Tomorrow at noon EST, the Leonard Lopate show at WNYC radio (93.9 FM or 820 AM in the New York area, also streamed live at www.wnyc.org and downloadable via podcasts soon after broadcast) will air a segment on the subject “Nixon In Hollywood.” The films to be discussed are two inevitable ones – All The President’s Men and Oliver Stone’s Nixon – and a rather less predictable choice, the 1999 comedy Dick. Joining Lopate to discuss the films are Rick Perlstein of Nixonland fame and Brian Neve, a professor at England’s University of Bath. (Mark Feeney, author of the recent book Nixon At The Movies, would seem to be a natural for something like this, but is not listed as a guest.) Call-ins will be taken – check the station’s website for more info.
Tonight, by way of a warmup, WNYC is sponsoring a showing of All The President’s Men at the Galagapos arts space at 16 Main Street in Brooklyn. Showtime’s at 7 pm; doors open at 6. Before the screening drinks will be available, including one called “The Nixon” for $5. I have to admit that I’d sure like to know what the recipe for that potable will be.
WNYC’s site encourages listeners to watch the three films to be discussed before tuning in Mssrs. Lopate, Perlstein and Neve. I imagine many TNN regulars have seen All The President’s Men and Nixon at least once, but Dick is a rather more obscure item. I actually saw the film in a theater during its initial run – being the one and only spectator in a 200-seat multiplex unit – and feel obliged to warn my readers that the single most historically accurate thing in it is the seemingly flawless replication of H. R. “Bob” Haldeman’s famed buzzcut atop the scalp of the actor who plays him, Dave Foley. Yes, Dave Foley from Kids In The Hall. He was 36 when he made the film – about a decade younger than Haldeman was in 1972, when the movie takes place – and looks about 22. (By contrast, Richard Fitzpatrick, who plays John Ehrlichman in Dick, looks about 20 years older than Ehrlichman was during this period.)
The movie also has Dan Hedaya (who, as it happened, appeared as a thinly disgused Bebe Rebozo in Nixon), whose portrayal of the President is pretty similar to the way he plays Tony Shalhoub’s dad on Monk. Among Dick’s more amusing moments are Will Ferrell as Bob Woodward and longtime character man G. D. Spradlin as Ben Bradlee, respectively playing their characters as boneheaded and senile. But all this takes a back seat to Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams playing teenagers who stumble into the Watergate scandal. (The movie was aimed for an adolescent audience, which avoided it in droves.)
Update: The show has now been broadcast and is available for downloading. Rick Perlstein, as expected, invokes his cherished Orthogonians vs. Franklins argument, and goes on about the paradox of an “evil man” having such an “Everyman quality,” and Brian Neve, the British professor, focuses mainly on the films under discussion without getting much into their historical background. But one thing struck me: Lopate referring to President Nixon as “a Shakespearean character, like Richard III – though not as bad as Richard III.” A WNYC program gives RN a break? At this rate we may hear something good about him on WBAI by the middle of the century.
There are also some comments on the segment at the Lopate show’s site, one of them wondering why Robert Altman’s Secret Honor, with Philip Baker Hall portraying RN in a one-man show, was not among the films discussed. Indeed, Secret Honor, though a far less frequently seen film than even Dick (and still the subject of a lot of debate among the Altman faithful) is still a better-made film than that one or Oliver Stone’s Nixon (which, as both Perlstein and Neve observed, doesn’t hold up too well under repeated viewings) and probably deserved a place in the discussion.