I finished reading Richard Reeves' biography of the presidency of Richard Nixon last week. The book, which is a weighty volume, ends rather abruptly, skimming over the tragic collapse of Nixon's presidency. It is tragic, however you consider it. A man, who considered himself the architect of his times being undone by a third rate burglary and the cover-up that followed. In some of the final desperate moments, Reeves' explores Nixon's retreat to Camp David, where the President broke down and confessed that he had prayed to God each night, hoping that he would not wake the following morning. There was apparently genuine concern that in those final days Nixon would attempt to commit suicide. That seems unlikely considering Nixon's indomitable spirit but there was no question that by the end, Nixon was a broken man. Similarly, the presidency and the wider government became paralysed by Watergate. During Nixon's tenure he had steadily and purposefully drawn more and more power to the White House, giving alarm at the rise of what was characterised as an 'imperialist' administration.
What struck me most about Reeves' book was that there were two Nixon's in the White House. The private Nixon, a man who was a sad drunk, self-loathing and with an insane capacity for self-destruction. This was a man who preferred to be on his own, who found it painfully difficult to make small talk, was deeply suspicious of those around him and trust virtually no one. The private Nixon was also a foul-mouthed anti-Semite; bigoted and racist. The other Nixon, the public face, was delusional and corrupted by power but a clever and manipulative orator too. It is often forgotten that in 1972 Nixon was re-elected by the biggest majority in US history and enjoyed the triumph of historic visits to China and Russia and achieving 'peace with honour' in Vietnam. The latter though underlines the stark contrast between the public presentation and reality. The reality was that the Nixon administration betrayed the South Vietnamese and there was really no peace with honour; it was a humiliating retreat.
There is on the face of it so much to loathe about Nixon and little to admire or respect. I've always been fascinated by Nixon and although Reeves' book gives a dramatic insight into the Nixon administration, it doesn't really get to an understanding of who Nixon was. This I guess is what is so fascinating; Nixon was a complete enigma and I doubt that he even fully understood who he was himself. Nixon was a craftsman at deception and obfuscation, often rewriting his own history to suit a purpose.
Currently I am reading The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollingsworth, which was dramatised last year on BBC Two. Needless to say the novel is far superior, with its delicious sentences that evoke a sense of the 1980s being a beautiful time solely populated by beautiful people. I'll share my more detailed thoughts when I've finished the book.
The weekend before last I was in London to meet with friends and as is traditional with these meets, we went to the cinema. The chosen film, The Good Shepherd, was interminably long and densely boring in places. I had expected that I would have enjoyed this but I found the narrative too flabby and the constant switching back and forth in time was not helped by the fact that the characters did not age! By the end of the film, Matt Damon's character looked exactly the same age as his son, so that they could have been mistaken as brothers rather than father and son! I think this is a film for the DVD and to be watched slowly and attentively.
It wasn't a particularly good weekend of films, as on the Sunday I made the trip to Coventry to see friends Derek & Carla, to see Hot Fuzz. I thought the premise was good - the idea of dark and sinister deeds being done by those who on the face of it appear thoroughly decent and ordinary village folk. Timothy Dalton was particularly good as one of the villagers turned secret vigilantes. What I struggled with though was the tone of the film. Often it was funny, although I didn't find it riotously so, sometimes serious but also disturbingly gratuitous in its violent deaths. It jarred in my mind and I found parts uncomfortable viewing; it was like being asked to laugh at a car crash. Not a funny subject at any time. I was also annoyed by the constant product references, something which I often find noticeable and irritating in films today.
Last week was a few days spent back in Portsmouth for my birthday, which was a quiet although nevertheless enjoyable time. The weekend just past was back in MK with friends staying over. On Saturday we visited Bletchley Park, which was an enjoyable afternoon, although all together too short to really enjoy the whole site. At least the ticket is valid for a whole year and I will be taking myself off for another visit before too long.
Hopefully a quieter weekend awaits this weekend when I'll have some time to myself including catching up on some of my recent DVD purchases!