I went onto campus on Saturday to help lead a discussion on Frost/Nixon. I hadn't seen the movie before, so I surfed around for an hour or two before the movie to get some ideas about what I should cover before and after the movie. I jotted down some key dates about Watergate, since most students only have the sketchiest of notions about it. I thought how the movie might relate to some key debates over media and politics.
And then I got it into my head that we should go check out his house. He retired only a couple of miles from here. Maybe we could all pile into the old Toyota, and I would show the kids his old house. So, I googled more to find out where Nixon had lived.
In Nixon's later years, he had bought a house in Saddle River for $1 million. It was a mid-century modern home built by a protege of Frank Lloyd Wright. Nixon split his time between the house in Saddle River and a townhouse in Manhattan. After he died, a family in Japan bought the house for $2.3 million dollar, but never moved in and never turned on the power. Without power, the sump pump in the basement failed to work and five feet of water sat in the basement for several years. The house filled with mold and began to cave in. Eventually, someone bought the property and had to completely demolish it, because of all the rot and mold.
Frost/Nixon was really a fabulous film that explores the personalities between Frost and Nixon. It doesn't fit neatly into any debate about the role of the press in a democracy. It's really a character study. Both Frost and Nixon are portrayed as fallible, but well meaning characters. In some ways, polar opposites, and in other ways, identical. You walk away from the movie with a great deal of sympathy for Nixon. Yes, Nixon remains convinced that the president is somehow above the law, but he is also lonely, tormented, and eager to do the right thing.
There is great tragedy around Nixon. He was a guy who fell victim to his own demons that rotted away his presidency, the country, and his legacy.