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All the President’s Men

All the Presidents Men  

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  1. 1. Should All the President’s Men be included on AFI’s Top 100

    • Run that baby!
      17
    • You don’t got it.
      1


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This week Paul & Amy investigate 1976’s journalistic thriller All The President’s Men! They learn about the controversy surrounding who wrote the screenplay, appreciate the unshowy direction of Alan Pakula, and ask whether Woodward & Bernstein are a true cinematic ‘odd couple.’ Plus: Liz Hannah, the screenwriter of The Post, tells us whether her film was an intentional prequel to President’s Men.

What do you think the Treasure Of The Sierra Madre is? Call the Unspooled voicemail line at 747-666-5824 with your answer! Follow us on Twitter @Unspooled, get more info at unspooledpod.com, and don’t forget to rate, review & subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts. Photo credit: Kim Troxall

This episode is brought to you by Vrbo, Black Tux (www.blacktux.com code: UNSPOOLED), and Fracture (www.fractureme.com/UNSPOOLED).

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Completely surprised at the indifference Paul and Amy had to this movie.

I also disagree that Pakula's direction is "unshowy." There's a lot of interesting creativity in there, and the ability to make clear sense of this story is also terrific, let alone to make it so entertaining.

It does lead me to something I was wondering: does being a "true" story affect your views on its greatness (either positively or negatively)?

I personally do tend to lean to fiction in movie preferences, in general, though I do think this movie is amazing and one of my favorites of this series so far.

We're all used to these AFI movies now, and they all have a certain conceit of drama and I was vastly entertained by this one not having some of those things. Not getting typical drama stuff like Woodward and Bernstein's personal lives or whatnot really made this stand-out among the bunch we've seen.

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The movie didn't quite grab me emotionally upon this most recent rewatch, but it's clearly well-made, and I was impressed by a lot of stuff in it. I certainly was not bored; one of the most impressive things is how the movie is so emotionally flat and heavily detailed but still feels dramatically propulsive.  I think a lot of the subtle choices in the acting and filmmaking help give us that sense.

I also have to vote yes because it's so clearly influential, and as a plus it seems to have influenced actual GOOD movies rather than a lot of copycat bad ones. Just off the top of my head, I'd cite Zodiac, Spotlight, and The Post as obvious tributes to All the President's Men. There's something in here that has inspired great filmmakers. Got to give some credit for that.

I also have a sense that this movie probably gets better the more you watch it, as you notice more details that add to the whole.

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2 hours ago, AlmostAGhost said:

Completely surprised at the indifference Paul and Amy had to this movie.

I also disagree that Pakula's direction is "unshowy." There's a lot of interesting creativity in there, and the ability to make clear sense of this story is also terrific, let alone to make it so entertaining.

It does lead me to something I was wondering: does being a "true" story affect your views on its greatness (either positively or negatively)?

I personally do tend to lean to fiction in movie preferences, in general, though I do think this movie is amazing and one of my favorites of this series so far.

We're all used to these AFI movies now, and they all have a certain conceit of drama and I was vastly entertained by this one not having some of those things. Not getting typical drama stuff like Woodward and Bernstein's personal lives or whatnot really made this stand-out among the bunch we've seen.

I agree! I was kind of taken aback by their overall apathy. I’ve seen this movie twice now and I liked it even more this time. 

I also agree that we didn’t really need to get into the nitty-gritty of Woodward and Bernstein’s backgrounds. I never really even thought about needing anything more. I feel like the movie gives us just enough, but doesn’t bog us down too much. I actually don’t think there’s that much more to say. These guys ARE their jobs. That’s what they do — non-stop. I don’t think a dinner scene with them discussing why they became journalists in the first place would really add anything to either the movie or their characters.

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11 minutes ago, Cameron H. said:

I also agree that we didn’t really need to get into the nitty-gritty of Woodward and Bernstein’s backgrounds.

I 100% think that would make this a worse movie.

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I agree that Amy and Paul seemed to have a strange view of this film.

First, the claim that there's not enough to distinguish between Woodward and Bernstein is ludicrous.  For starters, so much of their personalities are revealed with hair, makeup, and wardrobe, without a word of dialogue.  Woodward is the perfectionist, with his hair immaculately in place, his shirt perfectly pressed, and his tie in a more perfect knot than I've ever been able to achieve in my life.  Bernstein is the creative, whose extremely wrinkled dress shirt suggests he only wears one because he has to, and whose long hair suggests he feels some connection to 60s counter-culture even as he managed to work a desk job through it all.  When they deal with people, either in person or on the phone, Woodward is a bit tense and wants to be precisely understood and to precisely understand the other party.  Bernstein is loose and doesn't particularly care what the other party thinks of him as long as he gets what he wants.  Woodward's manner of reasoning is much more deductive, where he'll reach a conclusion only if the facts lead there.  Bernstein's reasoning is more inductive, where he's willing to make a leap of logic based on patterns and assume that as fact, which ends up fine in this situation because his instincts were always correct.  And yeah, sure, Woodward is a bit WASPy, and Bernstein is clearly Jewish, but if that's the only thing you can point to in order to distinguish them, I don't understand what movie you were watching.  I don't see how clearer they could make the differences between these guys without hitting us over the head with it (and some might argue that they do hit us over the head with it, like in the scene where Bernstein has his notes on napkins and tiny pieces of paper while Woodward disapprovingly chides him).

4 hours ago, AlmostAGhost said:

It does lead me to something I was wondering: does being a "true" story affect your views on its greatness (either positively or negatively)?

This is an interesting question.  I think at the time, and possible up to today, the fact that this actually happened makes it more interesting, and thus affects it in a positive way.  I can see this changing over time for a couple of reasons, the first of which is a diminishing knowledge of the event.  Now, as a product of a rural American public school, I know no history, and the only name from the administration mentioned in the film that I knew was Nixon himself.  (This is the second time I've seen this film, and it's the second time I had to google whether Gordon Liddy is the same person as Scooter Libby. Answer: He's not.)  But I still knew the broad strokes of the scandal: Nixon's men attempt to burgle the DNC, Nixon was aware of the cover-up, and he had to resign the presidency as a result.  In 50 years, it's possible that viewers will know as much about the Watergate scandal as I do about the Teapot Dome scandal (which I assume had something to do with teapots...and domes).  The term "Watergate" will no longer be synonymous with Nixon, but just with some type of scandal, or even more diluted, simply some type of controversy (I read that applications to journalism programs skyrocketed after this film, so I suppose it's those bozos we have to blame for idiotically using -gate as a suffix for everything).  And the second reason I fear this might change over time is due to the declining civility in politics.  I can imagine a 16-year-old who grew up indoctrinated in Trump country watching this film and thinking, "So Nixon sought to use any means necessary to bring down his political rivals, and then lied about it and covered it up.  Isn't that what the President is supposed to do?"  After all, Fox News would (and does) forgive Trump for far worse than what Nixon did.  (Speaking of Fox News, I was figuratively yelling at the podcast when Amy and Paul were discussing 1976 films and neglected to mention the other film on the AFI list, Network.)

Now, judging by the Letterboxd reviews I read, I'm probably not as high on this film as others on this board, although I have it in the top third of AFI films so far.  I can see the argument that it's a vanilla in a freezer full of more novel flavors, but that's overlooking the fact that for a vanilla, the taste and texture are perfect, and who wouldn't want that perfect vanilla to have a place in their freezer?  For those who say take it or leave it, I'd happily take it.

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22 minutes ago, bleary said:

I can see the argument that it's a vanilla in a freezer full of more novel flavors, but that's overlooking the fact that for a vanilla, the taste and texture are perfect, and who wouldn't want that perfect vanilla to have a place in their freezer? 

Absolutely. I can enjoy films about movie star and gunslingers, but I don’t always see myself in those films. This film quietly honors all the bookkeepers and secretaries and people who spend their days typing at a keyboard and poring through documents. After eight hours of staring at a screen, transferring documents from this email to that database, over and over again...it’s kind of nice to see people like me, represented onscreen. It’s like, you don’t have to be a rockstar for your life to have meaning and purpose.

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5 hours ago, AlmostAGhost said:

It does lead me to something I was wondering: does being a "true" story affect your views on its greatness (either positively or negatively)?

Honestly, I think I have a generally negative view of “true” stories. That’s not to say I dislike them outright (I honestly like quite a few), but I’m far more skeptical. Memories can be wonky, and due to the constraints of narrative structure, things get omitted or added to give the whole thing form. I mean, I get that for brevity’s sake, it’s easier to say “true story” instead of “fictionalized version of actual events,” but the cynic in me tends to balk whenever the word “true” is bandied about. I’m more interested in “honesty” than “truth,” if that makes sense. Yeah, things might not have been exactly as depicted, but this was what basically happened. Honestly, I think that’s one of the things I respected about the Mötley Crüe movie The Dirt. They straight up break the fourth wall and say, “It didn’t actually happen like this,” “I remember this differently,” and “There was also this other guy there, but we couldn’t fit him in the movie.” It’s refreshing for a biopic to come right out and say, “We’re kind of lying to you, but don’t get hung up on it.”

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6 hours ago, Cameron H. said:

Honestly, I think I have a generally negative view of “true” stories. That’s not to say I dislike them outright (I honestly like quite a few), but I’m far more skeptical. Memories can be wonky, and due to the constraints of narrative structure, things get omitted or added to give the whole thing form. I mean, I get that for brevity’s sake, it’s easier to say “true story” instead of “fictionalized version of actual events,” but the cynic in me tends to balk whenever the word “true” is bandied about. I’m more interested in “honesty” than “truth,” if that makes sense. Yeah, things might not have been exactly as depicted, but this was what basically happened. Honestly, I think that’s one of the things I respected about the Mötley Crüe movie The Dirt. They straight up break the fourth wall and say, “It didn’t actually happen like this,” “I remember this differently,” and “There was also this other guy there, but we couldn’t fit him in the movie.” It’s refreshing for a biopic to come right out and say, “We’re kind of lying to you, but don’t get hung up on it.”

Yea that's more or less where I'm at.

I just prefer fiction. I'm not necessarily skeptical (I definitely am about documentaries though), but a film about a true story seems to be shortcutting a little bit what I want to get out of my movies (which I think I sort of treat as I would literature).

I still fall on the side of this movie, for using cinema to tell a true story in about as perfect a way as possible, so I hold it high on this list we're doing. At the very least, I guess I just hold true stories to a higher bar for greatness. That may even include films that use real settings even if they're not true stories: Vietnam War, World War II, Titanic, etc. are generally in the bottom half of my list. I like some of them but President's Men was the one that really jumped up the list.

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Again this movie says all you need to say and know about the characters it just doesn't "say" it. You get that they are young and hungry reporters. That much is said. What is not said you get from their attire, desks, apartments, mannerisms and actions. Going back to the old film adage of show don't tell, this movie shows us a lot about these characters and paints a very detailed picture of them. Just think about these facts: we know that they are young, Bernstein has long hair, he has a bike wheel at his desk, he has a picture of a cyclist at his desk as well, Woodward is the only one seen driving. Put that all together we get a young guy with liberal leanings, possible early environmentalist, that bikes in the city. Do we need him to tell us these things? Do we need a scene in which he tells why he chooses to bike? No. We have all the information we need to put those bits together ourselves. In the end does knowing more about him or why he chooses to bike enrich the story or tell us more about the Watergate scandal and its investigation? No, so why should we spend time with backstories? 

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11 hours ago, AlmostAGhost said:

It does lead me to something I was wondering: does being a "true" story affect your views on its greatness (either positively or negatively)?

I think I tend to have a bit of a negative few of "true" stories because I know how often the truth is stretched thin. Some stories are interesting and important but they lack a typical story structure or easy entry point for the audience. So the writers start to move events around, put people where they weren't or even create false moments. People then watch the movie and take it as the truth. Most people don't become interested and then research, they saw the movie so they know what happened. As a result I think I always view a lot of "true" stories through a lens of healthy disbelief which ultimately sometimes hampers my enjoyment of a film. That said films like this, Zodiac, Dog Day Afternoon, etc. are all films I really love that are based on true events. Overall I would say I prefer fiction. 

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6 hours ago, Cam Bert said:

I think I tend to have a bit of a negative few of "true" stories because I know how often the truth is stretched thin. Some stories are interesting and important but they lack a typical story structure or easy entry point for the audience. So the writers start to move events around, put people where they weren't or even create false moments. People then watch the movie and take it as the truth. Most people don't become interested and then research, they saw the movie so they know what happened. As a result I think I always view a lot of "true" stories through a lens of healthy disbelief which ultimately sometimes hampers my enjoyment of a film. That said films like this, Zodiac, Dog Day Afternoon, etc. are all films I really love that are based on true events. Overall I would say I prefer fiction. 

I once saw a transcript for a sermon in which the pastor was using the 1988 Jamaican bobsled team as a metaphor but he was really just outlining the plot of Cool Runnings beat for beat. Not that I necessarily have an issue with that, but he was trying to pass off what happens in the movie as historical fact. 🙄

I like to think that maybe it was Saturday night and he was watching the Disney Channel and thought, “Oh fuck! I forgot to write a sermon this week!”

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I'm a huge fan of Unspooled and Paul & Amy, but I had a hard time with the dismissiveness of this episode. All The President's Men is a movie that requires patience, and I wonder if that's why the hosts found it frustrating. I've noticed that Unspooled has a sometimes less than critical enthusiasm for directors like Spielberg and Disney, brilliant artists whose seminal works are sentimental and deeply manipulative. At any given moment of Snow White and E.T., the viewer is told exactly how to feel and when to feel it. No patience is required and nothing is left to chance. The central promise of Spielberg and Disney is the escape of an eternal childhood. All The President's Men is about being a grown-up, how mundane and ordinary efforts can - with tremendous persistence - achieve extraordinary, historical results. Pakula forces us to spend a couple of hours being Woodward and Bernstein as they slog through mountains of lies and paper in a quest to get to the truth. All The President's Men is that rare mainstream Hollywood film that pulls back from conventionally obvious dramatic tropes as it asks its audience to work.

That's not to say that Paul, Amy, or anyone else should pretend to like the movie if they don't. But I noticed that the cultural significance of this film - X FilesZodiac, just about any police procedural on TV, the list goes on - got shorter shrift this time around, and received a less than fair hearing.

Paul was right: Snow White is a kids' movie: it appeals to the eternal child in all of us. That's a beautiful thing, but it would be nice to see a movie like All The President's Men get credit for being brave enough to ask us to be grown-ups.

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Full disclosure: I haven't listened to the episode yet, but when did that ever stop someone on the internet from giving an an opinion? 😁

I wonder if someone's opinion of All the President's Men can be affected by their age. I absolutely love this movie - it's one of a handful that I watch about once a year (others include Pulp Fiction, Mad Max: Fury Road, JFK, Apocalypse Now, Lone StarThe Seven Samurai). Maybe not the greatest movies ever, but ones that hit me on a personal level in some way. I was in elementary school when Watergate happened, but I remember the way it absolutely dominated public conversation. I even remember arguing about whether Nixon was guilty or not with my classmates (I was pro-Nixon at the time).

My earliest political memory is my mom watching the Watergate hearings on T.V. during the summer. And I vividly remember Nixon resigning, even though I was only 9 years old. My family was camping in Canada, but we ran into friends who told us Nixon was about to quit. We actually gathered around the car radio to listen to Nixon's farewell. It's hard to understate the way Watergate dominated the public consciousness back then. 

So I wonder if my enthusiasm for All the President's Men partly grows from my coming of age during and just after Watergate. Plus, I was pretty aware of what happened with Nixon, so I didn't need a lot of background about when I first watched the movie - probably when it first aired on TV, maybe in the late 70s or early 80s? I could see where someone growing up later might not engage with the film quite as much.

That said, I still think Pakula does a lot with a very minimalist approach. As some have noted earlier, his storytelling is super-economical, but he manages to give the audience just enough to understand what is going on and to be caught up in the excitement and drama. Credit has to go to Redford and Hoffman too. I noticed when I watched the film last week how spot on their performances are for delivering information through tone of voice, expressions, and body language.

Regarding nothing distinguishing the two, I can't agree with that, but notice when Ben Bradlee refers to the pair as "Woodstein." I've read that it was a running joke at the Washington Post for staffers to get the two mixed up.

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13 hours ago, Cameron H. said:

I once saw a transcript for a sermon in which the pastor was using the 1988 Jamaican bobsled team as a metaphor but he was really just outlining the plot of Cool Runnings beat for beat. Not that I necessarily have an issue with that, but he was trying to pass off what happens in the movie as historical fact. 🙄

I like to think that maybe it was Saturday night and he was watching the Disney Channel and thought, “Oh fuck! I forgot to write a sermon this week!”

Wait, that's not what happened? Next thing you'll be telling me that Air Bud isn't real and there is something in the rules about a dog playing basketball.

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6 minutes ago, Cam Bert said:

Wait, that's not what happened? Next thing you'll be telling me that Air Bud isn't real and there is something in the rules about a dog playing basketball.

There actually aren’t rules and the NBA is stupid for not taking advantage of it. It would be paw-some!

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1 minute ago, Cameron H. said:

There actually aren’t rules and the NBA is stupid for not taking advantage of it. It would be paw-some!

They'd be mutts to not take advantage of it.

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9 minutes ago, Cam Bert said:

They'd be mutts to not take advantage of it.

The public would eat it up. Everyone loves a wags to riches tail.

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29 minutes ago, Cameron H. said:

The public would eat it up. Everyone loves a wags to riches tail.

I'm sure public perception would be a little ruff at first, but people would soon get on board.

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7 minutes ago, Cam Bert said:

I'm sure public perception would be a little ruff at first, but people would soon get on board.

I can't wait for Charles Barkley to take em to the paint

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I had mostly quit listening to the podcast because of past frustration with Paul--you obviously need to love his personality to be a regular listener.  I should have remembered that the worst time to listen to any podcast is when it's talking about a favorite movie!  I kept wanting to hit my head against my car window.  I think the movie is perfect in accomplishing what it's trying to do.  It might not be everyone's taste but I love the whole thing.  So many classic/talented actors.  Jane Alexander is a particular favorite.  Movies about investigative reporters are in my wheelhouse in general.  And classic 70s movies tend to be my taste.  I love that they don't spoon feed the viewer.  I love the grinding pace, it fits what they're trying to show.  And the reporters have different personalities but they are both so ambitious and they figure out how to work together. 

My mom was obsessed with Watergate, she watched it on TV all day long, read every book, and my parents argued about some of the key players for years over the dinner table.  Over the years, I've read many of the participants' books.  As well as other Watergate books, including a bio of the Jack Warden character.  But I'd never read a Woodward and Bernstein one until recently.  I don't like what Woodward turned into, which started right after the Watergate success.  Then because it's come up often in discussing Trump, I've been reading The Final Days, and I had recently read about a third of All the President's Men.  I've seen the movie many times and I recognized that most scenes in the beginning the movie track surprisingly closely to the book.  From the first appearance in court, and the other character' discussion of the background given to the two authors, and Woodward's phone call with Dahlberg -- dialogue is the same.  The book also contains a footnote about the kidnapping Dahlberg mentions in the call (which is a famous one in MN).

During the podcast, they said the director's name over and over and they pronounced it in a way I'd never heard before, then the guest came in and said it the usual way.  That sort of thing wouldn't usually bother me but it probably hurt me more because they didn't properly appreciate the movie.  :)   I liked the guest.  I feel a little bad that I didn't love The Post.  It was hard to get around Tom Hanks, and I'll never be sure whether it is because I'm tired of Tom Hanks in general, because the real Ben Bradlee is so well known, or whether it's the Jason Robards Ben Bradlee I like even better than the real one.  There was no way Tom Hanks was going to be able to please me.

 

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Regarding Watergate vs. the present:  The Final Days has been a scary read for me.  All the detail in that book about Nixon not listening to his lawyers, and Republicans supporting him for a very long time even after he was clearly obstructing justice -- well it doesn't support the discussions I see on cable news today about how Watergate was different because republicans challenged their president in the 1970s.  Almost every republican supported Nixon until he turned over the tapes.   

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I really agreed with Paul and Amy. I liked the movie and thought a lot of it was cool, but it had me wanting to rewatch Spotlight. I'm in favor for Spotlight or even Zodiac replacing it if we need an "investigative journalists changing history" type of movie.

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