Nixon and the movies

Roundup: Pop Culture & the Arts ... Movies, Documentaries and Museum Exhibits

Few politicians have been represented on screen as often as Richard Nixon. Frank Langella is magnificent in Frost/Nixon (released today), but many other notable actors have also played him: Anthony Hopkins in Oliver Stone's Nixon (1995), Beau Bridges in Kissinger and Nixon (1995), Philip Baker Hall in Robert Altman's Secret Honor (1984), Rip Torn in the 1979 television series Blind Ambition, and even Glenda Jackson in Michael Lindsay-Hogg's Nasty Habits (1977). In Jean Luc Godard's Made In USA - made in 1966! - one of the killers calls himself "Richard Nixon".

The real Nixon was less comfortable appearing on screen. During the presidential debates against John F. Kennedy in 1960, the first of the modern era to be televised, he wore too little make up, sweated profusely under the harsh studio lights, and looked shifty and unconvincing to many viewers.

Compared to Kennedy, or to Reagan (whom he regarded as too much of a performer), yet alone to Clinton, Nixon never learned fully to handle the demands of film or television. Paradoxically, it's exactly that unvarnished squirminess and gloomy menace - as well as the small matter of Watergate, of course - that makes him so compelling to film makers: he has often been likened to Richard III...

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