Our Nixon (Cinedigm/Docurama, NR)

OurNixon 75For those who are experts on the Nixon era, Our Nixon will be a garden of delights, with each clip triggering memories and associations.

OurNixon 500

I doubt that anyone who lived through the Nixon years, or has encountered them through reading or study, is neutral on the subject of our 37th president. To some he’s a martyr, to others a war criminal, to others the president who successfully put a man on the moon and re-opened U. S. relations with China, and to yet others the man who took paranoia and dirty tricks to new heights in American politics and in the process gave us the now-ubiquitous “-gate” suffix, thanks to the Watergate scandal.

Given the complexity of America’s collective relationship with Nixon, there will probably be a market for materials about him for years to come, with the Peter Morgan’s play (and Ron Howard’s film) Frost/Nixon a case in point. It’s hard to imagine another American president whose name and reputation could spark sufficient interest to carry a creative production based on a small slice of his life after leaving office.

The previous two paragraphs are the best explanation I can offer for the appeal of Our Nixon, which shouldn’t work but does anyway. It’s made up of home video footage shot by three Nixon staffers—John Erlichman, H.R. Haldeman, and Dwight Chapin—along with television clips, more recent interviews, and a soundtrack made up of clips from audio interviews and (often humorous) music. The art of the film lies in the selection and juxtaposition of clips, and it would be easy to go all Room 237 and start finding meaning in every detail, but it’s saner to assume that most often a sparrow is just a sparrow. Focus on the big picture, in other words.

 I suspect that everyone who watches Our Nixon will essentially have seen a different film, because the film relies on the individual viewer to provide context with which to interpret a series of clips presented without further interpretation. For those who neither know nor care much about Nixon, this could make the film a frustrating experience, as director Penny Lane deliberately doesn’t tell you why you are seeing what she chooses to put before your eyes and ears, or even necessarily what you are seeing.

A commentary track providing contextual information would be a real boon, from the educational point of view, but it would be contrary to the spirit of this documentary. That means that you’ll have to do your own googling to find the background for each clip. Or you can skip that step and just let the film wash over you, because it’s still fascinating in the way a well-chosen selection of archival materials can be. It seems like a fair selection to me, but I’m not going to mention anything in particular in the film, because the effect of some of the segments depend on surprise.

For those who are experts on the Nixon era, Our Nixon will be a garden of delights, with each clip triggering memories and associations. It’s also a trip down memory lane, as the incidental capture of information about dress styles and styles of presentation reminds you that the world does change, for better or worse. Of course, you’re not seeing a random or even necessarily a representative selection of anything, just the director’s choice, taken from what archival footage was available.

Extras on the DVD include two silent video essays, “Nixon and Friends” (11:22) and “Travels with Nixon” (59:58), and Our Nixon‘s trailer. | Sarah Boslaugh

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