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"All the President's Men" @ 35

"This month marks the 35th anniversary of the release of Alan J Pakula's film version of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward's nonfiction book, All the President's Men," begins Marc Savlov in the Austin Chronicle. "It was one of the best of a handful of films in the crusading reporter subgenre and one that not only has withstood the test of time but also, rewatched today, provokes this thought: 'What the hell has happened to the Fourth Estate?'"

In a sidebar, Savlov notes that the film will be screening this afternoon at the LBJ Library Auditorium. Thursday sees two panel discussions, "Could the media break a story like Watergate today?," with Woodward, Bernstein, Peter Baker of the New York Times, Dana Priest of the Washington Post and Mark Miller of the Texas Tribune, and then later the same day, a discussion of the film with Woodward, Bernstein and Robert Redford. You'll find details on all these events here.

Savlov calls up all three for his piece and, from Woodward, gets a contemporary take on All the President's Men from his daughter, who was around seven when she saw the film in 2005 with her father — the first time he'd seen it in 25 years: "Being raised in Washington, she talks kind of like a policy wonk, and she said, 'a) the guy playing you doesn't look like you at all, and b), boring, boring, boring.' I think they're both right. It's a film about chasing names, connections, amounts of money and so forth, and I would not expect [the film] to have survived as it clearly has."

Bernstein: "What I took away from watching the movie six years ago was that most of the good work was done at night. I think, and there are certain exceptions, that you get the truth at night and lies during the day."

Redford was on "a whistle-stop promotional tour by train for The Candidate when he first heard about the Watergate break-in." The reporters he was with told him the story wouldn't be going anywhere, but then he came across a profile of Woodward and Bernstein:  "I thought, now that's a really interesting story. One guy was a Jew, the other guy was a WASP; one guy was an extreme liberal and the other guy was a Republican; one guy was considered a better writer than the other; they didn't like each other, and yet they had to work together. I thought that I would love to do a little black-and-white movie that maybe I could produce with two unknown actors. Just a small movie."

Last month, Vanity Fair ran an irresistibly readable piece on the making of All the President's Men adapted from Michael Feeney Callan's Redford biography. For starters, you have to remember just how huge Redford was at the time: "The release of The Way We Were, The Sting, and The Great Gatsby six months apart in the winter and spring of 1973–74 pushed Redford to unrivaled status as the world's No. 1 box-office star. With bristling confidence of his status, he moved on to the Watergate story." And here's something I did not know. From Woodward: "Carl and I were pursuing the book our own way, but we'd been influenced by Redford in the way we compiled it. It was he who suggested we make it about the investigation, and not about the dirty-tricks campaign. He had his movie idea. We had our book to be getting on with. But the two ran side by side."


Related reading and browsing: Peel Slowly comes across "the Coolest Cast & Crew Picture Ever, with the Coolest Caption Ever." The Washington Post indexes its many special features related to the film, Watergate, journalists in the movies and so on. The Harry Ransom Center in Austin holds "The Woodward and Bernstein Watergate Papers." On Alan J Pakula: Deborah H Holdstein (Film Reference), TCM and They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?

Update, 4/18: The Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California, has lifted on Bob Woodward so that he can participate in a "Remembering Watergate" panel discussion this evening. The Post reports.

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This film could have been a boring procedural, but everyone seemed to contribute something special. I’m particularly fond of Gordon Willis’ use of sliding diopters to split the focus of shots. The use of selective focus in the newsroom scenes seems, on the surface, like an easy thing, but they put a lot of work into the shots and it really shows. I also really like the idea of the reporters not getting at any truth while the sun is shining, but the night is where they uncover the truth. This is where Willis shines, under cover of darkness.
I’ve blown the afternoon watching clips. Just a stellar piece of work.
Great reason to watch it again, I’m going to do that immediatly
And Fincher’s cynically wearied response to the inadequacy of getting the scoop.

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