CinemaDave (cinemadave) wrote,

"Frost/Nixon" is more about the medium than history

For my classmates of 1981, the shadow of Richard Nixon looms large. Nixon’s inauguration occurred during kindergarten and his tearful resignation happened on the eve of Middle school. For middle schoolers, the political humor of Saturday Night Live ceaselessly skewered Richard Nixon with sketches written by Minnesota wannabe Senator Al Franken. Given the sensitivity of a Middle school boy, it seemed appropriate that British comedian David Frost secured the first serious interview with the shamed 37th President.

Frost was known for his satirical work with the British Broadcasting Corporation that employed characters like John Cleese, Eric Idle and Michael Palin. For the Nixon people, David Frost would be considered a lightweight interview and a stepping stone for Nixon’s career as an author. When “The Nixon Interviews” aired in syndication on March of 1977, television viewers were mesmerized by this intellectual heavyweight championship fight.

Such drama could not just be contained to the little screen. **Frost/Nixon** became a Broadway staged production and Frank Langella earned a Tony Award for his portrayal as Richard Nixon. When film production looming, Jack Nicholson was considered a box office shoo-in for the role. To his credit, director Ron Howard recast both Frank Langella as Tricky Dick and Michael Sheen as David Frost.

The Langella-Sheen duet echoes the cinematic conflicts between Humphrey Bogart and Jose Ferrer from **The Caine Mutiny** and the Tom Cruise-Jack Nicholson showdown from **A Few Good Men.**
If history major find the original **Nixon Interviews with David Frost** must see viewing, then acting students will be required to watch **Frost/Nixon** for similar academic reasons.

To make **Frost/Nixon** interesting, it takes a director like Ron Howard with his unique background. Given his television work on **The Andy Griffith Show** and **Happy Days,** one sees how influential the television medium is on Ron Howard's movies that he directed. **Apollo 13,** **Ransom,** **EdTV,** and now **Frost/Nixon** seems to more of a commentary about the television medium than what the screenplays say the characters. Ironically, the television recreation are the most realistic scenes in **Frost/Nixon.** When Langella's Nixon has his on-air confession, the ticket buyer feels properly uncomfortable.

Yet it is the stuff behind the scenes of the television show that feels a bit blank. Especially scenes where either Nixon or Frost are alone. For these scenes, it is obvious that playwright (and screenwriter) Peter Morgan had to take dramatic license. In particular, the final scene between Nixon and Frost seems particularly forced for a dramatic result.

It was a few months shy of the Watergate twenty year anniversary when Richard Nixon died. When CBS news reported Nixon's demise, Dan Rather seemed to have enjoyed reminding CBS viewers about Watergate. Ironically Dan Rather's career ended in a scandal because the CBS anchor man did not remember the primary lesson that Richard Nixon did not learn until the 37th president resigned from office;

“Remember, always give your best. Never get discouraged. Never be petty. Always remember, others may hate you. But those who hate you don't win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.”

Richard Nixon,
Addressing the White House Staff on the day of his resignation - August 1974
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