Sunday, January 25, 2009

Thoughts on Frost/Nixon

This afternoon I saw Frost/Nixon with my roomie.

A very good movie. But only a movie.

My first memory of the interviews between Sir David Frost and Richard Nixon was watching an old re-run of Saturday Night Live hosted by Monty Python alumnus Eric Idle where Idle played Frost and Dan Aykroyd played Nixon. SNL lampooned the interview and gave me the impression that Frost was a shallow talking head and that the interviews were a general waste of everyone's time. The movie leaves one with the impression that Frost had slain Nixon albeit after a tough battle.

The best part of the film was the story construction. Part of the film was shot documentary style in which the characters were interviewed throughout for their reflections on the interviews. I was also intrigued by the process and the preparations that were required to make the interview possible. If the movie is accurate it took more than two and a half years to get the interview realized.

Frank Langella has been nominated for Best Actor for his performance of the 37th President. However, Langella didn't disappear into character for me. Not for one moment did I think this guy was Nixon. I was keenly aware that it was Frank Langella doing a pretty good Nixon impersonation although at times a buffoonish one. When Nixon spoke of intellectual pursuits many in the audience scoffed. I liked Anthony Hopkins interpretation in the Oliver Stone film Nixon. Hopkins' interpretation was far more subtle and he made Nixoninto a more three dimensional character. Interestingly, Hopkins also received a Best Actor nomination for his performance (though he lost out to Nicolas Cage for Leaving Las Vegas.) At one point in the film Oliver Platt (playing Bob Zelnick, now a professor at Boston University) did a Nixon impersonation. Platt could have just as plausibly played Nixon as Langella.

Frost/Nixon was adapted from the stage play. It is worth noting that Langella played Nixon both in London and on Broadway in New York. Curiously, the stage play is coming to Boston on Tuesday and will be running through Februarty 8th. Stacy Keach plays Nixon. My roomie and I are considering seeing it. It would be interesting to see how a stage play gets adapted into a movie and what gets left out. It would also be interesting to see how Keach's Nixon differs from Langella's interpretation.

Aside from Langella, Frost/Nixon has been nominated for four other Academy Awards including Best Picture. I cannot help but wonder if Academy members will vote for it as a parting shot at President Bush. Sure there are older Academy members who do not remember Nixon fondly but the younger members, especially those born after Watergate, might view this film as a surrogate for bashing Bush. Of course, one could plausibly argue that if the Academy wanted to do that they would have nominated Oliver Stone's W. There are also those who might vote for Milk to protest the passage of Proposition 8 in California last November.

At the end of the movie, it noted that Frost is still a television presenter. What it does not mention is that Frost has a show on the English language version of Al Jazeera.

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