Before it even ended, Richard Nixon’s presidency was already the most scrutinized in history, so it’s hard to believe there still remains some unearthed bit of dirt (barring an 18-minute gap here and there). And yet Our Nixon, an unusually intimate documentary, finds its way to something special: a patchwork of home movies taken by giddy high-level aides who assumed their catbird seat would one day be envied. In a postresignation interview, domestic-affairs counsel John Ehrlichman calls that time “a great big brilliantly lighted, badly run television show,” and that’s exactly the thrill of this doc, which assembles stealthy Super-8 footage of a meeting with the Pope, a jittery Oval Office phone call to astronauts on the moon and plenty of don’t-film-me blushing.
Of course, it’s not all happy times: While director Penny Lane sometimes leans a bit too heavily on Walter Cronkite newscasts to establish the already well-known chronology, there’s finesse in the way she infuses a growing sense of unease. The pageantry of Tricia Nixon’s lovely 1971 White House wedding—including a sweet dance between father and daughter—is followed by a concert in which one of the angelic Ray Conniff Singers goes off-book into political protest. Office meetings take on a furtive tone as Watergate swirls; out come the notorious recordings of Nixon railing against Archie Bunker and “fags.” Having a backstage view of the momentous trip to China adds color, but the real takeaway here is a tone of dawning tragedy, sourness sneaking into even the most innocuous of visual records.
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