Between 1969 and 1973, three of President Nixon’s closest aids filmed more than 500 reels of Super 8. They captured intense strategic conversations, meetings between heads of states, private moments and everything in between. Under normal circumstances this footage would be hot enough but in the aftermath of Watergate its importance only increased.
Three of Nixon’s top aides, former communication and advertising specialists H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and Dwight Chapin documented their experiences with Super 8 cameras during their time in the White House. When Watergate happened these tapes were seized by the FBI and labelled as potential evidence. Not long after, all three men ended up in prison.
Now that same footage seized by the FBI is presented in a new documentary along with other rare footage and interviews to reveal a new look of the Nixon presidency as never seen before.
This crowdfunded documentary by Penny Lane for CNN Films which premiered at SXSW earlier this year, gives us a rare insight into the thoughts of a US President. What goes through his mind? How does he really feel about this decision? Who was really behind a speech, a motion, a new law? They are questions that everyone remotely interested in politics has wondered about. For this reason alone this documentary is a winner.
But then there is more. As said, the little issue of Watergate still looms in our heads as soon as we hear Nixon’s booming voice and this documentary definitely sheds light on the decision making of the time. The revelations so casually caught on tape are incredible and the documentary is a real asset even for those who consider themselves a bit of an expert on the era.
The footage is edited in a rather light-hearted way leaving it to speak for itself (one radio recording reveals a hilarious scene in which it becomes clear how conservative the President and his aids were as they discuss the most popular television program in America at the time – All in the Family – with rather unsettling words). Lane also edited the film in such as way that it does a good job revealing the juxtaposition between what the men have always continued to say and what the footage implies is the truth of certain matters.
Oh, and from a filmmaker’s perspective, if you want to know more about how these films got in Lane’s hands, read co-producer’s Brian L. Frye blog here on the CNN website – it’s a great story.
The documentary Our Nixon will be screening as part of DocHouse’s Doc Thursdays, tomorrow (19 September) at the ICA London 6.30pm. This screening will be followed by a panel Q&A with Iwan Morgan and Paul Mitchell, chaired by Uta Andrea Balbier. For tickets, visit the DocHouse website.