Sunday, October 16, 2011

All the President's Men (1976)

Can't remember why I put All the President's Men (1976) in the Netflix queue, but at the same time I can't figure out why it took me so long to get around to seeing it.  I have a mild fascination with this period of American history, and films about it, on top of which one of my favorite cinematic tropes is the jaded, corroded Washington informant as embodied by Donald Sutherland in JFK and William B. Davis in The X-Files, and of course the granddaddy of them all is Hal Holbrook's Deep Throat

IOW, it's an important film politically, but also a satisfying film artistically.

But I think my favorite scene, at the moment, isn't one of Holbrook's, but Dustin Hoffman's conversation with Robert Walden, playing Donald Segretti, a low-level operative in Nixon's dirty tricks team.  From the Mouth-of-Sauron smile he flashes when he opens the door to the way he sits cross-legged in his lawn chair, Walden gives us a guy who's still half a college kid at heart, a naughty frat boy only partly grown up, just wise enough to know that what he's done is no prank, is serious shit, but just foolish enough to try to convince himself that it was all just fun and games, and just young enough that he probably half believes it.  Panic and cockiness, regret and disbelief and perverted pride in his own badness, all painfully evident.

Who knows if this accurately represents the real-life Segretti, but as a character in a narrative, as a work of art, it rings true:  I've known people like this.  Young Republicans so sure of their own smartness and their savvy about the System, and so confident that they're serving the side that secretly controls everything, that they feel they can get away with anything, but still young enough to worry that maybe they can't, or that they might actually care that you think they're serpents.  They're usually right about the first, and they usually get over the second.  But not always.


Matt said...

I share your love for that period of history. It sort of feels to me like the twilight years of authenticity before marketing subsumed all, although no doubt this is just an image I was sold by marketers.

One of the things about this movie in particular as a historical document (if I recall it correctly; it's been a few years) is that its mass media is almost unrecognizable now. Call me cynical, but if the same set-up were uncovered today, I strongly doubt that two reporters would be able (let alone their editors/publishers willing) to dig up the same country-shaking truths. And even if some truths were unearthed, I feel like the result would just be amorphous rage and frothing on left-wing blogs, sneering dismissals and talking points on right-wing blogs and talk radio, and the actual news media would of course seek "balance" by devoting half the story to White House denials and smears of the reporters themselves.

Tanuki said...

I don't think we have to imagine what would happen: I think far worse happened under Bush, and was reported in some quarters, and was, just as you say, sneeringly dismissed by the right wing and willingly swept under the rug by what passes for the American media. I'd say Woodward and Bernstein must have been rolling their graves, except that (a) they're not dead, of course, and (b) Woodward was one of Bush II's enablers when it came to war...

I vowed when I started this blog that I wouldn't let it turn into a space where I vent about politics. My views are probably pretty evident anyway, though, and yeah, this movie made me depressed.

Matt said...

Yeah, I actually felt bad about the political thing after leaving the comment. I try to keep politics out of my own blog as well, and I could have made this point more carefully. Mea culpa, won't happen again.

Tanuki said...

Don't worry about it - I didn't mean that I didn't welcome the comment. I was more just trying to reflect on how difficult it is to write about art/entertainment without letting politics in. After all, politics is important, and a lot of art/entertainment touches on it. Maybe I shouldn't try so hard to come across as apolitical. Because who am I fooling?

Go #OWS.