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Watergate: Not As Boring As You Thought?

No one has ever accused me of being a good businessman, or having great taste in movies, so it’s no surprise that a recent inspiration to locate a sufficiently boarded up movie theater, purchase it and inaugurate an annual Watergate Film Fest fell on uninterested, and possibly appalled, ears.  However, the response I received to this suggestion–that it was a good thing my work in a library limits me from doing too much damage in the so-called “real world”–may not actually have been correct.  To wit, the following is a list of movies recommended for anyone out there in the real world who may want to embark on personal Watergate Film Fests in their own homes.

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers is the movie that sparked my interest in Watergate and the Nixon era in the first place.  Having stumbled across it while browsing in the library’s documentary DVD section, I realized I knew very little but the basics of the Pentagon Papers story.  Then, as I watched this fascinating perspective on those events, I realized the depth of my ignorance of the Watergate scandal itself, mainly due to the fact that I had formed a habit long ago of tuning out whenever Watergate talk began.  It had always seemed such a dense, disappointing, and, as President Ford himself said, nightmarish chapter in American history, but somehow this documentary, which received an Oscar nomination in 2010, had me hooked.  I at least wanted to get a clearer idea of the facts and get a look at some additional points of view.

So I continued my education on the subject by following up with Nixon: A Presidency Revealed, a good basic overview of the Nixon years which aired on the History Channel in 2007 (before it was taken over by aliens, bigfeet and yetis).  I then happened to catch another related documentary on CNN, Our Nixon, which, although a bit short on substance, consists of hypnotic footage and audio of the Nixon White House years, and which, it should be noted, so rankled Nixon veteran Ben Stein that he was moved to write a refutation of the film.

All this led to my checking out All the President’s Men, the perennial Watergate movie, which I had avoided like the plague all my life up to now.  Portraying investigative journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s legendary scoop for the Washington Post, All the President’s Men is worth a look in 2014 for many reasons, among them its place in the Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman film canon, as well as appearances by a slew of big name actors of the era, seeing whom feels at times like visiting old friends in their younger years: Jason Robards, Hal Holbrook, Ned Beatty, and Martin Balsam, to name a few.  I also found it to be a wonderful visual document of 1970’s America, from clothing and interior design styles, to the bustling Washington Post newsroom, and heavy use of technologies like typewriters, telephones, and televisions which look nothing like today’s devices.

No home Watergate Film Fest would be complete without a showing of Andrew Fleming’s 1999 period comedy Dick.  In fact, notwithstanding the personal enrichment gained from a better understanding of history, the whole exercise of watching Nixon-related movies may find its biggest payoff in being able to fully appreciate this relatively overlooked, but very funny film, which stars Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams as clueless teens who stumble into a gig as the President’s official dog walkers, and become embroiled in all the major Watergate milestones.  The movie features Dan Hedaya, better known as Carla’s husband Nick Tortelli on Cheers , as Nixon, while Will Ferrell and Bruce McCulloch take on Woodward and Bernstein.  McCulloch is one of two Kids in the Hall who joined the cast; the other is Dave Foley, whose Bob Haldeman is almost as funny as Harry Shearer’s G. Gordon Liddy.

If such a comical spin on the facts isn’t to your taste, there is always the version put forth by Hollywood’s most controversial interpreter of history, Oliver Stone, in his Nixon.  I’ll admit I decided to end my own Nixon series on a lighter note and skip that one again this time (old habits die hard, after all).  And I can’t conclude without voicing the conscience of my 11th grade history teacher, Mr. Walker, and all the other sticklers out there, and suggest the book Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies for a great rundown of how well All the President’s Men holds to reality, along with a number of other great historical movies you may have avoided like the plague all your life. - Dan Coleman, Collection Development

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