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DVD Review

DVD cover

Frost/Nixon (2008)
(2019 Reissue)


Starring: Michael Sheen, Frank Langella, Kevin Bacon, Rebecca Hall, Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell and Patty McCormack
Distributor: Fabulous Films Ltd / Fremantle Media Enterprises
RRP: £9.99
5 030697 035073
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 18 October 2019

It is a tribute to Ron Howard that he captured with nuance and psychological detail intact, events both around and within, one of the major media tsunamis of the Twentieth Century. Approaching the chaos of hubris and history told by key players in the real life adventure, is not without risk of being sucked up into the psychic vortex of Sturm und Drang and end up not knowing one’s arse from one’s elbow. Howard helms us through this mortal storm leading to the studio broadcast of a series of face to face interviews nobody thought could or would happen until they aired in 1977. Titanic egos getting close and personal, (Frost known endearingly to British audiences as “that cocky little bastard”). Bombshell revelations reverberating through the skulls of jaw dropping audiences around the globe. The most watched program of its kind in television history.

Television had been the Narcissus and Nemesis of Richard Nixon since 1952 when he feared, rightly, Presidential candidate General Dwight David Eisenhower was going to dump him as his vice presidential running mate because Dick was suspected of accepting illegal ‘gifts’. (Imagine!) Nixon’s ‘Checkers Speech’, named after the family’s dog given to them by a donor, was a study in abject blathering that roused so much pity, (“Our little girls love that dog and we’re not giving it back.”) Ike cussed but had to keep him on the ticket.

Then there was Nixon’s televised Presidential debate with opponent Senator John F. Kennedy in 1960; a study of fever-headed doofusness outclassed by the candidate of cool.

Then there was Nixon’s run for office in 1968 where he tamed the glass-eyed monster with ‘intimate’ small audiences carefully selected by race and regionality to ask ‘tough’ questions for which he’d rehearsed answers days in advance. It’s all in a book called The Selling of the President where Nixon is taped in prep meetings casually using the N-word as he critiques the mini-audience varietal casting choices.

Then there was that scary night in 1972 when he’d just won a landslide victory for his second term and before the cameras and lights, sweat glistened on his face connoting a manic warthog with its first erection.

Then there was the night he told mesmerized television watchers he was resigning because he didn’t want his ass thrown out of office by impeachment, which in his case, was going to happen.

All of Nixon’s Greek tragedy drama was on television. It was only fitting that a seventies decade Promethean television interviewer would get the idea of bringing the old warlord everybody loved to hate, before the studio cameras one more time, for the ultimate TV analysis of the making and breaking of Richard Milhous Nixon. David Frost the British Barnum thought he could make it happen and against many odds, he did. Nixon saw it as a chance to redeem his image for history and make a quick $600,000.

Peter Morgan wrote a stage play of the whole event, its lead-up and execution, that cast Michael Sheen as Frost and Frank Langella as Nixon. It was a smash with both West End and Broadway audiences in 2006. In 2008 Oscar winning Director Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind [2001]) was attracted to the project and his movie of the play shot in 2008 with the stage leads is what we have here. It is a masterwork.

The proscenium and the craft of staging are incorporated into the art of film, one part verité, one part documentary, one part compilation film. It is an amalgamation easy to take for granted but in clumsy hands could have been a sophomoric mess.

Nixon hoped to have the last word on history. Frost hoped to be the television ringmaster of the world. Howard crosscuts between the courter and the courted. The valence rises wonderfully and we know we’re going to witness a series of televised chats like nobody has ever seen. A matador and a rhino.

Howard’s camera mimes television techniques in private conversations and, as with the play, we get a fly on the wall grand sense of voyeurism that is intoxicating, the pleasure of eavesdropping where we otherwise have no entre. Then come the interviews themselves and both participants joust for points and comebacks. Howard’s dance between front stage and back stage point of view is exhilarating fun.

Fabulous Films and Fremantle Media provide a print sharp and lucid like the television world it’s dealing with here. Its clutch of extras are a second tier standing in their own right: the real interview, a docu on the Nixon Library and a docu on the making of Frost/Nixon wherein Howard, the filmmaker, holds forth with teachable moments worthy of any doctoral degree class, this supplemented with Howard’s audio commentary, reveal a wealth of the director’s approach to the unique capture-challenge the film required. For those craving more there are deleted scenes as well. Grab the drink of your choice and enter the eye of an historic storm.


John Huff

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