Friday, January 23, 2009

Frost/Nixon's Piano Concerto

Finally saw Ron Howard's film adaptation of Peter Morgan's play Frost/Nixon yesterday afternoon. I was struck by the scene where Frank Langella plays Nixon's Piano Concerto Number One--best thing in the picture, IMHO. Plus the "drunk dialing" scene was very well done, plus the follow up "checking" familiar to AA and Alanon veterans.

Otherwise, a little bit cardboard cutout, by the numbers, Peter Morgan strikes this blogger as a British author who only knows Americans from the outside. Frost/Nixon is definitely not The Queen.

The Frost=Nixon doppelganger angle was taught to us as an obvious gimmick in my first screenwriting class at You See LA film school. Hey, the hero and the villain are two sides of the same person divided in two! That's deep. Get me the Joseph Campbell coverage!

Guess what, Peter Morgan? As Lloyd Bentsen would say, I wrote about David Frost and Richard Nixon for my PhD dissertation, and David Frost was no Nixon. And, Frost was no lightweight--he founded London Weekend Television, hosted That Was the Week That Was on NBC as well as British TV, as well as the David Frost Show and was known as the wittiest and most intelligent man on TV. Nixon wasn't going downmarket from Mike Wallace--he was going upmarket. But how could a Britisher be expected to know that (on the other hand, Ron Howard should know better)?

IMHO, Nixon was an Anglophile as well as a keen student of the snobbery and pretentions of Ivy League dopes, who no doubt correctly concluded that a confession to a big-shot Briton would redeem him...which it did. Plus the money was good. And he enjoyed being with big shots, which the film did capture. The self-pitying aspect played true. Checkers, You Won't Have Dick Nixon to Kick Around Anymore, Resignation, Frost/Nixon. The same act worked time after time...not that Morgan noticed.

Nixon wasn't finished by his on-air confession, he was just beginning another act--senior statesman. Doesn't anyone remember Bill Clinton asking Nixon's advice? So the storyline rang false. The acting was good, though. And some of the blubbery Checkers speech characterization from Langella worked, too. I couldn't get past Michael Sheen's Tony Blair to see him as Frost, though he's a good actor and gave it a try. I don't know how they could have made Frost look more different, but maybe someone could have thought of something. And where were the Hollywood feminists at Universal and Imagine entertainment on this one? The women--Pat Nixon, Diane Sawyer, and Caroline Cushing--have nothing to say or do except stand around and look pretty! Yet Pat Nixon, who studied acting and worked in the movie industry; Diane Sawyer, who went on to co-star with Mike Wallace; and Cushing, who went on to set up a marketing and PR firm are mere eye-candy. Before feminism, they would have had parts like Barbara Stanwyck's, Bettye Davis's, and Lauren Bacall's. Does Peter Morgan hate women?

In any case, thanks to google and YouTube, I quickly found this video of Nixon performing his composition on the Jack Paar show in 1963...thought it worth sharing: