|Courtesy of Cinedigm and CNN Films|
2013, 85 minutes
Review by Joshua Handler
Penny Lane's Our Nixon is a unique film composed almost exclusively of home videos taken by Nixon's closest aides during his presidency. These videos were just released by the FBI and give a more personal view of Nixon's presidency.
The film portrays the Nixon Administration as a dysfunctional group of friends who managed to run the United States. As one of the men interviewed in the film puts it, "It was a very unnatural kind of life, and you had the feeling you were in the middle of a great big brilliantly-lighted, poorly-run TV show."
Our Nixon is a film full of irony that is helped by the fact that we all know how Nixon's presidency ended. Because we know about Watergate, we wait and wait until it finally hits. From the beginning, we get the feeling that this is a fragile presidency waiting to be cracked open by some scandal. When the scandal hits, it not only cracks the presidency, it shakes the country as well.
The insider view of this administration could have been used to make a penetrating, possibly critical portrait of it, but instead director Penny Lane opts for the less penetrating, more entertaining route, which is both good and bad. While this film is undeniably interesting and compelling, it would have been made more interesting and compelling if some analysis of the administration was included. Much of the whole film feels like a tease. We get audio recordings of some really revealing conversations and pieces of information that allow us a glimpse below the surface, but as soon as we get that glimpse, the film moves on. This happens when it is revealed that Nixon told pockets of people different information and had those that heard the information keep it secret from other cabinet members. There were many secrets kept and this was the cause of much of the dysfunction. This would have been a great topic to explore, but Lane glosses over it.
That being said, Our Nixon is a well-constructed documentary that distinguishes itself from many other docs because of the material presented. No other documentary has ever shown material like this and getting the opportunity to witness it is reason enough to seek this movie out. The most amusing thing Our Nixon shows is how Nixon shot himself in the foot. His administration collapsed from the inside.
Overall, Our Nixon is a solid documentary that should entertain, but not enlighten, history and documentary buffs. With the wealth of material Lane had at her disposal, Our Nixon should have been better, but was plenty entertaining in its own right.