Thursday, January 25, 2007

"these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand"

Whew -- tired today, and I know exactly why: I got caught up in watching All the President's Men on TV last night and stayed up later than I should've.

This movie is an old favorite of mine, but I think last night marked the first time I've watched it since the revelation of the identity of Deep Throat. Not that verisimilitude is the best yardstick, but Hal Holbrook's performance actually holds up great, and is even a little amplified, compared to my sense of what Mark Felt was like. Felt was one of the very top people in the FBI, an accomplished, meticulous man, fundamentally conservative. (The creepy thing I noted in the Deep Throat expose in Vanity Fair two years ago, was how highly Felt regarded J. Edgar Hoover.) Not at all the closet liberal I would "expect" to be spilling the beans about Watergate. He represents not the whistle-blower as disgruntled peon or ax-grinder, but someone with high standards of integrity and professionalism, who has the loftiest possible motives for informing. The offense he takes at Nixon's misdeeds is not visceral, it's almost intellectual. His sense of order has been insulted. Deep Throat seems almost a Godlike figure, setting the ground rules for when and where he meets Woodward, what he divulges, when and how much revelation to give. He is also a kind of rescuer: The emtional climax of the film is when Deep Throat warns Woodward the reporters' lives are in danger.

Another reaction: though it's been several years since I'd seen Robert Redford-as-Bob Woodward, I've seen the real Woodward quite a bit lately in various interviews and talk shows, and man, does Woodward come off better in the film. Who among us men wouldn't like to be played by Redford in the filmic version of our lives, of course, but movie Woodward is so hard-driving, fast-talking, working all night and burning up shoe leather. The real Bob Woodward speaks in this almost excruciatingly slow cadence with a flat Midwestern accent. Also, nowadays Woodward is the farthest thing from a muckraker, he's a court historian, who reportedly receives interview subjects in his elegant Georgetown home; they come to him, they make appointments. To think of him as eager and hungry in 1972-73 -- it's a hard mental leap.

I noticed more flaws in the movie than I ever had, some awkward expository dialogue, although of course it's a hard story to tell visually. I still enjoyed it, though. You can't miss the parallels between the flailings and maneuverings of the current administration, and those of Nixon's men: the pettiness, the incompetence, the frat-boy arrogance of "ratfucker" Donald Segretti, the two-facedness of Ken Clawson (whom Ben Bradlee blackmails for information with the knowledge that the married Clawson went to a young woman's apartment for a drink). Perhaps Deep Throat put it best: "The truth is, these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand."

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