14 December 2009


I've known for a while that Prince believes in some pretty crazy shit, but I've steered away from writing about him cause he's really fucking awesome otherwise.  What struck me about this video is the off hand comment he makes about there having been eight presidents before George Washington, and how it makes him want to hit someone because he wasn't taught correctly in school.  This kind of isn't-it-fucked-up-the-way-they-taught-me-about-Christopher-Columbus-when-I-was-eight thing isn't very interesting to me anymore.  But I had never heard of this idea before, the presidents thing, so I looked into it and in turns out there were fourteen presidents before Washington.  Check out this very reputable site.

Little Murders

Sometimes I look in the folder on my computer where I put movies that I download and find really random things that I don't remember ever downloading.  I think this means that I thought they had something to do with conspiracy theories, but I must have downloaded it and then forgotten about it.  This happened this week!  Or last week.  I found a movie called "Little Murders," an adaptation of a Jules Feiffer play, directed by Alan Arkin.  At first it wasn't really apparent why this movie might have anything to do with conspiracy theories (and for the most part it doesn't) but Elliott Gould is in it, which is possibly another reason why I downloaded it.

I love Elliott Gould. He makes a lot of terrible movies really fun to watch. Though I wouldn't say "Little Murders" is a terrible movie. It's not something that's easy to go into with no expectations, though.  It's actually totally abrasive and difficult to watch, but pretty funny, and "dark," and kind of interesting.  Actually Roger Ebert had some pretty pithy things to say about it on his website.  I don't really ever think about Roger Ebert, but maybe he's actually a good movie critic.

This is from the review on his site:
One of the reasons it works, and is indeed a definitive reflection of America's darker moods, is that it breaks audiences down into isolated individuals, vulnerable and uncertain. Most movies create a temporary sort of democracy, a community of strangers there in the darkened theater. Not this one. The movie seems to be saying that New York City has a similar effect on its citizens, and that it will get you if you don't watch out.

This is really true, and sort of the essential feeling of the movie, and I didn't even watch in a theatre or with other people.  The movie is totally alienating, not really because it present both a fucked up domestic situation and a fucked up world where crime is rampant and society seems to be falling apart, but more because the characters are so persistently strange.  Actually, Ebert said another smart thing (this guy is kinda legit):
This isn't the kind of satire that lets up occasionally, that opens a window to the merely ridiculous (as "Dr. Strangelove" did), so that we can laugh and relax and brace ourselves for the next stretch of painfulness.
That's totally true, because you're constantly expecting the movie to return to some normal, realist world, where all the weird shit that is happening begins to make sense, but it never gives you that.  It's a lot like Pinter, except less psychologically charged.  The characters in this movie are not characters in the realist sense that they are supposed to represent fully formed, "real," people, but instead they have these defining qualities that are very extreme (Gould is entirely apathetic, while Marcia Rodd, who plays his love interest, believes that life is great no matter how many bad things happen to you).  It kind of hurts your head, but in a good way.

Anyway, the conspiracy bit of it is that this detective comes in to investigate Rodd's murder (I know that I'm eliding basically all essential plot details but whatever) and refers to this massive conspiracy that is creating chaos and tearing apart the city (New York) and the world along with it.  That's basically all that's alluded to, but it's interesting in how the movie captures (to a hyperbolic, absurd degree) the sort of paranoia that surrounds conspiracy theory culture.  The film is obviously a satire in the generic sense, and while it's the satire is aimed more at realism and theatrical drama as a whole, it gives a little attention to the absurdity of crime drama and conspiracy culture (maybe something along the lines of The Conversation, although that came out three years later, I know, but I'm not sure what the appropriate reference would be).

This film would probably be intolerable if not for Elliott Gould's performance.  That is a statement based completely on personal preference.  All the other actors are really good, but in this film, "really good," means freakishly annoying and depressing in the way that your friend's uptight parents can be depressing.  Elliott Gould's whole shtick is basically the opposite, he's like the coolest guy in the world, which only really he can pull off.

22 October 2009

Zeitgeist II (Seriously)

I somehow missed this, but Zeitgeist II: Addendum came out more than a year ago.  I just finished watching and the experience was nothing near the first segment.  I was pretty obsessed with the original Zeitgeist, I watched it probably three times and wrote about it and I think it was part of the reason I started blogging about conspiracy theory films and books.  II is pretty boring.  Mostly a rehashing of arguments and evidences from the original, the only new material is really new agey and annoying.

A lot of people have the theory that the paradoxical thing about most conspiracy theorists, expecially the NWO type that Peter Joseph, the auteur behind the Zeitgeist films, is not unlike, is that they oppose institutions like religion and government, and seek to debunk the mythology that the establishment uses to earn the faith of the people, yet their own ideology serves a similar function to those institutions, that being, providing life with some sort of structure, one that aligns an individual with other believers and against non-believers.

The focus of the second Zeitgeist is the idea of a resource based economy, which is the solution that few conspiracy theorists ever propose.  Joseph claims that our monetary based society is doomed for failure and self-destruction.  He might be right, but his presentation of the resource based economy is boring and kind of lame.  I'm going to spare you the details, but it basically involves interviews with this guy who invented something called The Venus Project, which is sort of a ridiculous Utopian system where no one works and every one is unified or something like that.

Peter Joseph reminds me a little bit of the eighteen-year-old guys in Whit Stillman's movie Metropolitan, who allow their overwrought ideological views to get in the way of their ability to socialize like normal people.  He keeps saying things like, "Whatever your personal beliefs may be, they are meaningless," and generally doesn't seem able to temper his beliefs in a way that a normal person would find both interesting and unoffensive.  And this isn't surprising given that his biggest influences seem to be Carl Sagan, George Carlin and Bill Hicks (incidentally, Bill Hicks is kind of fascinating, you should check out his YouTube videos if you've never seen them).

Anyway, this all seems like people again trying to answer the question, "Why do bad things happen?"  It's a tough question.

18 October 2009


I watched Brian De Palma's Blow-Out about a month ago, but I've been having a hard time collecting my thoughts about it.  It's a very good conspiracy theory based thriller, with references to both trashy porno/horror flicks and high art, Blow-Up and The Conversation.  While it's take on the mind of a conspiracy theorist is obviously relevant to this blog, it has been hard for me to decide how I feel about the film as a whole; whether it achieves it's goal of being sort of ironically kitsch and trashy as well as a cohesive film, or if the the kitsch covers up certain weaknesses in performance and plotting.

Spoiler alert: I'm going to talk about this film as if you've already seen it.

The movie ends in an insanely over the top chase scene in which Jack Terry (John Travolta) drives his car through a parade in downtown Philadelphia, somehow managing to not kill anyone, until he runs into the front display window of a shop, and then escapes the ambulance, using an ear piece connected to a radio transmitter hidden in Sally's (Nancy Allen) coat to find her in the middle of the crowds based on the sounds of fireworks and screaming.  He arrives in time to kill her assailant, Burke (John Lithgow), but not in time to save the girl.  Terry weeps as he holds Sally, against a backdrop of fireworks and a giant American flag.

This is the primary moment in which Travolta's acting and De Palma's political commentary are most in question.  The film is about corruption in American politics, but it takes on the plot of horror film with a deranged serial killer, avoiding a full fledged conspiracy theory.  So the overblown imagery of American patriotism at the end feels strangely out of place.  In the face of a vast political conspiracy it would register as deeply ironic and cynical, but as the climax of a cheesy horror flick it is just cheesy.

The plot is neatly resolved in the end.  Terry uses Sally's screams, recorded as she is brutally murdered by Burke while he helplessly listens, for a scene in the skin flick he is doing sound for, which, at the beginning of the movie, was the first sort of plot point: the girl in the movie couldn't produce a convincing scream, and without it the movie was worthless.  Terry wasn't looking for that scream when he wandered into the Philadelphia night recording owl's and car sounds with his tape recorder, but it led him to record the tire of Governor McRyan's car being shot out, which led subsequently to his heroic rescue of Sally and involvement in the conspiracy that led to McRyan's death.

Blow-Out has all of the right trappings of a good conspiracy theory movie, cool looking recording technology, a well done portrait of paranoia as felt by Terry as he realizes the scope of the conspiracy, a creepy hitman played by Lithgow, and seedy characters that are pawns in the execution of the conspiracy.

However, what we discover in the end is that the conspiracy that Terry is working to uncover is really the work of one rogue agent, Lithgow's Burke, it takes it into his own hands to murder Sally, and creates a sick plot of serial murders of prostitutes intended to avert attention from McRyan's enemies involvement.  Although there was a conspiracy to catch McRyan in an immoral situation (that of being in a car with Sally, who was meant to appear as a prostitute and had in fact been making a living by acting in similar situations), involving members of an opposing political campaign (McRyan is favored to win the presidential election), once the plot goes wrong and McRyan dies, the higher-ups remove themselves from the situation, allowing Lithgow to turn it into his own quest for destruction.

Burke becomes the single antagonist of Terry and Sally.  He breaks into Terry's home, erases his tapes, and murders Sally, all in order to cover up the conspiracy of his employers, who have more or less lost interest.  And so it becomes difficult to understand De Palma's intentions.  Is the conspiracy theory that he created just a back drop for a thriller?  Or is this an attempt at a commentary on the nature of paranoia, the idea that while Terry's paranoia isn't unwarranted, it is somewhat inaccurate. 

Why is Jack Terry obsessed with doing the right thing in this situation?  He has a background in law enforcement, recalled in the painful memory of the failure of one of his recording devices resulting in the death of a fellow police officer, but he has apparently spent the past two years of his life doing sound for sleazy horror flicks.  I guess it's sort of an archetypal character, the good guy who is down on his luck, but has ideals, which eventually lead to his downfall.  Had he left the conspiracy alone, would he and Sally had been able to escape Burke and live happily ever after?  Is it his obsession with "the truth" that drives him to put Sally and himself in danger?  Is he doomed to repeat this sequence of events and be alone forever?  The dynamic between Travolta and Allen is one of the film's successes, which lends some weight to the overwrought resolution.


14 September 2009

24 August 2009

08 August 2009

Robert Ware

Finally wrote something about Robert Ware, from Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories, on ThisRecording.com.

06 August 2009

Spoiler Alert: The Assassinatin of Richard Nixon is super depressing

I watched The Assassination of Richard Nixon in the van driving back from Boston last weekend, after opening for Katy Perry, which was a surreal experience. It was definitely a weird movie to see after what was probably the most ridiculous performance of my life, being one of the more depressing things I've seen/read in a long time. I'd rank it up there with Dancer in the Dark, which I saw in the theatre with my Dad when I was probably fourteen or so, and haven't been able to watch again since, though I loved it. Um, anyway...

If Assassination of Richard Nixon hadn't been based on a true story, it would come off as someone just trying to create the most depressing movie possible. The above still is Samuel Bicke, the protagonist played by Sean Penn, toward the end of his downward spiral, standing half-naked in the post office, waiting to receive a loan from the government which is ultimately denied. The movie basically just follows Bicke as his life falls apart, ending in his suicide after murdering a bunch of people in a totally stupid plot to assassinate the president, who he equates with the system of power that has opressed him and kept him from his rightful happiness.

Bicke is a case study in paranoia. His downfall is a direct result of his inability to compromise himself. His loan is denied because he checks the box for "Negro" on the business owner application, indicating his partner and best (only?) friend Bonny Simmons, played by Don Cheadle. He intended to use the load to start a dilivery tire service with Bonny. He lost his job at his brother's tire shop because he couldn't bear lying to the costomers about the cost of the tires like his brother asked him to do. He lost his job selling furniture because he couldn't lie like that boss expected him to. His wife left him and took the kids, presumably because he couldn't hold a job. And his wife is seeing some new guy, and treats him like a nutcase (which he is). So, basically, everything sucks, and Bicke, who has nothing to pass his time with but television, develops paranoid theories about the system of opression in America that keeps people like him and Bonny from succeeding.

Bicke begins to equate his struggle with that of African-Americans, and the civil rights movement. While his relationship with Bonny seems based on something real, it becomes distorted by his desperation to succeed and his increasing paranoia. Bicke attempts to join the Black Panthers, suggesting they change their name to the Zebras, which he claims will double their membership. He is aware that he is not exactly welcome, and offers the idea and one hundred and seven (or six?) dollars before leaving. He says, "Slavery never really ended in this country."

I recently read Flaubert's Memoir of a Madman, which I actually blogged about here about ten minutes ago, which proposing a sort of useful dichotomy: Flaubert's narrator, a thinly veiled Flaubert, claims he would "rather be a madman than a fool." Bicke embodies this idea. He is powerless against the American system, for reasons that he cannot understand, and paranoia becomes his only way of having power over his life. By believing that the world is unfair and possibly even bent on his enslavement and destruction, he makes himself an outsider. He refuses to be a "fool," excepting his fate and bending to fit into the system, by lying about the price of furniture and reading "The Power of Positive Thinking." But in the end, Bicke really is little more than a madman. His paranoia takes over and he resorts to taking power in the only way he has left, violence.

That Cheadle's character is the source of his gun creates a most likely unintentional editorial on the part of the director or writer or whoever made that decision, assuming it isn't absolutely faithful to the actual story of Samuel Byck. I really doubt that it is true, because so much of the movie is speculative fictions based on a very bizarre and obscure news story and life. Anyway, the fact that the Bicke of the movie gets his fire power from a black man is difficult to interpret without some sort of reference to the Panthers and civil rights movement, and the association of black Americans with violence by the news and white America.

Whatever the film's intended politics, the character of Samuel Bycke provides an interesting model of a conspiracy theorist. While Bycke isn't necessarily a theorist himself, he believes in a vague, vast conspiracy, and focuses that conspiracy on a figure head, Nixon, to which he attributes his lack of power. This is probably similar to the what happens in the evolution of a conspiracy theorist like an Alex Jones, or your average YouTube video maker. Bycke's act of recording his actions and sending the tapes to Leonard Bernstein (a minor fact that the movie turns into a greatly important thread and narrative device, in fact Byck in real life sent tapes to other public figures as well) is reminscent of the radio shows and documentaries made by conspiracy theorists that have become part of the culture.

Also, this is random and weird:

27 July 2009


Oliver Stone's Nixon is not much different from the Nixon portrayed in Secret Honor. Both portraits seem intended to be sympathetic, but sort of render Nixon as a helpless, solipsistic infant, obsessed with fame and his own self-mythology, and completely detached from the reality of America's politic landscape and the way that his own power works.

At the beginning of the second half of the movie, when Nixon's presidency is beginning to unravel, Nixon, played by Anthony Hopkins in a way that made me think I was watching a movie about Anthony Hopkins or Hannibal Lecter, makes a trip in the middle of the night to the Lincoln Memorial, to look at the imposing statue of one of his heroes.

In what I think is intended to be a poignant moment, Nixon sees that a group of hippie Vietnam protesters are camping out at the Lincoln Memorial for some reason and he approaches them as they watch him skeptically. After trying to banter with them about his college football days, a cute nineteen-year-old girl says "We're not here to talk about football." Nixon has a brief "duh" look and then turns on the sincerity. She challenges his power to stop the war and realizes that he can do nothing to stop the war, that it's the system, which he has lost, or never really had, control over. Then the secret service guys pull him away and he tells his main assistant guy that the girl knew something it had taken him five years in office to realize, that he has no real power.

This idea echoes the conspiracy theory presented in Secret Honor, but Stone takes it to another level. While the conspiracy theory of Secret Honor is not supposed to be necessarily fact, but a sort of distortion of Nixon's, Stone's theories stemming from 1991's JFK about J. Edgar Hoover and the CIA are presented again as history (granted there is a disclaimer at the beginning of the film saying it is a work of fiction, within the work of fiction the conspiracy theory is presented a reality). This scene is sort of a microcosm of Nixon's character as interpreted by Stone. He wants people to love him and he wants power, but in the end he has neither. He's desperate to win, whether it be the presidency or anything else, because he equates that with being loved, but he's willing to do anything to get there, which, in the end, is what brings his downfall.

Stone's Nixon worships Lincoln as a hero president, and wants to resemble him, but he's can't have that heroism because his success isn't based on a particular passion other than to gain power and to be elected. In Nixon's era--Nixon has been called the most documented president, can't remember who said that at the moment--the idea of power is supplanted by both his constituents, who no longer revere the icon of the presidency, and the behind the scenes guys, who manipulate Nixon for their own interests. Nixon's desire to be accepted by both systems prevents him from ever understanding or being accepted by either.

While the movie certainly made me think more about Nixon, it didn't introduce any more than those certain points that I talked about in my last Nixon post, those events that it seems most chronicles of Nixon's life (Checkers, his mother, the crying with Kissinger, his crappy football career, etc.) have gone back to and exploited again and again. It is extremely detailed and perhaps historically quite accurate, but Anthony Hopkins' Nixon isn't convincing to me. It's certainly not my favorite Nixon, though this might have more to do with Stone's direction. He is too obsessed with JFK and J. Edgar Hoover and the conspiracy theories of the time to pay appropriate attention to Nixon. What he wants, it seems, is for Nixon to fit into a particular world view, while giving some attention to Nixon's particular dilemma, the paradox of his outsider/insider status.

To be honest, I still prefer Frank Langella, in Frost/Nixon, perhaps because that particular movie is based more on a limited presentation of a particular historical moment, rather than gross speculation. Langella's Nixon is contained within a moment that was historically documented, with almost no editorializing and little speculation of Nixon's life beyond that television interview, which allows the subltety of Langella's performance to tell us more about the man than Stone's exhaustive exposition can.

The most thought provoking aspect of Stone's movie is probably the incredible amount of speculation presented, especially considering the vast amount of source material he had to work with (the Nixon tapes, duh). The most outrageous example is his portrait of J. Edgar Hoover as a fat cat queer running the scenes with no particular motivation besides racism and greed. Perhaps the general idea of that is true. It probably is actually. And maybe everything in the movie is true, but this is just absurd:

I guess he's just trying to entertain people and be edgy, but it just feels like silliness, and it's not edgy.

Oh, also, I've been reading some Freud essays about paranoia recently, which he attributes to latent homosexual urges (surprise!). I think it has more to with power/lack of power, which I'll talk about more in my next post, on The Assassination of Richard Nixon, which I watched in the bus back from Boston the other night, and I'll probably write about this week or next week or something. Anyway, Stone seems to agree with Freud, and maybe they're right. At least, Nixon is portrayed as having no sexual interest in women and just being generally uncomfortable around women, which is part of why he resent JFK and perhaps why he is super paranoid and obsessed with the idea that people don't take him seriously, he's being manipulated by higher forces, etc etc.

Oh, that part is interesting to, his rivalry with JFK. Basically, people loved JFK because he was cute and did it with women and knew how to talk to people and all that, and they hated Nixon because he looks kinda weird and has a pretty terrible personality. This allows Nixon to see himself as the underdog, and his whole "My father was the poorest lemon farmer in California," thing. He saw Kennedy as part of the establishment, nouveau riche and all that, though that doesn't make sense if Nixon was sort of aware that he was going to be assassinated, which the movie implies.

Oh, I'm obviously getting bored/rushing this post, but two more things:

1. Young Nixon looks like Dick Whitman:

Not really, but whatever.

2. David Hyde Pierce as a staffer:

And this biblical quote:

19 July 2009


New World Order is a documentary by Luke Meyer and Andrew Neel that was released in May. They also made a documentary about LARPing (not bragging or anything but I used to work with one of the guys responsible for inventing LARPing). The documentary is pretty good, it's basically just about the culture of conspiracy theorists. They follow a few different guys around, though it's mostly Alex Jones. Alex Jones is really annoying to me, as I've expressed before, because I find him agressively boring. It's just the same shit over and over again, same quotes, same "facts," same footage, same crazy rants. He's just getting a little too mainstream and has too much material for me to be interested in him anymore. It annoys me that he's become the face of conspiracy theorists. They follow a few more interesting dudes, but other than this one kid from Brooklyn, Luke Rudowski, they don't really develop them much. But they do a good job of keeping themselves out of the documentary. There's no bias and no editorializing, and I think it's a pretty faithful representation of the lives of conspiracy theorists, which are, to say the least, weird.

Anyway, I'm feeling lazy, so I'm just going to upload the images I took while watching the movie on my computer in the order that I saved them and comment on some of them.

Alex Jones yelling on his radio show. Some caller is trying to ask him a question, but can't a word through because Alex is obsessed with this creepy southern policemen impression he seems to be doing.

This quote is from the scene where Alex Jones and his film crew are in the hotel where the Bilderberg group is supposed to be meeting the next day and then a fire alarm goes off and he starts freaking out because he thinks the government is coming after them. He says that when they checked in the hotel guy told him that sometimes the fire alarms just go off, which he thinks was a warning or something. He also keeps yelling "I'm in command." It's pretty scary.

This is Geraldo flipping Alex Jones and other protesters the bird because they showed up to his outdoor filming and yelled "Down with the New World Order" or something through a bull horn.

Here's Bill Clinton. He's giving some speech and the kid from Brooklyn starts yelling about the New World Order and 9/11, and Clinton says something like, "This is one of those guys that thinks it was an inside job. It wasn't an inside job. It was nineteen men..."

Joe Biden. The Brooklyn Kid starts asking him tough questions at a press conference and be begins to argue with the kid before smiling and saying, "Get a life." I love Joe Biden.

Young Alex Jones. Not a bad looking guy.

The Brooklyn Kid getting kicked out of Clinton's press conference.

This is an old ass dude named Jack McLamb who started a like separate society or something, where a bunch of old Christian people live together and don't like the government. He also believes in having a militia and says things like, "If you have not bought ammunition, if you have not bought guns, buy them now."

Old couple that lives in John McLamb's thing. They sang a song about Jesus. One thing I learned is that a lot of conspiracy theorists are Jesus people too. But specifically the New World Order ones. I think they just don't like the government or something. Their basically reactionary conservatives. They're cute, but terrible.

This kid is really upset about the New World Order.


Give me liberty of give me death.

A lot of New World Order people also have southern accents. This guy is actually crying.

He was my favorite one. He was very sincere. I felt sympathy for him.

This douche bag in the Hawaiian shirt claims that he was working in the Pentagon when the plane hit on 9/11 and then makes fun of Seth Jackson, the southern guy that I like, while he was handing out literature in New Orleans. Hawaiian shirt guy comes off as a total dick while Jackson very sincerely tries to tell him about what he's doing, but then he seems sort of discouraged because this douche bag is so relentless.

Another Alex Jones quote.

Other non-image based hilights:

The Brooklyn Kid on Alex Jones: "He has sort of like a charisma, he has a very loud voice, and he's not afraid to say what's on his mind."

Irish New World Order film maker describing his obsession: "It's like an oyster with a piece of grit in it. It can't get rid of it and then it makes a pearl."

"We will bring the darkness into the light."

16 July 2009

The First Philip Roth Novel I Coudn't Finish*

I took a trip to San Francisco (and Santa Cruz) this past weekend, and was planning to finish Philip Roth's Out Gang on the trip, but I ended up just skimming through it. The book is a satire of Richard Nixon, and it reminded me of a New Yorker "Shouts and Murmurs" piece drawn out into a two hundred page novel. It is funny, and pretty clever, and even prescient, but also just damn boring. The first section speculates on Nixon's ideas about abortion, which was interesting given the recent revelation of his feeling that abortion was okay in some cases, like interracial children. The book goes on at length about a plan to murder Boy Scouts and his alleged assassination. It is definitely in keeping with Roth's whole "immaturity" thing, but not interesting enough to keep me reading, unfortunately.

While in San Fran I went to a cool bar called "Zeitgeist" and it reminded me of that movie. Something I realized I had never given much thought to is the title of the movie, Zeitgeist, and what relevance it actually has. "The spirit of the time" now seems to reflect the popularity of internet conspiracy films, as well as conspiracy theories becoming popular in mainstream media (well, at least in The Da Vinci Code), then anything that the movie is actually about. I mean, what is "the spirit of the times" when it comes to religion, 9/11 and the federal reserve (the three conspiracies the film present)? I can't come up with anything that makes sense.

*I've been halfway through Sabath's Theatre for about six months, and probably won't finish it, at least not soon, and also now that I think about it, I never finished Portnoy's Complaint, but I've been planning to reread it.

02 July 2009

Secret Honor

Secret Honor is a strange film to have been made by Robert Altman. It has the characteristic long shots and sweeping, zooming, lingering camera movements, and the frantic acting that seems as much improvised as from the script (though apparently Philip Baker Hall's performance is directly from the script), but it doesn't have twenty-four equally developed characters, a range of settings, or a complex plot constructed from related vignettes. It is one man in one room.

That Secret Honor is adapted from the play by David Freed (who also wrote Executive Action, which I wrote about like two days ago) and Arnold Stone is apparent from the beginning. The references to other dramatists, Beckett, Chekhov, Shakespeare, are obvious but sort of useful. Philip Baker Hall is amazing, as others have noted, and his Nixon is believable, though he appears too skinny for the role, which a not insignificant frailty, especially next to Frank Langella.

Get ready for a barrage of images, by the way

But Nixon's frailty is a big part of this film. The Nixon we see is years after the Watergate scandal, living in a stately home (his study at least is stately) apparently in New Jersey (not Cali?), driven mad with shame and disgrace, rehashing his time of power. What is strange about the film is that it takes place in one evening and we see Nixon degenerate from recording a fictional court defense for the Watergate trial that never took place to clutching his childhood bible, sweating and screaming for his mother, not to mention contemplating suicide. One has to wonder if this scene is replayed every night.

I find the image of a microphone standing alone very poetic

Nixon is shown as obsessed with recording equipment, which makes sense, obviously. He has a tape recorder, which he is comically inept at using, and four television monitors, at first showing different interiors of his home, but eventually all showing Nixon at his desk. He lapses between performance for the tape machine and camera and his manic, solipsistic, paranoid dialogue; control and loss of control.

There's a lot of Nixon in my life right now. I'm reading Our Gang, by Philip Roth, which is a satire so outlandish that I'm having trouble staying interested, so I'm not sure that it will appear on this blog. I also downloaded Oliver Stone's Nixon, with Anthony Hopkins as Nixon. I'm excited about that.

According to everyone, Nixon is this psychologically complex figure. Was he really just being manipulated by higher powers, a poor boy living the American dream, but caught up in corruption that was bigger than himself? Or was he awful and manipulative and blah blah. What's weird is that all of these portraits of Nixon take advantage of the same set of facts, which have little to do with the man himself, depending on how you think about psychology. He is the most thoroughly documented of the presidents of the 20th century, but all of the events that allow people to have psychological insights into his character are just events, little pieces of the man that are extrapolated into meaningful characterizations, the remarks about Bohemian Grove, the growly voice, the speech about Checkers, his poor upbringing. Each portrait is a different interpretation of the same collection of "facts," which, I guess, is all we have to go on.

As Nixon unravels we discover the meaning of the phrase "secret honor" and how it relates to the conspiracy theory vaguely alluded to throughout the film. This theory is a fictional twist on the actual Watergate conspiracy. It's a little far fetched, but a cool spin.

Basically, Nixon explains that he orchestrated Watergate himself in order to cover up the great conspiracy, which is vaguely something about the US government's involvement with selling heroin. Nixon realizes that even as president he is not in control, and that he will eventually take the blame for a mysterious group of elites (Bohemian Grove, which exists, and the Committee of 100, which does not to my knowledge) who are really running things. So he martyrs himself, but whether its for the sake of the American people, or to save his own skin is unclear. It's also unclear whether the viewer is supposed to believe that this is what really happened, in the historical sense, or if Nixon has been driven so mad by humiliation and shame that his obviously demented mind has concocted this fiction to console himself. It's conceivable that both are true.

Whether or not the issue is heroin, it's clear that, within the fictional world of the film, there was at least the existence of a group of people that controlled Nixon, possibly involving Henry Kissinger and other lesser known but powerful government and non-government leaders. One thing that all of the portraits of Nixon agree on is that he was somewhat the victim of forces that he couldn't control. He clearly felt sort of like a hick who forced his way into an elite club, but was never really accepted and never felt comfortable. His paranoia stems from the fact that he can't trust anyone, because he believes that they think he is lesser than them, sort of a buffoon, a president that only got there because he was able to be controlled. This is what makes his character so sympathetic. Although he was guilty of some pretty bad shit, he is ultimately a sympathetic character, one that most Americans (meaning those of us who are not millionaires, which is like 99%) can identify with.

While I believe that makers of the film to be genuine in their interest in Nixon's character, I find their end product exploitative and at times ridiculous. The problem is that this is not satire, it's intended to be a sympathetic but complex portrait of the man. There is no irony involved. But when we see Nixon frantically searching for the bible his mother read to him from as a child, and screaming on his knees about his mother, it gets to be too much. Maybe it just made me uncomfortable, but I just don't believe that this was how Nixon's life was lived out. It is fiction and therefore they can't be blamed for upping the drama, but it's the contrast of the earnestness of the piece, and the absurdity of it's content, that irks me.