After former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein used his “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Win Ben Stein’s Money,” and renowned financial journalism fame to launch a critique of Penny Lane and Brian L. Frye’s new film “Our Nixon,” the filmmakers have responded to Stein’s critiques.
For the most part, Stein’s critique, published in The Daily Beast, accuses Lane and Frye of being Nixon-bashers who used footage widely available to recreate rote arguments against Nixon. He then gets really angry at CNN for “producing” the film.
Lane and Frye, in a retort to Stein also published in The Daily Beast, start by getting the easiest accusation out of the way: “Our Nixon” is an independent production licensed by CNN. In other words, CNN had nothing to do with the film until it was finished.
Then, the filmmakers explain how a collage film made of found and archival works, in response to Stein’s accusation that the filmmakers were passing of their film as something new when it was not:
The Super 8 films are not available from the Navy, which does not have copies of them. While the Naval Photographic Center developed the Super 8 films and made copies for Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Chapin, we have found no evidence that the Navy retained copies of the films or has ever made them available to the public. According to the public affairs officer of the Naval History and Heritage Command, the Naval Photographic Center was closed some time ago, and archival materials more than 10 years old were sent to the National Archives and Records Administration, which maintains the official still photographic collections of the Armed Forces, prior to 1982. Notably, the Naval Photographic Center gave its films relating to the Nixon administration to the Nixon Library, which is part of the National Archives. As far as we can determine, neither the Nixon Library nor any other branch of the National Archives received copies of the Super 8 films from the Naval Photographic Center.
The Super 8 films confiscated from Ehrlichman’s office were copies, not originals. In about 2001, the Nixon Library preserved those films, at great expense, by making 16mm copies. However, the films were not “available generally,” because the library lacked funding to make video transfers. We should know, as we paid about $18,000 for the library to make those transfers in 2009. Later, Haldeman’s family donated his original Super 8 films to the Nixon Library, and we paid about $30,000 to make a new set of higher-quality transfers. Because we paid for video transfers, the films are now generally available to the public for the first time.
In response to Stein’s complaint that the filmmakers were making lazy (i.e. old hat) editorializations of the defamed President, Lane and Frye say:
Our Nixon is a collage film. The entire film consists of archival materials edited together into an impressionistic portrait of Nixon and his closest aides. Those materials are organized both chronologically and thematically, which should be obvious to anyone who watches the film. We listened to hundreds of hours of Nixon’s secret White House tapes and observed that Nixon called Haldeman after almost every speech. In this case, we paired an excerpt from one of Nixon’s best speeches on Vietnam with a conversation between Nixon and Haldeman in which they discuss the reaction to one of his speeches on Vietnam. The purpose of the juxtaposition is to reflect on Nixon’s relationship to Haldeman, not to comment on Nixon’s Vietnam policy. Given the choice between a strong speech and a relatively weak one, we chose the former, as better representative of Nixon’s ability to communicate with the American public.
Kudos go to Lane and Frye for not turning the tables to ask Stein to defend the “facts” in his 2008 intelligent design documentary “Expelled.”
“Our Nixon,” which aired on CNN August 1, opens in select theaters this weekend.