The most paranoid of presidents, Richard Nixon must have been feeling unwell when he allowed three of his closest aides to shoot personal Super 8 footage of their time in the White House. Bob Haldeman, John Erlichman and Dwight Chapin — all of whom later went to prison for their involvement in the Watergate affair — together shot more than 200 rolls of film between 1969 and 1973, the highlights of which form the backbone of a new documentary Our Nixon, and show us a team of go-getting young Republicans you wouldn’t recognise from Oliver Stone’s murky biopic. As the director Penny Lane says: ‘There aren’t any bad guys in home movies.’
Super 8 footage is of course silent, but Tricky Dick provided the film-makers with a soundtrack: the infamous White House tapes, recordings made via line-taps and tiny microphones at the insistence of the president himself. Oddly for a man who essentially bugged his own office, Nixon seems to have allowed his administration to be filmed from within not as an insurance policy should any, erm, ‘infiltrations’ come to light, but rather to record his more human side. Yet despite the unguarded moments and the projector’s comforting whirr, Nixon the man remains as stiff and awkward as ever, a hero to his ‘silent majority’ of supporters, and for a time the most feared waxwork in Madame Tussaud’s
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Our Nixon shows at London’s ICA on 19 September.
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