Secret Honor (The Criterion Collection)
The Criterion Collection
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Sequestered in his home, a disgraced President Richard Millhouse Nixon arms himself with a bottle of Scotch and a gun to record memoirs that no one will hear. Surrounded by the silent portraits of Lincoln, Eisenhower, Kissinger, and his mother, Nixon resurrects his past in a passionate attempt to reconcile his failed political career. Based on the original play by Donald Freed and Arnold M. Stone, and starring Philip Baker Hall in a tour de force solo performance, Robert Altmans Secret Honor is a searing interrogation of the Nixon mystique and an audacious depiction of unchecked paranoia.
A bravura performance by Philip Baker Hall and the probing eye of Robert Altman make Secret Honor a provocative--even haunting--speculation on history. The project originated as a one-man play, a fictional look at Richard Nixon dictating a lengthy monologue to a tape machine. The script offers some wild possibilities for explaining Watergate, but more importantly it attempts to understand Nixon the man (and succeeds far better than Oliver Stone's factual Nixon). Hall's flabbergasting performance, though it holds nothing back in its picture of a boozing, paranoid self-dramatist, manages to humanize Nixon. Altman's low-budget filming of the play tinkered little with the text or with Hall's performance, but the gliding camera, always picking out the telling angle or detail, is pure Altman. It received a tiny release in 1984, but Secret Honor now looks like a key American political fantasia, like The Manchurian Candidate wrought on a single set. --Robert HortonSee all Editorial Reviews
- New digital transfer with restored image and sound plus new subtitle translation
- New video interview with actor Philip Baker Hall (22 mins.)
- Excerpts from archival films documenting key events in President Richard M. Nixon's political career (81 mins.)
- Essay by film critic Michael Wilmington
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Top customer reviews
The speech which Nixon provides to the audience travels a journey that seems to be of a completely diverging nature as Nixon's paranoid nature reveals itself through his monologue into the microphone. The sentences either begin or end with profanity as Nixon talks to the imaginary judge, which also seems to reveal the amount of stress that he experienced. Whenever Nixon begins something he ends up changing the topic as frequently as he names someone's name. This incoherent thought processing might be compared to some schizophrenics that suffers from delusions and severe paranoia, which also brings the notion of fear to have someone like this as president of a country. Nonetheless, it is with both bewilderment and compassion that the audience will view Nixon who is a beaten man that seems to seek redemption on one late evening. The monologue exposes secrets including high treason, corruption, conspiracies, sex scandals, murder by governmental agencies, and much more.
Secret Honor was intended for television as it also was a part of a film class that Robert Altman taught at the University of Michigan. Altman who is known for making films with big casts such as in MASH (1970), Nashville (1975), Short Cuts (1993), and Gosford Park (2001) makes a directorial transformation as he only casts Philip Baker Hall in Secret Honor. Hall does an extraordinary job in bringing life to Nixon, and he does it with such energy that the audience will believe that the story is real. The change of having only one actor in the film does not affect the story as Altman's eye for the mise-en-scene helps in providing an authentic feel for what is taking place within the camera's frame. However, it is Hall that makes the film as he brings the audience a character study that should not be forgotten as the story leaves several notions to ponder.
Now that I have a fuller knowledge and understanding of political scandals in general, I'm equally impressed with the alarming depth and accuracy of this movie's "fictional" script writing. The writers obviously had inside knowledge of the plutocratic string pulling that goes on in Washington.
It is puzzling, to say the least, why a movie this good is so hard to come by, especially when one considers how well-known the director is.