Friday, April 19, 2013

Watergate Revisited

Has it really been 40 years since the Watergate scandal began slowly unfolding--the end result was the toppling of an sitting American president?
We learn nostalgia comes in many strange guises in the new must-see TV documentary All The President's Men revisited on Discovery Sunday April 21 at 10 p.m.
Or as the New York times so aptly puts it: "What did Robert Redford film, and when did he film it?"
This compulsively watchable two-hour special divides the honors between the two intrepid reporters for the Washington Post, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward and Robert Reford who bought the movie rights and ran with it producing a film that he says still has footprints all these decades later.
Redford executive produced this blazingly good TV special and also narrates the story and stars in it.
One highlight is an initially awkward reunion with co-star Dustin Hoffman who played Bernstein so brilliantly.
At first the two grand old actors look searchingly at each other. Of course they've changed physically.
Finally, the ice is broken and they provide choice anecdotes about the making of the film (which is only 36 years old).
There's also a reunion of  the real Bernstein and Woodward --they were in their late 20s when they broke the story --you do the math.
They reconnect and go back into the  washington Post newsroom along with the considerably aged editor Ben Bradlee who is now 91 (played in the movie by Jason Robards who won an Oscar).
Bernstein immediately notices how quiet the newsroom has become since computers replaced typewriters.
And the question is asked if the scandal could have unfolded today in quite the measured pace of 40 years ago. Don't forget these days we have all day TV newscasts, tweeting, and a desire to get the news as quickly as possible.
On the other hand no president since President Richard Nixon would ever get caught again secretly tape recording conversations --the tapes were to prove Nixon's ultimate down fall.
Unfortunately some recent criticisms about details in the original investigation are not addressed. This would have been the time to do so.
We do get all the drama of Deep Throat  (Hal Holbrook in the movie) but we already know it was FBI assistant director Mark Felt who leaked information. His daughter explains his reasons for doing so.
There are  contemporary remarks from the likes of Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart which do not really belong.
Far more interesting are the ruminations of such protagonists as John Dean and Alexander Butterfield as well as lead Republican counsel Fred Thompson who went on to an acting career on TV's Law & Order.
May I just say here that as a young and impressionable TV critic at the Hamilton Spectator I had to review live TV coverage and I always thought CBC's Don McNeill's nightly 30-minute specials constituted the best summary around.
This grand reunion is well edited --there are no stunning revelations but it has been awhile and a few more years on and many of the participants might not still be with us.
Woodward and Bernstein opened the doors for a new age of investigative journalism which is now dying out because newspapers are in decline and no longer have the resources to sustain such expensive reporting.
But as a sharp, definitive look at the scandal in all its ugliness this one is must see viewing of the highest order.
It does teach us that every U.S. president has tried to operate to the reaches of his constitutionality --and then some.
MY RATING: ****.

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