Thursday, August 01, 2013

"Our Nixon": CNN Films airs documentary of home 8 mm movies made by Nixon's aides

On Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, CNN aired a documentary “Our Nixon”, assembled and directed by Penny Lane. The film is a narrative history of the Nixon presidency seen largely through super 8 mm home movies create by Nixon’s closest aides, especially Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Dwight Chapin. CNN’s link for the film is here. (An Oliver Stone epic like "Nixon" it is not.)
Early in the film, nightly news reels are shown from late 1968 reporting the appointment of Nixon’s aides. Chapin was 27 when he joined, and would now be 67; the aging in 40 years is interesting.
During the first three years, Nixon was preoccupied with “peace with honor” in Vietnam; the aides even today say that the protests made winning peace harder.  At a White House entertainment event, some performers actually protest.

About halfway through the film, the aides cover the president’s comments on Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, a foreshadowing of today’s controversies over WikiLeaks and Edward Snowen.
Then Haldeman presents a bizarre tape of Nixon discussing homosexuality, saying that it brought down the Roman Empire, and that Communism would try to push it because it attacks our values (false! – look at the anti-gay laws in Russia now, in fact!)   CNN features that conversation on the strike page for the film.  Haldeman coins the word “liberality” as if derived from “Liberace”.  Publicly, officials never talked about homosexuality in the early 1970s (despite the recency of Stonewall);  it was called “civilization’s secret” in those days.

The tapes cover “Nixon in China” (John Adams), completely covered by TV.

The Watergate burglary was not much more than a blip at first in June 1972, but it started getting major attention after Nixon started his second term in 1973.

But first Nixon announced a temporary peace in Vietnam.

Haldeman, in a 1975 interview, is asked why Nixon didn’t destroy the tapes.  Haldeman says no one imagined they could be demanded.  This was decades before the Internet when anything digital wold last forever. 

The latter part of the film recounts the familiar sad history of Watergate (including the Saturday Night Massacre in October, 1973).

One of the aides said he could have crashed a helicopter or private plane he was piloting for Nixon and ended the entire Watergate mess. 

All of this happened while I came of age, serving out my time at Ft. Eustis, VA in the Army and working on my first three jobs, at RCA, the Navy Department, Univac, and finally moving to NYC to work for NBC just as Nixon resigned.
The film runs 84 minutes (almost two hours with commercials), but the TV printed listings had given it only one hour.  It does belong to the new "CNN Films" series. 

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