Sunday, February 01, 2009
There aren't many good films about journalism. People rave about 'The Front page' which I've seen in at least one of its forms, and on the stage, and then there's Citizen Kane which seems to be about hackery, money and sledging.
But for my money the best film about my business is 'All the President's Men' which makes drama and suspense from two men making phone calls and typing furiously then holding up newspapers and swearing, or shouting, or whatever. Hoffman and Redford capture the trainspotter nerdiness that propels the best journalists, but the best thing about the movie is that the villain - Nixon - only appears on televisions in the corner of rooms. The temptation to fictionalise some sort of showdown between the two hacks and the embittered paranoid President must have been overwhelming, but thank God the filmmakers didn't give in to it.
Nixon himself stalks us over thirty years since he left the White House lawn for the last time; maybe he'll always be a bogeyman to Hollywood's righteous liberals. Oliver Stone did a movie about him starring Anthony Hopkins which I liked but wasn't madly successful and I've got an odd DVD at home made in the seventies called 'Nixon the Final Days'. Now comes Frost/Nixon which is based on some interviews Sir David Frost did with Nixon a couple of years after he resigned.
It's a good film in many ways, based on a play by Peter Morgan. Liberties are taken; there's a sequence in the movie that makes my teeth grind when Frost abandons questions and just shows Nixon a short montage of nasty images from Cambodia accompanied by mournful music. The idea that anything as grossly non-inquisitorial as this happened in the taping sessions at Yerba Linda is ridiculous.
No midnight phone calls happened between the two men, although clever Morgan makes great drama out of imagining what might have passed between them if there had been. And the interviews themselves are freely paraphrased; in the film Nixon loses his temper under questioning from a rather cavalier Frost and then comes apart; but the transcripts reveal how, more interestingly, Frost brought foxy old Nixon to earth by tough quasi-legal forensic questioning.
It wasn't Hollywood. But it was Journalism, and to my mind Frost only came anywhere near being that good once more, when years later he interviewed the then Prime Minister Tony Blair about Iraq. It was a bit like watching a genial uncle slap a child under the Christmas tree.