Somehow, I should have known that a movie with a nuanced and more or less sensitive portrayal of the 37th President, Frost/Nixon, would soon be counterbalanced by one trading on the Evil Nixon archetype favored by so many of popular culture’s tastemakers.
Such a film will be in the multiplexes next weekend when Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, the cinematic adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s groundbreaking 1985 comic book series, has its opening.
Until now, the best-known science-fiction portrayal of RN has been Matt Groening’s animated series Futurama, in which the man from Whittier’s disembodied head is Earth President a thousand years hence, battling both alien invaders and the never-ending hippie menace. But by this time next week Watchmen will be competing with its vision of a 1985 in which President Nixon still governs the nation and grapples with an ever-escalating Cold War.
Moore and Gibbons’s comics portrayed a 1980s Nixon presidency as one of continuing paranoia and corruption, which functions in their work as a parallel, or a background leitmotif, to the paranoia and corruption with which the superheroes of Watchmen and their human acolytes become involved. But Snyder, as director of the movie, has chosen to play up the Nixon theme considerably, adding touches like actors playing Pat Buchanan, Eleanor Clift, and John McLaughlin on a fictional McLaughlin Group. (An Eleanor Clift fact you perhaps didn’t know: her first husband was the older brother of legendary actor Montgomery Clift, which means her great-grandfather-in-law was Lincoln’s Postmaster General Montgomery Blair who once owned the property where sits the house where I write these words.)
So far the reviews of the film haven’t discussed the Nixon angle much. (Newsweek and CNN have weighed in.) But this interview with Snyder indicates the degree to which the president figures in the film. (Nixon, incidentally, is portrayed by Robert Wisden, a British actor given what Variety describes as “a comically elongated” putty nose for the role. The showbiz bible’s review further notes that the actor “doesn’t quite give Frank Langella a run for his money.”)
One unfortunate side effect: it seems a sure bet that many a middle-school student who sees the picture will be giving the wrong answer on any history exam that asks “Who was the President of the United States in 1985?”