Archive for Nixon

Nixon on Ice

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , on March 26, 2020 by dcairns

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.

Everything’s Coming Up Hitler

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2018 by dcairns

Reading yesterday’s post, greatest living Scotsman Steven McNicoll texted me with two more Hitlers.

First off, Frank Finlay is Hitler! In an ITV play, The Death of Adolf Hitler broadcast in 1973, the same year Alec Guinness hitlered up — must have been awkward if they bumped into each other.

Hilarious! It’s just pure Frank Finlay, to the power of ten, dressed as Hitler. That may be the problem of doing it in English — you can’t very well put on a Hitler voice.

I once saw Michael Caine interviewed, saying, “What I offer people is the shock of recognition,” and I thought, I’ve never felt the shock of recognition with Michael Caine, unless he means, “Oh look! It’s Michael Caine!” But I do LIKE recognising Michael Caine. Similarly, here, I don’t see Hitler but I do see quite a lot of Frank Finlay and that’s always a welcome thing.

Interviewing Richard Lester, I asked him why he didn’t make Porthos in THE THREE MUSKETEERS a giant, as he is in the book. “It didn’t interest me,” he replied. So he just got Frank Finlay to act giant. Good call.

1981: The Bunker. Anthony Hopkins is Adolf Hitler! Well, he does have the initials.

This one looks quite interesting, but the only impression Hopkins can do is Tommy Cooper. His Hitler suffers the same problem as his Alfred Hitchcock (though again, right initials) — the few areas of resemblance just point up the big areas of difference. He has some eye makeup here, I think, and he’s trying to make himself lipless (would Branagh be good casting? — his Heydrich was fun!) by sheer effort of will, and there’s some good physical work with the hands. But it doesn’t work, I don’t think. Not only do you not think you’re looking at Hitler, you don’t think you’re looking at a person. Whereas with his turn in NIXON, you believe he’s a person, just not Richard Nixon.

Gummint

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2016 by dcairns

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Uh-oh! Symbolism alert!

As Donald Drumpf oozes his way towards Republican candidacy, it seemed appropriate to watch George Wallace, the John Frankenheimer-directed teleplay about another figure who sought to give the American people what they wanted… whatever it might be. “These are my principles! If you don’t like them… I have others,” he doesn’t quite say.

Gary Sinise won an Emmy for this role the day Wallace himself died, the kind of thing you couldn’t make up, and asides from the obvious political amusement value of a Reaganite wingnut in the role, he’s very well suited to it. Obviously any actor is going to be better looking than any politician, but the snakily sexy Sinise does have some kind of a working resemblance to his subject. He also deserved his Emmy for giving much of his performance from behind some pretty awful old age makeup.

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Prosthetically enhanced nasolabial madness

Sinise later reprised this role, uncredited, in Path to War, Frankenheimer’s last major work, about LBJ’s Vietnam entanglement — sadly, this piece doesn’t have nearly as good a script — too much exposition, backstory, showing off the research, characters as mouthpieces, some good stuff but some truly awful stuff. Joe Don Baker is wasted in a role that demands he deliver exactly the same dollar-book Freud analysis of Wallace, twice, in scenes set seventeen years apart. Mare Winningham is great as Mrs. W, but her role seems sculpted after Joan Allen’s Pat Nixon in the Oliver Stone movie, whose baleful influence hangs heavily over this one (unhelpful flashback structure; meaningless fluctuations into b&w). Both women are made into that most irksome of feminine characters, the person who pleads with the an/protagonist not to do what he’s got to do. Yeah, spend more time with your family, George. That’ll make riveting television. Worse, in order to make these women “sympathetic,” both pieces avoid giving them any politics of their own — they are mutely compliant ciphers (which is the role politician’s wives play in public, but I imagine often behind the scenes they understand and agree with a good bit of what hubby is up to). So Lurleen Wallace’s only role is as Pinocchio’s conscience, but without the insights. “And if you do become president, will that finally quell the raging beast that dwells within you?” she doesn’t quite say.

(The script does manage one nice use of backstory — the Wallaces roleplaying the first time they met, which gives them a moment of sweetness while filling in some history [as always with backstory, we don’t actually need it, but in this case it pays for itself in present-tense character stuff].)

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Also along is a young Angelina Jolie, fairly melting the celluloid. The script can’t quite decide what to make of her. She’s as driven to win as George — perhaps that makes her bad? She’s sexy — perhaps that makes her bad? Whatever, it’s a fierce, animalistic performance from somebody who’s clearly going places.

Who else? Clarence Williams III is moving as a prison trustee working in the governor’s mansion, who turns out to be fictitious, a fact revealed in a final title, which kind of collapses his part of the piece like a house of cards. Where the film works, it tends to be in (a) showing Wallace’s monstrousness — his famous line about having been “outniggered” — “As God is my witness, I’ll never be outniggered again,” he doesn’t quite say. And (b) showing Wallace suffer — Sinise is chairbound again, in constant pain, and yes, we can feel some sympathy for a soul in hell even though damned if he deserves it. Where it resorts to special pleading or faking up sympathy it flounders. Williams isn’t doing a DRIVING MISS DAISY, quite (that would be too horrific), and there’s some merit in showing that Wallace THINKS he likes black people, personally, and thinks his ability to have them around the house proves he’s not bigoted, but this piece of fiction damages the film nevertheless, because it hurts its credibility.

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The Klan brings out Frankenheimer’s compositional brio

I have somewhere in the house a 70s book on Frankenheimer, probably buried in the folds of my floordrobe, with a substantial interview in which he talks about his liberal politics. Maybe nowadays anybody talking about “negros” will just seem dates and clueless, but Frankenheimer seems to have problems that go beyond just terminology — I believe he uses the expression “the Negro problem,” which is falling into a major linguistic trap. You’re saying, I believe, that there is a problem because there are some people called Negros. Back up. Try again. Try better.

But Frankenheimer’s political engagement (American liberals tend to be pretty right-wing by the standards of the rest of the world) does allow him to portray his real-life friend Bobby Kennedy squaring off against Wallace (Mark Valley is pretty good in the role, though again a shade too handsome). And the historical events and the actions of the main figure  (one heistates to use the word “character”) had us watching with our jaws hanging open. Some of the facts we knew, but it’s mostly before our time, and it’s another country, so a lot of it was new to us.

The movie takes Wallace’s reformation seriously — he asks forgiveness of African-Americans. As an audience, having watched this human bellwether flip-flop for three hours, we’re not quite willing to go with him. It would be entirely in character for Wallace to renounce his former racism just to stay fashionable. It’s good that he did it, whatever the reason, just as Drumpf’s racism is equally toxic whether he believes it or not. Political hot air has real consequences.

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JF’s signature shot, first wheeled out in MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. A nostalgia for the mechnics of TV runs all through his later work.

The music in this show is not good. Orchestral synths piping presidential themes at us — John Williams could play NIXON epic because he had the musical grandeur to pull it off, and the script made enough clumsy gestures Nixon being a tragic figure — King Liar. “He doesn’t deserve this music,” said Fiona, as the pseudo-strings swelled soupily around Sinise. “He deserves, maybe, a toy piano.” Or a kazoo and a rattle. Gary Chang did some good scores for Frankenheimer, especially on the thrillers, but this isn’t good.

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And again

The problematic script is by Wallace biographer Marshall Frady and Paul Monash, whose career swings from the crappy add-on scenes in TOUCH OF EVIL, to fifties TV shows including one with Frankenhemer (I haven’t seen The Death of Manolete) to the magnificent THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE.