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Frost/Nixon « Previous | |Next »
January 1, 2009

I saw Ron Howard's Frost/Nixon filmic adaption of Peter Morgan's play about the back story of the David Frost television interviews with Nixon in 1977 yesterday. Only a hint of the theatrical origins are still visible. in this Hollywood adaptation. The film juxtaposes political power with media power through a series of interviews in which the two match wits for money in a kind of poker game played out on television.

It is a study in media and political character as both the grinning TV personality and the conniving ex-president hope to revive their careers by outfoxing their onscreen partner.The interviews are important because Frost got Nixon to admit that he had let down the country down.

McCabeSfrostnixon.jpg Sean McCabe

The core of the film is Nixon's drunken phone call to Frost before the final interview on Watergate about Nixon's involvement in the Watergate scandal, for which he would have certainly been impeached had he not opted to resign. This is Hollywood and Frost gets Nixon to admit in the Watergate interview that nothing the president does could be considered illegal---"When the president does it, that means it is not illegal” a view that justifies any measure taken by a president, whether break-ins, pre-emptive strikes, torture or unauthorized surveillance.

The reality is different--Nixon's statement occurred during the discussion of the Huston Plan that lead to the illegal wiretapping of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Elsberg#Fielding_break-in">Daniel Elsberg. The Huston Plan related to domestic terrorism and the Ellsberg wiretapping was in response to Ellsberg's leaking of the highly-classified Pentagon Papers.

President Bush’s view of executive power, and the limits of executive authority in a democratic society, is not at all different than Nixon’s But Bush, unlike Nixon, shows no remorse. Frank Langella's representation of Nixon discloses the arrogance, the doubt, the self-loathing, recriminations and torment. This representation of Nixon is that of a tragic character haunted by the existential terror and horror at the heart of politics, which so damages people and causes them to act in ways they consider to be wrong.

In this case it is Nixon's abuse of executive power that so damaged his political reputation. The damage haunts him, eats away at him. He seeks to restore that reputation and desires redemption. The former drives him, the latter surfaces with Nixon's admission that "I let the American people down and I’ll live with that for the rest of my life".

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 4:08 PM |