Overview: On Aug. 9, 1974, Richard Milhous Nixon became the first American president to resign from office. From 1971 to 1973, he had secretly recorded his private conversations, purportedly “for the purpose of historical record,” but in the wake of the Watergate scandal the revelation of the tapes led to his downfall. Presented in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of his resignation and featuring excerpts from the tapes, as well as original press reports and Nixon’s reflections a decade after the tapes were revealed, the fascinating documentary NIXON BY NIXON: IN HIS OWN WORDS debuted MONDAY, AUG. 4 (9:00-10:15 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.
The declassified tapes reveal the President’s opinions on a vast number of topics, including the Vietnam War, the Pentagon Papers leak, his Supreme Court appointments, and other matters of state.
Expectations: There are two quick thoughts I can say in advance of watching this documentary. First, about the subject of this piece, no one seems to tire of talking about the Nixon Presidency. Love him or hate him he was a colorful, dramatic and unpredictable POTUS that clearly left an impression. There is no doubt in my mind that this chronicling will help solidify my impression of the man and his term in office.
The second thought has to do with the style in which this work plays out. The whole concept of finding, obtaining and utilizing audio content from the subject itself is a unique opportunity to flesh out a biography. Through his own words Richard Milhous Nixon will define himself. That approach in this film is the only reason for me to revisit the career of Mr. Nixon through all his sweat and turmoil.
The only thing left is to wonder how Nixon will be portrayed. Will he continue to be the sad sack history has seen him as or will there be insights to his personal, family life that will help to lift his historical image? If this trailer is any indication the chance of that happening is nil.
Gut Reaction: What dickwad, who knew he was a tricky dick going in, would record everything he said! What came out of Nixon’s mouth was just incredible to me. What a malicious person he was and he was our President to boot. He should clearly go down in infamy. I guess it is a good thing these tapes surfaced over his death because he would never be able to live this down if he were alive today. It is enough about all that, how about the film itself?
Again, I like this style of film making. I wouldn’t have enjoyed rehashing all of this history if it were just talking heads sharing what they remembered witnessing or historians giving it their perspective. Cobbling together a history of events and illuminating the personality and philosophy of the subject via their own words is a powerful and insightful tool. That Mr. Nixon actually tape recorded his conversations, as acerbic, confidential and top secret as they were or should have been, is amazing. I mean short of confessing your beliefs, or declaring your threats in the first person outright recording all your thoughts for posterity in the heat of the moment is the next best thing and this former president did that in spades.
I would have to recommend that all biographies about a person famous or not be set in this style if a film maker wanted to catch the true essence of a person. There is no better way to capture a person’s worldview or personality than via their own words.
In Conclusion: This documentary does not paint a pretty picture of an already tainted public figure from the recent past. Those who are old enough to relive his term of office will quickly bring back the timeline and younger history buffs will get a deep understanding of the corruption and disgust that circled this presidency. It was dramatic and difficult times and this film captures it all so well in an easy to take fashion as it airs. Other HBO playdates: 08.12 at 5:45pm, 08.17 at 3:45pm and 08.22 at 5:15am as well as on HBOGo.
NIXON BY NIXON: IN HIS OWN WORDS draws on the work of Ken Hughes and his team at the Presidential Recordings Program at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, as well as the work of Dr. Luke Nichter. In addition to the Emmy-winning Teddy: In His Own Words, Kunhardt McGee Productions’ previous HBO credits include the Emmy-nominated GLORIA: IN HER OWN WORDS (about Gloria Steinem), the Emmy-nominated “IN MEMORIAM: NEW YORK CITY, 9/11/01, BOBBY KENNEDY: IN HIS OWN WORDS and the Emmy-winning JFK: IN HIS OWN WORDS.
Next Week: It is an encore presentation of a murder case that will make you scratch your head in disbelief – THE CHESHIRE MURDERS. It repeats Monday, 08.11.14.