My friends continue their assault. They are determined I should watch some films from this millennium. But you’ll notice the films are set in the 1960’s. They’re trying to ease me into it.
Tonight it’s THE POST. It’s real good. I liked it!
BUT, it’s not ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN…and that’s OK.
It certainly looks like ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN…happily so. Ben Bradlee was there, in his same office, with his feet up on the same desk…happily so. The news room looked and sounded the same…yes, happily so. Nixon is foiled…so very happily so.
But the stakes are different in the events depicted.
In THE POST, the object of intrepid journalism is “The Ellsberg Papers”, a collection of reports about the history and motivations of a war in Southeast Asia assembled by a team in the Secretary of State’s office mostly by simply asking the Pentagon for the information. It was devastating information confirming the worst fears of a movement of young people opposed to a conflict that killed one to three-and-a-half million people (depending on whether you consider Cambodia, Laos, and political assassinations as part of the casualties – I tend to do so).
In THE POST, this devastating information was not that hard to obtain. The drama…the courage…the journalism was deciding to publish in the face of threats of court action by the White House.
The lesson to be learned was in the question of why it took so long to assemble the information that had been gathering since the early fifties. The answer was in the cozy relationship that had developed (festered?) between the press and the people in government. Hard questions, awkward questions got delayed and forgotten in the warmth of golf with Ike and touch football on the White House lawn with Jack and Bobby.
THE POST makes this point. My hippie sensitivities might wish the point had hammered longer and harder but that’s not fair. It’s a movie, a work of art, and a damn fine one, and the point was made within that reality.
The events depicted in ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN are about the clumsy burglary of the political office of an already defeated candidate. What’s the big deal?
– Only that the burglary was authorized in the office of the Attorney General of the United States.
– Only that the money paid to the burglars to buy their silence was raised by fundraisers of the President of the United States at his behest.
– Only that the President’s suggestion to the newly appointed head of the FBI was to drop his evidence in the Potomac.
I repeat; what’s the big deal?
I mean…no one died.
But two young nobody reporters sifted through files, pounded on doors, waited on recalcitrant elected witnesses, cornered reluctant participants, lingered in parking garages, and endured the public berating of the most powerful office on Earth to deliver a truthful report.
A report that a few years before might not have been published had not the Washington Post had the guts to publish “The Ellsberg Papers”.
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN is the better film.
How could it not be?
I might be the world’s biggest Meryl Streep fan and I can’t be far behind on Tom Hanks. But ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN has complete performances by Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Jack Warden, Jason Robards, Jane Alexander, Penny Fuller, Hal Holbrook, Ned Beatty, and Martin Balsam.
I have confessed to being both an old hippie and a true geezer. I have lived through these events.
If you are interested in moving towards a relevant-to-today understanding of these happenings, may I offer a triptych?
– See THE POST, it’s real good.
– Read ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (Woodward/Bernstein).
– See ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN it’s even better.
– Read THE FINAL DAYS (Woodward/Bernstein).
– Read BLIND AMBITION (John Dean).
I have a writer friend who talks about the mystic power of three.
It seems much of my art-consuming life, I have encountered trilogies regularly (…and happily so); THE LORD OF THE RINGS, STAR WARS, Kieslowski’s THREE COLOURS, Clint Eastwood’s DOLLARS westerns, THE GODFATHER, and INDIANA JONES.
Might this be another?
THE POST, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, ……?