There are numerous gradations to my appreciation of movies, the lowest of them being, ”Every second I was watching it, I was hoping the roof of the theater would cave in and kill me”, to the highest level, which is, “If I am ever totally incapacitated except I can still think, put this movie on a loop for me to watch, and leave me alone.”
Very close to that highest plateau is “the movie that, when I’m flipping around the channels and I spot it, I am compelled to stop, and watch it, no matter how many times I have already seen it.” (This is one rung above “When I’m flipping around the channels and I spot it, I am compelled to watch my favorite parts of it. These categories are subtle and interesting, don’t you think?)
(By the way, while I’m in “Brackets Mode”, I’m thinking there’s an actual name for this, since it happens so many times. What I am referring to is this. You’re flipping through the dozens of movie channels your cable package offers, and you stop at a movie that you’re kind of interested in, and the amazing thing is, the movie is at precisely the same point in its progress – the same scene, the same moment in the story – as it was the last time that you spotted it. It is utterly mind-blowing. They’re actually finishing the sentence that they started the week before! It’s like the movie “self-paused”, waiting for me to come back!
How on earth is that possible, especially considering how incredibly often it happens? I mean, sometimes, I stop, not because I’m that interested in the movie, but in sheer amazement that it’s continuing on from exactly the same place. I mean, you can’t walk away from that. That’s magic!)
Okay. So, not long ago, I’m flipping around the movie channels, in a desperate effort to avoid watching an episode of SVU for the – I’m ashamed to admit the how many-ith – time, and I come upon All The President’s Men (1976).
Yes! No, bigger. YES!!!
I love that movie! All The President’s Men is, like, a hair below “put it on a loop, and leave me alone.” The World Series is on; I’m watching All the President’s Men. (That may not be the definitive test anymore. The World Series was on, and millions of people were watching Up All Night.)
All The President’s Men is the kind of movie they don’t make anymore – it’s about something. Maybe HBO would do it as a miniseries, but not with superstars the likes of Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. (Unless they were old and couldn’t get work anymore.)
For those of you who don’t know, All The President’s Men, based on a book with the same title, written by the reporters played in the movie by Redford and Hoffman, concerns a historic moment in the very recent past (four years before the movie came out, two years before the book was published) in which two low-level reporters from the Washington Post uncover a story, and, against great difficulty and crushing pressure, pursue that story till it leads to the resignation of the President of the United States (Richard Nixon).
Big story, huh? I like big stories. Especially when they’re big, true stories. This provides an insight into my entertainment preferences. Even if it’s exaggerated-for dramatic-effect soap opera, I would much rather watch “The Soap Opera of Real” than “The Soap Opera That Is Entirely Made Up. Who wouldn’t? (Demonstrating Romney-esque superciliocity.)
“The President of the United States was forced to resign, before he is put on trial for siphoning ‘hush money’ to criminals”? “Someone on ‘General Hospital’ is revealed to be his dead brother’s twin, and it’s the other twin who is actually dead”? Come on! Where’s the comparison?
I remember when I first saw All The President’s Men how amazed I was by the film’s gripping suspensefulness, despite the fact that the audience already knew what was going to happen – “They get the president.” This achievement is almost entirely, in my view, attributable to the writing.
I never read the book, so I cannot compare the movie to it in terms of its structural telling of the story. But the movie is – what do they call it, a procedural?
The audience is shown, in glamor-free detail, the methodical manner in which the two reporters, Woodward and Bernstein, hampered by minimal contacts in high places and no personal clout whatsoever – or maybe that’s what left them unencumbered to pursue that story, isn’t it great how that works both ways? – painstakingly plod ahead, hounding witnesses – Bernstein with “pick-up artist” let’s-call-it charm, Woodward with Midwestern sincerity – till the witnesses reveal what they know, accumulating and arranging the, originally, befuddling pieces of the puzzle, building their story, step by two-steps-forward-one-step-backwards step, under the direction of the mysterious “Deep Throat”, until finally, they have their story; and then, with the courageous support of their editor Ben Bradlee, they collectively withstand the heat, going public with their accusations.
I don’t know about you, but I am exhilarated and drained at the same time!
There have been disputes about who specifically is responsible for All The Presidents Men’s script, but the screenwriting Oscar went to William Goldman (who also won an Oscar in 1969 for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.)
William Goldman was the Aaron Sorkin of his day, by which I mean they were arguably the best screenwriters of their generation, and they both “got” people, which make their movies so rich and, at least for me, multiply watchable.
The difference is, it being from different generations, the people they “got” were different kinds of people – Sorkin’s people being “the smartest kid in the room” kind of people (The Social Network), Goldman’s people being intelligent though lacking Mensa qualifications, decent and determined. Though I loved The Social Network (I paid twice to see it; not paid twice to see it once, I actually saw it two times.), I am more comfortable with Goldman’s thoughtful, well-meaning bumblers.
I wonder why.
I’m not saying All The President’s Men is my favorite movie of all time. I have different favorites in different categories. But, with the exception of the western Red River, which I will also stop everything to watch, there are few movies that grab me and hold me like All The Presidents Men.
Though not far behind it are The Bowery Boys, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, and the better outings Ma and Pa Kettle.
“Ma, I think there’s a hole in the roof.”
“How d’ya know, Pa?”
“I finished my soup three times.”
I always stop for that one.