust and truth.
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