All the President's Men, Barack Obama, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Dustin Hoffman, Film, film review, government acountability, Hal Halbrook, history, Jason Robards, John N. Mitchel, journalism, Katharine Graham, Politics, Presidential legacy, Richard Nixon, Robert Redford, Writing
A few years ago I was watching a television program, some news spot about Presidential politics and the Tea Party, and during the broadcast there was a series of homemade opinion videos and one in particular managed to stick in my head. It was a middle-aged woman who talked like she was twenty, and speaking honestly she said, I’m paraphrasing, “History will remember Obama as the WORST president in history.” Now that statement has always bothered me for the most obvious reason: it’s not true.
Now some will immediately either close this page down thinking either that I am a bleeding heart liberal or some sort of baby eating communist. This is unfair because I have never professed myself as a liberal and never will, or a communist for that matter. I hope somebody got that joke. I have many problems with our current President: the recent drone strike that killed at least three Americans is one of several dozen drones strikes that should be rising concern, the man stymied efforts to understand in detail how an ATF operation screwed up and accidentally sold guns to the Mexican cartels, and begin your pardon the man’s been soft on Putin. This list is presented to demonstrate my concerns as an American citizen (they may be uninformed, but they are political opinions, which are only moderately above cow manure after all) but to also demonstrate I’m not above criticizing the President. Despite these opinions I cannot in good conscience call President Obama the WORST president in history for a simple study of history reveals this is not the case, which leads me into the review for All the President’s Men.
Now dear reader you may know the movie as the best unwatchable two-hour film in existence that your elite, pompous, and know-it-all brother-in-law with a PhD in Political Science and Film Theory quotes from memory whenever you asked him how you enjoyed the Packers game. That anecdote ran a little bit long but I think it works. The movie is unwatchable to many people for a variety of reasons but the best reason can be summed up by a friend of mine, “Nothing happens in the movie, there’s no action.” My friend is right, mostly, there are no car chases, there are no talking robots bent on human extinction (cough cough Avengers 2 sucked, cough cough), there’s no bubble boobed naked ladies that shoot Ak-47s while nuclear explosions go on in the background. Two men investigate a burglary that leads to the executive office and the downfall of a Presidency. And they do a lot of writing.
All the President’s Men is about two reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, that uncovered the conspiracy (that’s the only word for it) of Watergate. Now if you don’t know what Watergate is, GOOGLE IT.
I’m sorry that was rude.
The Watergate Scandal was originally just a break in at the Watergate motel and Democratic headquarters, where five men, on June 17, 1972, were caught trying to bug the offices. Not a year later several high-ranking members of the White House staff were implicated in the affair and forced to either reigns or serve serious jail time, in some cases both. The conspiracy eventually led up to the current acting President Richard M. Nixon. Nixon, as the reports continued to flood in, tried early to dismiss the break-in that was actually an effort to spy on Democratic activities and Democratic Presidential hopeful McGovern, before, on August 8 1974, President Nixon reigned the office of the Presidency and remains to this day the only acting President to do so.
All the President’s Men is unwatchable to many people but that’s only because they’re lazy.
Now I won’t hold myself to a golden standard, there are times where even I cannot watch the movie straight and find myself yawning, but that is only because I was unable to follow all the little details of the story. Recently I watched the movie again, but whenever I heard a name mentioned that I didn’t inherently know I immediately paused the movie, Googled the name, and acquired an image of the person mentioned a brief character listing courtesy of Wikipedia. Once I had this information I resumed the film and began to follow the dirty pieces of the puzzle. Now some would immediately say, “that’s too much trouble, I just want to enjoy a movie,” which is fine. Nobody is ever making you watch a film, however unless you have an understanding of political individuals in the 1970s some things are probably going to go over your head. If you don’t know who John N. Mitchel is, you might not understand why it was suspect that he was responsible for controlling a slush fund during Nixon’s run for Presidency that was responsible for spying on Democrats. You might also not understand fully why when he was asked about this he responded, “Katie Graham‘s gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published.”
All the President’s men is based on a true story, the actual raw facts of the Watergate Scandal, but also upon the book published by WoodWard and Bernstein that bears the same name. My description may make it sound like the film is some obnoxiously boring political documentary, but the film is in fact a real story centering on these two men as they struggle to uncover every piece in the Watergate scandal. Dustin Hoffman plays Carl Bernstein while Robert Redford plays Bob Woodward, and early on in the film it’s clear the two men either don’t like each other or doesn’t take the other seriously. And that’s one of the joys of the film, watching these two men, in the least hammy way possible, come together as they recognize the story they’re uncovering is larger than a simple break-in.
Any individual interested in becoming a writer needs to watch this film, because it is one of the few films available that is able to demonstrate the monotony and frustration that is research and rejection. Woodward and Bernstein are often critiqued in the film, to the point they almost abandon the story.
And of course, if nothing else, the viewer is able to observe one of the most iconic dialogues that spawned a colloquial expression. Hal Holbrook plays Mark Felt the man who later revealed himself to be Deep Throat, a name given because he was “deep” into the government system and provided Bernstein and Woodward vital clues and information that led them throughout the case.
Ben Bradlee: Where’s the goddamn story?
Bob Woodward: The money’s the key to whatever this is.
Ben Bradlee: Says who?
Howard Simons: Deep Throat.
Ben Bradlee: Who?
Howard Simons: Oh, that’s Woodward’s garage freak; his source in the executive department.
Ben Bradlee: Garage Freak? Jesus, what kind of a crazy fucking story is this? Who did you say?
Howard Simons: He’s on deep background, I call him deep… throat.
Few modern day viewers get many of the DeepThroat references that take place in contemporary television and movies and most people today would hear the name and assume the person is referring to the pornographic ability to swallow a cock whole. But the exchange is crucial for the film is able to reveal the tension and paranoia that was the Watergate scandal. In one instance Woodward has come to the parking garage where they usually meet, and after a car starts he’s left alone, DeepThroat mysteriously gone. He leaves the parking garage and as he walks the director holds the shot and we feel, as Woodward feels that we’re being watched.
All the President’s Men was featured on the Art of Manliness’s 100 films every man needs to have watched in his lifetime and in this remark I completely agree. All the President’s Men is important for the way it shows us how fragile our understanding of government workings is. It reminds the viewer of how crucial the media is of informing us of information that is vital to the health of our democracy. And for my own opinion, the film provides young men like myself, men whose specialty lies outside of physical activities, that masculinity can be attained by maintaining your integrity and your courage. The strongest line comes from Redford (big surprise there right?):
Deep Throat: You’ll have to figure that on your own.
Bob Woodward: Look, I’m tired of your chicken shit games! I don’t want hints! I need to know what you know!
Deep Throat: [very reluctant tone] The Watergate burglary… it was a Haldeman operation. The whole business was run by Haldeman, the money… everything. It won’t be easy getting at him. He was insulated somehow, you’ll have to find out how. Mitchell started doing covert stuff before anyone else. The list of the people involved is longer than anyone can imagine. It involves the entire U.S. Intelligence Community. FBI… CIA… Justice… it’s incredible. The cover-up had little to do with the Watergate foul-up. It was mainly to protect the covert operations. It leads everywhere. Get out your notebook. There’s more. Your lives are in danger.
Throughout the film, Bernstein and Woodward and mentored by the figure of Ben Bradlee, one of the acting head editors at the Washington Post. The most haunting line of the movie is spoken by Jason Robards as he delivers the speech I’m sure a journalism major watches over and over again while they type up their paper for their freshman writing project:
Ben Bradlee: You know the results of the latest Gallup Poll? Half the country never even heard of the word Watergate. Nobody gives a shit. You guys are probably pretty tired, right? Well, you should be. Go on home, get a nice hot bath. Rest up… 15 minutes. Then get your asses back in gear. We’re under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there. Nothing’s riding on this except the, uh, first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters, but if you guys fuck up again, I’m going to get mad. Goodnight.
All the President’s Men is a hard sell, because most people couldn’t really be bothered by learning or caring about the criminal activities of a former President and his staff, and thus, I return to the woman on the documentary.
I cannot in good conscience argue that President Barack Obama is the WORST President in the history of the United States. Richard M. Nixon funded and oversaw a fellowship of bullies and crooks that spied on Democrats illegally and all wound up in jail. Ulysses S. Grant’s Presidency is still heralded as one of the rankest in terms of corruption scandals. Ronald Regan sold the myth of the Welfare Queen during his Presidential bid, the idea that black women trick the government into giving them more money than they deserve, when at the time of his Presidency there were more white women on welfare than black women. Abraham Lincoln offered the Confederacy on two different occasions that they could rejoin the union and keep their slaves, and the Emancipation Proclamation says outright that slaves in territories held by the north were not free. Andrew Jackson and the Trail of Tears. Nuff said.
It’s a mistake to assume we know what history will say about a President, and too often we forget what history actually is. A great professor of mine once told our class that history is not the actual events of the past, it is the discourse concerning those facts. We are writing our history every day, but before we make grand statements about legacy, we need to make sure we have the facts to back the story up. Don’t you think?
I’ve included a link here to a wonderful video done about a year ago. Colbert commemorated the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s Resignation from the Presidency by doing a summary of the Watergate scandal. If the movie ain’t your thing I’d at least recommend the video. It’s hilarious and discusses Panda Sex.
All the President’s Men. Dir. Alan J. Pakula. Perf. Bob Woodward, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Robards. Warner Brothers, 1976. Film.