Nixon Home Movies, Worse Than You Can Imagine

DATELINE: Pre-Watergate


Three convicted Richard Nixon aides were home movie junkies. Their film work has been collected for a movie called Our Nixon.

H.R. Haldeman, Dwight Chapin, and John Ehrlichman, took Super8 home movies of the Nixon years before Watergate. It makes for a strange behind-the-scenes look at history. It is an intimate portrait of Mr. Nixon that seems devoid of intimacy.

The three convicted obstructers of justice come across as good-natured, highly spirited citizens on a great adventure serving their country. They certainly never felt, even in subsequent interviews, that they were at any fault. Their movies reflect their American innocence, more accurately called naivety.

Nor did they see Richard Nixon as much less than a hard-working man whose agenda to help the country went awry. In fact, for all their close-ups of the man they worked for, there is no true insight into the man whose reputation puts him at the bottom of presidential honor.

The documentary suffers only from not identifying who took what movies and what did they know when they took them.

It seems the three men took many moving pictures of each other. Their canisters of film were confiscated during the Watergate investigation and kept locked away for 40 years.

Emerging now, when most collective memories of Nixon are dim when not dark, the movie footage makes for Zapruder-style depiction of a president going down from his terrible bureaucratic mistakes.

Like all amateur filmmakers, the trio of aides hone in on happy moments, oblivious to the cancer on Nixon’s presidency.

If you expect to find insights into the warm and fuzzy Nixon, you will find he is robotic, indeed catatonic, when out of the public media. Redeeming sentimental moments are not on these home movies.

Yet, they are priceless historical snippets of film, made by directors of their own downfalls. It is like someone has decided to share home movies of a train wreck.