Set to period music and running commentary from top White House aides, Penny Lane and Brian Frye's feature-length documentary “Our Nixon” offers an unsual portrait of former President Richard Nixon on the eve of his landslide reelection in 1972, in the days before the full Watergate scandal ruined his legacy.
The informal footage was shot on Super 8 film by staffers H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, Dwight Chapin and Larry Higby. It captures a grinning, upbeat Nixon entertaining celebrity guests at the White House, on campaign stops around the country and on his historic visit to China.
The innoncent home movies were confiscated by the F.B.I. after the administration came under investigation for its involvement in the Watergate cover-up.
When Nixon resigned in 1974 to avoid impeachment the rolls of film were filed away at the National Archives, where they languished for decades- ignored by investigators, historians and journalists focused on Watergate- until Lane and Frye discovered them a few years ago.
“We were the first people outside of [the archive] to see it,” Lane said of the footage, which belongs in the public record and is avialable upon request. “No one knew it existed.”
The filmmaking duo transferred the Super 8 rolls to video, and set to work editing them down to a maneagable length and scoring the film with excerpts from the Nixon Tapes. They recently launched a fundraising drive on kickstarter.com to raise money to finish production.
“Our country is only starting to be ready to think about the Nixon presidency in any other way besides Watergate,” Lane said in an interview at their Fort Greene home. The documentary “will give a view of Nixon that's never been seen.”
It shows a confident man at the height of his power, a side of Nixon that is rarely explored. But at the same time the film carries an ominous undertone; viewers know the car crash ending, but the stars of the film don't, and it never comes.
“The guys who filmed this were very excited” to be at the center of history, Lane said. “They thought this was going to be the greatest presidency ever. They were totally wrong.”
For more information on “Our Nixon,” including directions for how to donate to the project's fundraising campaign, visit their website