Saturday, March 17, 2012

Nixon and Me

Most afternoons at about five, when on my way back from something-or-other, I stop off at a little supermarket to buy food for my supper. I find it a pleasant place to buy my groceries. Although it charges a bit more than another much larger supermarket closer to my home, I prefer to shop in this little supermarket because the extra money I'll have to pay is worth the pleasant experience of shopping there.

I do realise I'm not like most of you in grocery-shopping this way. Not only am I happy to pay more in pleasant surroundings, rather than paying less in less pleasant ones, I also shop for groceries every day. Were I to grocery-shop once a week, as Normals do, I would know more or less what I'll be eating for supper over the next seven days. This would be boring.

This little supermarket has a bin in which are used-DVDs of films for sale. Although they sell for between $3.99 and $4.99, I hardly ever buy any because well-nigh all of them I wouldn't watch even if handed out free. Nonetheless I never lose hope that there are DVDs there that I might like. So, each time I buy food for my supper in this little supermarket, which is to say nearly every day, I sift through the bin.

Some weeks ago I came across a DVD of "Frost/Nixon" in the bin. Normally I would have bought it while trembling with excitement, for I can never get enough of Richard Nixon. Until 1994 when he crossed to the Other Side, Nixon had always been a part of my life. The Kitchen-Debate with Khrushchev, the TV debates with Kennedy, the trauma of Watergate and the resignation in disgrace. I had closely followed them all. I read many books about Nixon. I visited his Presidential library in Yorba Linda. Nixon was so much a part of me that when he Crossed Over, a little of me died. Can I go on living with no Nixon, I've asked myself many times since. Seventeen years later, I'm still here. It's not been easy, though.

Nonetheless I didn't buy the DVD of "Frost/Nixon" at first, for I had seen the promotional trailer, which had put me off the film. Hence I had never gone to see it when it was still in the theatres. However, I had seen the original Frost/Nixon interviews, and remembered them well, and thought a re-enactment of them couldn't fail to be disappointing, particularly the re-enactment as shown in the trailer.

Allow me at this point to say that trailers have often put me off films that, when I later did see them, I thought good. What does it say for a film's promoters that the trailer they produce to show prospective viewers how good their film is, makes prospective viewers like me think the film terrible, when it's actually good?

Each time I subsequently shopped for my supper at the little supermarket after first seeing the DVD of "Frost/Nixon" in the bin, I would look in the bin and would see that "Frost/Nixon" was still there. Finally I bought it, but I procrastinated watching it. Then, needing a change from watching the science fiction films on YouTube that I've also been writing of, I did at last watch "Frost/Nixon". I found it................riveting.

***

A good part of "Frost/Nixon" dwells on something I'd not thought about - the $600,000 that David Frost paid Richard Nixon for the right to interview him. While $600,000 doesn't sound much today to you who are rich, it was a lot in 1977. Perhaps it was like like $4 million or $5 million is today?

David Frost's TV career was going downhill, and he saw interviewing Nixon as a wonderful way to make it go uphill again. He contacted Nixon's people and, after much bargaining, the $600,000 figure was agreed upon, and paid. But, Frost couldn't get the big TV networks to agree to air the interviews because they considered them "checkbook journalism" - as pejorative a term as you get in the journalistic milieu.

So, Frost was in a financial hole. How to get out of it? Offer the interviews for syndication. This worked. The rest is history.

As for the interviews as portrayed in the film, well, they weren't quite as I remembered them. In the film, Nixon bullies the overawed Frost in the first three interviews. Then in the fourth - the interview that focuses on Watergate - Frost finds his feet, and, courtesy of rigorous research, gets Nixon to admit things he hadn't intended to admit. However, in the actual interviews as I remembered them, Frost had more than held his own in the non-Watergate interviews, and - as the film indeed shows - got Nixon to say things he hadn't meant to, in the Watergate interview.

The film has Nixon making a drunken late-night phone call to Frost, in which he said self-revealing things he wouldn't say if sober. It turns out that Nixon made no such phone call to Frost, although he was supposed to have made such drunken phone calls to others.

There's a scene where Nixon, inquiring of Frost how his weekend had gone, asks him, "Did you do any fornicating?" According to Frost, Nixon did actually say this.

***

If you've not seen "Frost/Nixon", do. Maybe you'll find a DVD of it in a bin in a supermarket near you.

Time now to unpack my groceries...........

4 comments:

  1. "I can never get enough of Richard Nixon..."

    :) Well, who can?

    I've been meaning to watch this, actually. I wonder if you have read about the display of Nixon's love letters to his wife in Yorba Linda. They left a strange impression on me. (Kissinger's love letters, where are they?) Also, I'm intrigued by Ann Beattie's recent book about Pat Nixon.

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    1. My heart leapt when I read the first six words. Then I read on.

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  2. ".....I wonder if you have read about the display of Nixon's love letters to his wife in Yorba Linda....."

    I have. The extracts I've seen are indeed romantic, not to say passionate (should there be a difference?!!) and did leave a strange impression on me too.

    Perhaps it's because it was Nixon who wrote them. What if they'd been written by......oh I dunno......the young Bill to the young Hillary?

    From all I've read about the young Dick and the young Pat, he was more in love with her than she was with him.

    The just-revealed letters reinforce this impression.

    Nixon seemed always to have an eye for the ladies. "Frost/Nixon" brings this out too.

    In any case, Nixon must have thought about sex a lot (maybe even more than once every 52 seconds). Hence the "Did you do any fornicating?" remark to Frost.

    An odd thing to say, to be sure. But perhaps not so odd, considering the society that Nixon had grown up in, that was far more sexually repressed than today.

    Nixon was a man of his time. It behooves us to remember this when judging some of his offhand remarks in the Watergate tapes.

    The past is another country. They do things differently there.

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