Sunday, January 25, 2009

FROST/NIXON: THE ORIGINAL WATERGATE INTERVIEWS (PBS 1977) Liberation Entertainment

In 1977, British television journalist David Frost secured the rights to conduct what would become the most celebrated series of interviews with former U.S. President Richard M. Nixon. Acknowledging that an individual as complex as Richard Nixon could not possibly be contained within the brief span of an hour long television interview format, Frost proceeded to earmark the former President for six hours of taping at an undisclosed location somewhere in Southern California.

A house was rented and converted into a makeshift studio, with bedrooms serving as changing rooms. In due course these two men would tear into an already open wound, speak frankly on Nixon's White House tenure and talk openly about the Watergate scandal. The Frost/Nixon Interviews – as they came to be known – were a minor broadcasting coup that pitted the wit of an intelligent interviewer with the magnetic defiance of one of the 20th century’s most fascinating political figures.

Yet no one could have foreseen how close Frost would get to the inner man beneath his mantel of nervous reluctance and need for self preservation. In today’s rather unscrupulous need for ravenously blood thirsty tabloid media, the restraint with which these interviews were conducted is utterly refreshing.

Frost engages Nixon with the utmost personal decorum and tempered reverence for the man. Not that Frost fails to ask the tough questions. In fact, he aimed his ambitions, along with his camera, at the very heart of Richard Nixon and, in a moment of unexpected personal humility, catches the former President off guard and speaking to his personal and political failings with unprecedented candor.

The Ron Howard film starring Frank Langella aside, this is the real thing and so much more memorable if only for the fact that it reveals one of the greatest statesmen of the last hundred years as a disheartened and isolated individual coming to grips with the sacrifices he forced others to make in his stead before his own inevitable resignation.
Now, Liberation Entertainment has released a truncated edition of the Frost/Nixon Interviews – basically the episode concentrating on Watergate and its fallout. David Frost, circa the present, bookends and contextualizes this segmented piece with remarkable recall and, after the actual interview, reflections on some personal moments occurring between him and Nixon immediately following the taping of the actual interview.

Curiously, Liberation Entertainment has not taken the time to present these newly recorded recollections in anamorphic widescreen, but rather ‘letterbox’ format, though the rest of the original interview footage is presented as such and with a startling amount of definition and clarity in the image.

Though the tape used to film this interview can never be called ‘reference quality’, with a slight color bleed around the edges, for the most part, the image is stable, crisp and free of debris and age related artifacts. The audio is mono as originally recorded. Apart from Frost’s post interview recollections, there are no extra features. Nevertheless, as a historical artifact, the Frost/Nixon Interview is hypnotic and compelling viewing. A must have!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
3

EXTRAS
1

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