Working with more than 500 reels of Super 8 home movies shot at the White House during the Watergate debacle, director Penny Lane’s “Our Nixon” blends the mostly silent footage with damning audio evidence of a president who’s cracking up.
The result is maudlin beyond belief, especially Nixon’s farewell to the aides he’s in the process of firing, but other moments simply register as shockingly out of touch. In an extended episode, the president delivers a tirade against homosexuals, Archie Bunker, “All in the Family” and Socrates and that would be offensive if it weren’t so clueless.
Perhaps the most unexpected episode focuses not on Nixon but the supposedly conservative Ray Conniff Singers. One member of the group suddenly launches into a protest against the Vietnam War, urging the president to “stop bombing human beings, animals and vegetation.”
As with so many moments in the film, it’s the audio track that really delivers the goods. We get pictures of a White House wedding, a meeting with the pope and a trip to China, but the home movies are often little more than visual accompaniment to a soundtrack driven by rage and paranoia.
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Parts of “Our Nixon” also suggest flat-out comedy. It’s sometimes as goofy as the fictional 1999 farce “Dick,” with Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst as teenage White House dog-walkers who unravel the mysteries of Watergate.
The title, “Our Nixon,” presumably is intended as an homage to the artsy early-1980s German marathon, “Our Hitler,” which took more than seven hours to assess disaster.
John Hartl: firstname.lastname@example.org