Nixon on Ice

SLEEPER came up in conversation the other day. You might want to consider getting frozen until this is all over (Covid-19/Trump/the Marvel universe).

The specific bit referred to is the reference to Nixon. Woody Allen has been revived from cryogenics in the year 2173, two hundred years after being put on ice. The people who have defrosted him try to bring him up to speed on historical developments.

A bit of TV news footage is screened for him: Dick Nixon addresses the nation. “Some of us have a theory that he might once have been a president of the United States, but that he did something horrendous so that all records, everything was wiped out about him. There is nothing in the history books, there are no pictures on stamps, no money…”

“Yes,” says Woody, “He actually was president of the United States, but I know that whenever he used to leave the White House the secret service used to count the silverware.”

What’s impressive here is that the movie opened in December 1973 and was presumably shot months earlier, and Nixon didn’t resign until August ’74. So that we could say that among his other accomplishments, WA doesn’t get enough credit for being a prophet.

(Please don’t let’s make this a referendum on his guilt or innocence vis-a-vis sex crimes. You’re allowed your opinion and I’m hanging on to my lack of one.)

I wonder how Trump will fare. Nixon, of course, was not erased from history but he certainly didn’t get commemorative stamps, just a bloated biopic. Trump seems unfilmable as even while he’s happening, he remains unimaginable. And there’s no inner life there to explore. Oliver Stone admitted he had to make his fictional Nixon gifted with more self-awareness than the real guy (as when he compares himself ruefully to Kennedy).

Back to SLEEPER: I had to look up a reference right before this one. It’s explained that our civilisation was largely wiped out by a war, when “a man called Albert Shanker got ahold of a nuclear warhead.” I had no idea who that was and probably audiences at the time outside the US didn’t either, but Shanker was president of the United Federation of Teachers. Which I find very funny, even without looking deeper into his character to discover what it was that made Allen feel he couldn’t be trusted with a nuke.

7 Responses to “Nixon on Ice”

  1. ehrenstein47 Says:

    Glad to see you writing about “Sleeper” as t’s one of Woody’s best. Happily his memoir “Apropos of Nothing” has been published and we’re all free to read the ACTUAL TRUTH. No he did not molest Dylan Farrow. More horrifying is his account of Mama Mia’s attempts to make Satchel (Ronan) taller by having his legs broken and reset. YIKES!

    It’s 400 pages long and is loaded with information about his entire life and career up to now. The screaming you hear in the background is Mia, raging over the fact that her attempted Woody-banning has failed.

  2. mikeclelland Says:

    I saw this in a revival theater in NYC sometime in the late 80s. I wasn’t a native New Yorker, I arrived there in 1981 to study film at Woody Allen’s alma mater, NYU.

    Anyway, that line about Albert Shanker got a HUGE laugh. I had to ask around about that line, because I didn’t get it.

  3. revelator60 Says:

    The only man qualified to make a film about Trump is Alfred Jarry.

  4. ehrenstein47 Says:

    The Albert Shanker gag is Woody at his most baroque. Only New Yorkers would know about the perpetually cranky Albert Shanker

  5. bensondonald Says:

    Other probably lost commercial references:

    — When Allen gets out of sync with his bathroom mirror, he eventually finds a strange couple looking back at him. There was a series of ads where a man shaving opens his medicine cabinet to find a talkative neighbor looking back, cheerily encouraging him to switch to his brand of deodorant. It became a series of ads, with additional members of both families (one endlessly chatty, the other still a little nonplussed about the shared medicine cabinet).
    — The 200-year-old Volkswagen beetle recalled a commercial — supposedly based on an actual incident — about a VW that started right up after a year or more untouched in a barn.

    The Keane painting is still current, thanks to the highly publicized lawsuit and eventual movie, but the reference to Cugat was already a tad obscure. Xavier Cugat was a popular bandleader now best known as Charo’s elderly first husband and an occasional “I Love Lucy” reference as Ricky’s big-time rival. He also cranked out kitschy “modern” paintings.

  6. ROGER ALLEN Says:

    “The only man qualified to make a film about Trump is Alfred Jarry.”
    An animated film. Script by Jarry, animations based on Gerald Scarfe drawings.

  7. Yes, that would work if anyone could bear it.

    I know Cugat from a couple of the Esther Williams films that saved Fiona’s life.

    I agree that Sleeper is near the top of the list for Allen’s all-out comedies. Fiona quotes the line “I’ve seen him shoot a nose.” If it had an actual ending it would be perfect.

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