Nixon: A Symphonic Tragedy

From the Fall, 1996, issue of Creative Screenwriting.

A Symphonic Tragedy

by Charles Deemer

	"Like soldiers," writes Frank Bearer in Oliver Stone: Wakeup
Cinema, "Stone's protagonists are at war - with themselves, with faulty
systems needing 'correcting,' with military enterprise itself.  And like
the worlds in which they must operate, they are deeply flawed" (p181).

	Sometimes these protagonists confront history's "faulty systems"
directly - a news photographer in Salvador, an injured veteran in Born on
the Fourth of July, a crusading lawyer in JFK - and sometimes they are
victims of these systems - an ambitious broker in Wall Street, a rock star
in The Doors, a Vietnamese woman in Heaven and Earth.

	In Nixon, Stone gets it both ways:  a protagonist with the power
to shape history who falls victim both to a runaway system (called "the
Beast" by Stone) and to his own personality flaw, a deepset sense of
social inferiority, which is rooted in childhood and grows to the level of
profound personal paranoia and mistrust.  "In Stone's vision perfection
does not exist," Bearer continues, "only the possibility of movement
toward redemption that comes through self-knowledge."  That Nixon, Stone's
film character, never gains this self-knowledge is at the basis of a film
story that is at once compelling and tragic.

	Even in the controversial career of Oliver Stone, Nixon stands out
as an unusual project in several respects.  Perhaps reacting to widespread
controversy in 1991 surrounding his film JFK, Stone published the script
of Nixon in a thick book that contains numerous dialogue footnotes,
generous excerpts from Watergate tapes, and essays on Nixon by a variety
of commentators, making this one of the more documented screenplays on

	Only contemporary history garners this kind of defense, which may
be paranoia of its own.  No one reads Shakespeare for English history,
Homer for Greek, Moliere for French - why should we consult Stone to learn
about American history?  The "real" Nixon may not be as sympathetic, in
the tragic sense, as the complex and fascinating character drawn by Stone
- but so what?  Artists go for deeper truths than the facts of history
reveal, a vision that is larger than the sum of its parts, and in Nixon
Stone succeeds, as well as he succeeds anywhere, in making a dramatic
marriage of history and personality, of public and private truth, to
communicate "an essence" of one of history's most mysterious characters.

	This said, it must be noted that the published script and the
movie differ in several important ways, even though they both develop from
the same solid dramatic structure.  In what follows, I am going to
explicate this common structure, movement by movement, while at the same
time noting some differences between the published and filmed stories.

Nixon as the Classic Three-Act Paradigm

	In this Age of the Screenwriting Seminar, much has been written
about structural paradigms.  Screenplays have been prodded and probed to
reveal three acts and four acts, seven and nine.  The arguments for
conflicting structural models share more in common than they differ, and
if I prefer the classic three-act model, it is for cultural as much as
analytical reasons.  Three is a magic number in Western civilization: from
Aristotle's thesis, antithesis, synthesis; to Christianity's father, son,
holy ghost; to politics' left, right, middle; to storytelling's beginning,
middle, end - we have comfortably dished out our structural labels in
threes for centuries.

	Nixon fits the three-act screenplay paradigm that was put on the
map, in its strictest formulation, by Syd Field's influential book,
Screenplay, in 198x.  Because the longer middle act has a plot point near
the script's midpoint, this formulation divides the story into four broad
movements: Act I, the first part of Act II (IIA), the second part of Act
II (IIB), and Act III, with important plot points twisting our focus at
each act transition.  Nixon, both as film and published script, fits this
model perfectly.

	The published script of Nixon contains 127 scenes (several of
which have been omitted), which can be divided into 6 types:  (1) critical
meetings in Nixon's office, which are secretly taped (called "T" scenes);
(2) other political events and meetings that are not taped ("P"); (3)
scenes between Nixon and his wife, Pat ("W"); (4) other personal Nixon
scenes ("N"); (5) scenes about Nixon's childhood ("C"); (6) and the scenes
in the Lincoln Room of Nixon playing the tapes, which constitute the
story's frame action ("F").

	These scenes are presented to the audience in a non-chronological
sequence.  However, it is important to remember that in analyzing dramatic
structure, it is not chronology that is important but the order of
information presented to the audience.  Stone manipulates the structure of
chronology for its highest dramatic impact, letting themes develop and
resonate in the repetitive patterns of a symphony.

	The movie differs from the script in two important ways: the
script contains scenes that were cut in the movie, including one important
sequence between Nixon and CIA head Helms.  And in two instances the order
of scenes was changed from script to movie, resulting in a stronger
dramatic effect in each case.

	Let's look at each of the four movements of Nixon more carefully.

First Movement (Act I): "You won't have Nixon to kick around any more"

Structure of Act I

(Scene notation - T: critical taped meetings; P: non-taped political
events; W: relationship with Pat; N: other personal scenes; C: childhood;
F: frame action.  Parenthetical scene numbers are followed by page numbers
from the published script.)

P1. The Hook: June 17, 1972: night of Watergate break-in - the plumbers
getting ready (1, p84)
F1. Frame action: November, 1973: Nixon gets the tapes (2-4, p88)
	T1. Critical meeting: June, 1972: the cover-up (5, p94)
		T5. Critical meeting: June, 1971: idea of plumbers conceived 
		(6-7, p101) - RELOCATE
	T2.  Resume: Hunt wants payoff (8, p109)
F2. Resume: "Why don't they just fucking shoot me?" (9, p115)
			P2. Loss to Kennedy: 1960 (10-3, p116)
				C1. Childhood: 1925, stern upbringing 
				(14-7, p124)
				C2. Childhood: 1932, guts at football 
				(18, p130)
			P3. Loss to Brown: 1962 (20-3, p130): "You won't have 
			Nixon to kick around any more"

P4. Newsreel Transitional Montage: the career of Nixon (23, pp137-43)


	Like any good movie, Nixon begins with an effective hook.  We are
watching a period instructional film about salesmanship ("You have to
remember what you're really selling.  Yourself.").  The camera pulls back
to reveal that the film is being played in a smoky conference room.
Suddenly the men in the room snap into action, and we learn that an
undertaking of some importance is about to begin ("Keep your radios on at
all times during the entire penetration.").  Danger is in the air
("Anything goes wrong, head for your homes, just sit tight - you'll hear
from me or Howard."  To which Howard Hunt replies, "Personally I'll be
calling the President of the United States.")  As the men leave the room,
the sales film continues:  "And remember, Earl: Always look 'em in the
eye.  Nothing sells like sincerity."

	We cut to a car approaching the White House on a rainy night, as a
voice-over news report fills in the details of what we've just seen:
"Five men wearing surgical gloves and business suits, and carrying cameras
and electronic surveillance equipment, were arrested early today in the
headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington."

	In the car is Alexander Haig, and he is making his first delivery
to Nixon of what would become known as the Watergate tapes.  Our first
look at the President of the United States is not a flattering one:

			These are the tapes you requested, Mr. President.

		RICHARD NIXON is in shadow, silhouetted by the fire in the
		hearth. The air-conditioning is going full blast.
		Haig crosses the room, opens the envelope, takes out a reel 
		of tape.

		Nixon sits in a small armchair in a corner.  A Uher tape 
		recorder and a headset are on an end table at his elbow.  
		Next to it is a large tumbler of Scotch.

		Haig hands the envelope containing the tapes to Nixon.

			This is June twentieth?

			It's marked.  And there's June twenty-third.  And 
			this year - March twenty-first.  These are the 
			ones . . .

		Nixon squints at the label in the firelight.

			. . . the lawyers feel . . . will be the basis of 
			the . . . proceedings.

		Nixon tries to thread the tape.

			Nixon's never been good with these things.

		He drops the tape on the floor.


		Haig picks up the tape.  Then he steps to the table, reaches 
		for the lamp.

			Do you mind?

		Nixon gestures awkwardly.  Haig turns on the lamp.  For the 
		first time we can see Nixon's face: he hasn't slept in 
		days, dark circles, sagging jowls, five-o-clock shadow.  
		He hates the light, slurs a strange growl -
		the effect of sleeping pills. (pp89-91)

	This is a shocking, but moving, introduction of Nixon near the
end.  This is the movie's setup, and the strategy of the story now will be
to reveal, through a creative unfolding of the past, the details that put
Nixon in such desperation.

	An essential clue follows:

			. . . The tear gassing, the riots, burning the draft 
			cards, Black Panthers - we fixed it, Al, and they 
			hate me for it - the double-dealing bastards.  
			They lionize that traitor, Ellsberg, for stealing 
			secrets, but they jump all over me
			'cause it's Nixon.  They've always hated Nixon. (p92)

	Nixon begins listening to the tapes in November, 1973, and the
bulk of our story happens before this.  Stone uses the obvious but
effective device of using a taped conversation to segue to the actual
meeting, which quickly moves the story to critical moments in Nixon's
doomed path toward backing himself into a corner for obstructing justice.
Other transitions follow a thematic logic: Robert Kennedy's loss of a
brother leads Nixon to recall his own brothers, both lost to him in youth.
All of the story's themes are introduced in Act I and get developed with
variation and increasing tension through the script.

	The first act, then, focuses on setting up the central parameters
of the drama: a man at rope's end, trapped by events and personality to
become his own executioner.  After successive political defeats to Kennedy
and Brown, Nixon appears to be at the end of his political career, giving
a final news conference ("You won't have Nixon to kick around any more")
and a newsreel's "obituary" moves us into the circumstances of Nixon's
comeback in the first half of Act II.

	Quitting isn't easy for Nixon, and only Pat's threat of divorce
leads him to consider it:

			Thank you, Fidel Castro.

			You're not going to blame this [losing to Brown]
			on Castro, are you?

			I sure am.  The Goddamned missile crisis united the 
			whole country behind Kennedy.  And he was 
			supporting Brown. People are scared, that's why.

			I suppose Castro staged the whole thing just to beat 

			Buddy, before you join the jubilation at my being beaten
			again, you should remember: People vote not out of love,
			but fear.  They don't teach that at Sunday School or 
			at the Whittier Community Playhouse! (p131-2)

	Pat has had enough, and when they are alone she lets him know she
wants a divorce.  Nixon can't believe it.

			Buddy, look at me . . . just look at me.  Do you 
			really want me to quit?

		She stares out the window.  A long moment.

			We can be happy.  We really can.  We love you, Dick.
			The girls and I.

			If I stop . . . there'll be no more talk of divorce?

		A long moment. She finally turns her eyes to him, assenting.

			I'll do it.  (waves his hand) No more.

			Are you serious?

			Yeah . . . I'm out.

			Is that the truth?

			I'll never run again.  I promise.  (p135)

	Before moving on, we must look at one major revision between
script and movie that appears in the first act:  the relocation of a long
scene between Nixon and his staff in which the plumbers, the White House's
own security operation, are conceived.

	At first glance, it makes sense to have this scene early on since
we've already been introduced to the plumbers and the consequences of
their arrest.  But the scene is moved from #6 in Act I of the script to
following #74 in Act IIB of the movie, a considerable restructuring.  Why?

	This scene reveals too much too early if placed in Act I.  In IIB,
the story returns to this focus, presenting full scenes about the Pentagon
Papers leak and the break-in into the office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist,
heated and swiftly paced scenes at a time when the script demands
increasing tension.  By placing this seminal scene just prior to the
Ellsberg sequence, a more sustained tension is built in the very place
where it dramatically belongs.

	Act I has already done its job and revealing too much too soon is
neither necessary nor dramatically effective.

Second Movement (Act IIA): "We can have a new American revolution"

Structure of Act IIA

			P5. Nixon as unhappy lawyer: 1963 (24, p143)
			P6. Urged to run again (25-8, p150)
			P7. Kennedy assassinated (29-30, p158)
			W1. Nixon snubbed by Robert Kennedy (31, p159)
				C3. Childhood: 1925, losing a brother (32-5, 
			W2. To funeral via LBJ (36, p162)
		P8,W3. "We're back!": 1968, LBJ drops out (37-41, p163)
		P9. Needing Hoover (42-6, p167)
		P10. Meeting with Hoover (47-9, p173)
F3. Resume, the Cuba connection (50, p178) - CUT
	T3. Resume, about the Cuba connection (51, p179)
F4. Resume, Nixon resurrected on "four bodies" (52-4, p183)
				C4. Childhood: 1933, losing another brother 
				(55-6, p184)
		P11. Republican National Convention: 1968, "We can have a new
	American revolution" (57, p186)

P12. Newsreel Transitional Montage: bombing Cambodia (57, p189)


	There are fewer differences between script and movie in Act IIA
than in any of the other story movements.  The second act opens at a
party, with Nixon unhappy with his new legal career and upset that his
children get teased in school ("'Your father stinks' . . .  they actually
said this to Tricia.")  Rockefeller, also at the party, is a temporary new
shining light in the Republican Party, which worries Nixon.

	Two significant parts of this opening scene do not make it to the
movie:  Nixon telling Rockefeller about a book he is working on and
Mitchell telling Nixon about Rockefeller's resident intellectual,
Kissinger ("a Harvard whore with the morals of an eel").  Both cuts
improve the script: the first is unnecessary exposition with little
dramatic relevance, the latter (like the early plumbers scene) is an
unnecessary distraction.  Kissinger, as developed later, is a reasonably
complex character who does not need to be compromised by such early bias
against him, which also foreshadows what will be a surprise later.

	In a later scene, when conservative Texas businessmen and Cuban
immigrants urge Nixon to run again, Nixon refuses, saying Kennedy has the
election in the bag.  The country may need him but the country is not

	The Kennedy assassination changes everything.  A conspiracy theory
is hinted at here but it is underplayed, as it should be.  Menace is more
terrifying when it is mysterious.

	Nixon, of course, has promised his wife that he'd never run again,
the plot point that ends Act I.  Now the field looks open to him, his
chances good.  He has told his political friends that he will run but has
yet to confront Pat:

			Were you planning to tell me?

			We . . . haven't announced anything . . . huh . . .

		She's walking away, cold.  Dick follows, with a look to his men.

			Uh, wait . . .

			You need her, Dick - in '60 she was worth five, six
			million votes.

			Don't worry - I'll use the old Nixon charm on her.

		As he goes:

					HALDEMAN (to the others)
			The old Nixon charm?  Who could resist that.

	Nixon follows Pat into the bedroom:

			Remember what Mom said?  We're not like other people,
			we don't choose our way.  We can really change things,
			Buddy.  We've got a chance to get it right.  We can 
			change America!

		She stops, looks at him, feels his surge of power.

			It was our dream too, Buddy, together . . . always.

			Do you really want this, Dick?

			This.  Above all.

			And then you'll be happy.

			Yes . . . you know it!  Yes . . . I will.  Yeah!

					PAT (in his embrace)
			Then I'll be there for you.

					NIXON (exultant)
			You're the strongest woman I ever met.  I love you,

			Can I just ask one thing?


			Will you . . . would you kiss me?

		He does so with all the earnestness he is capable of. (pp166-7)

	Nixon, however, has some ghosts in the closet from his years as
Vice-President under Eisenhower, and he wants J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI
on his side, as well as the CIA, to make sure his secrets are safe.  What
is hinted at here are a number of officially sanctioned attempted
assassinations of Castro ("I ran the White House side," Nixon tells
Haldeman in a taped conversation).  Stone walks a fine line here between
drama and history, providing menace without beating us on the head with a
conspiracy theory (as he does at the end of JFK) that overwhelms dramatic
tension.  We learn just enough to feel the menace (Stone will betray this
balance in IIB, in a long scene cut from the movie, about which more
later) but not enough to be forced to take sides on the historical

	Nixon is still worried about Robert Kennedy's candidacy - which,
of course, is removed with another murder.  Nixon feels he has been
resurrected to this moment in history on the backs of "four bodies," the
Kennedy brothers' and his own brothers' (whose deaths made it possible for
him to go to law school and therefore enter politics).  He wins the
nomination, and later the election, telling Republican delegates that "We
can have a new American revolution."

Third Movement (Act IIB): "Dick, sometimes I understand why they hate you"

Structure of Act IIB

		T4. Decision on Cambodia (59-64, p189)
		P13. Demonstrations (65, p201) - CUT
		P14. Power struggle with Helms (66-8, p204) - CUT
		W3. Can Nixon be happy? (69, p212) - RELOCATE
		N1. Nixon lonely (70-71, p216)
		N2. Tricia's wedding (72-4, p222)
		INSERT: I-T5, plumbers conceived
		T6. Pentagon Papers leak (75, p227)
			P15. Organizing plumbers (76, p229)
		INSERT: IIB-W3, Can Nixon be happy?
			P16. Ellsberg break-in: 1971 (77, p232)
		P17. Nixon in China: 1972 (78, 232)
		P18. Returning on Air Force One (80-1, p236)
		P19. Nixon free of Texas money (see IIA-H2) (82-4, p239)
		P20. Peace proposal; Kissinger the leaker (85-6, p243)
		P21. News conference, peace, temper tantrum (87-8, p247)
	T7. Critical meeting: 1973, scapegoats (90-1, p255)
		P22. Payoff to Hunt (92, p261)
		T8. Critical meeting: March 1973, "smoking gun" (93-5, p263)
	P23. Nixon to nation on Watergate: 1973 (96-100, p268)
	W4. Nixon and Pat (101, p271), "Dick, sometimes I understand why they 
	hate you"


	Once again a newsreel montage segues between major movements of
the story.  Here it is a documentary of Nixon's bombing of Cambodia, which
will give the student activism against the Vietnamese War new energy and

	Early in Act IIB is one of the major cuts in the script, a long
scene and struggle for power between Nixon and CIA chief Richard Helms:

			Is there something else that's bothering you, Mr. 

			Yes . . . It involves some old and forgotten papers.  
			Things I signed as Vice President.  I want the 
			originals in my office and I don't want copies 
			anywhere else.

		Now knowing Nixon's cards, Helms relaxes - about an inch.

			You're referring, of course, to chairing the Special 
			Operations Group as Vice President.

			Yes . . . (p207)

	Helms reviews the many covert actions that Nixon was in charge of.
Then he plays his own hand:

			President Kennedy threatened to smash the CIA into
			a thousand pieces.  You could do the same . . .

			I'm not Jack Kennedy.  Your agency is secure.

					HELMS (stirs the coffee)
			Not if I give you all the cards . . . (pp208-9)

	This is a long scene, eight pages in the published script.  Why
was it cut from the movie?  Should it have been?

	The critical question here is focus.  This is a pivotal moment in
the story, the place where jeopardy to the hero and tension must increase,
the place where the energy must rise significantly.  But this is a new
spin on history with a new supporting character, Helms, whom we have not
met yet.  Stone probably wanted this in the movie very badly;  this scene
speaks to the conspiracy theories of which the director is so fond.

	But this scene is treacherous to the dramatic flow of the story.
We get into the act with Cambodia, a decision that Nixon's own staff is
split on, a decision that has popular disapproval, a decision that
isolates the President more than ever.  This must be the story's focus,
and the story stays on track by cutting the second and third scenes in the
published version of IIB and moving the third scene to later in the act.

	Cut is a redundant scene of demonstrations and the long scene with
Helms, which changes our focus; moved is a long scene with Pat about
Nixon's inability to be happy.  The new scene order takes us from the
Cambodia decision directly to Nixon's new isolation, played out in its
most pathetic moment when the President pays a 4 a.m. visit to protesters
at the Lincoln Memorial and tries to talk about football.  The new
sequence is a powerful communication of Nixon's first steps to the

	Protesters remain outside the White House during Tricia's wedding,
and something clearly must be done about the growing chaos in the country.
This is the place where the first act scene in which the idea of the
plumbers is conceived is inserted.  This is the jump start for the final
sequence of events that will lead to Nixon's resignation.

	As events unfold - the Pentagon Papers' leak, the raid on the
psychiatrist's office, the failed Watergate burglary - Nixon's paranoia

			Then what are you scared of, honey?

			I'm not scared, Buddy.  (a pause) You don't understand.
			They're playing for keeps, Buddy.  The press, the kids,
			the liberals - they're out there, trying to figure out 
			how to tear me down.

			They're all your enemies?


			You personally?

			Yes!  This is about me.  Why can't you understand that,
			you of all people?  It's not the war - it's Nixon! 
			(p215; later in the film)

	Not even opening the doors to China or making peace in Vietnam can
win over a hostile press, that only wants to talk about Watergate:

			I end the longest war in American history and they keep
			harping on this chickenshit!  You know who's behind 
			this, don't you - it's Teddy Kennedy!  He drowns a 
			broad in his car and he can't run for president.

			He got pretty burned at Chappaquiddick.

			My point exactly!  Somebody had to die before his shit
			got in the papers!  Fucking Kennedys get away with 
			everything. Do you see me screwing everything that 
			moves?  For Christ's sake!  I did what the New 
			York Times editorial page said we should do!  I 
			ended the war, I got SALT I with the Russians,
			I opened China!  So why are these cocksuckers 
			turning on me? Because they don't like the way I 
			look.  Where I went to school.

	Paying off Howard Hunt to keep quiet, scrambling to keep the
Watergate investigation from moving into the White House, Nixon finally is
isolated even from Pat, who has stood with him despite her desire that he
get out of politics:

			. . . Why are you cutting yourself off from the rest 
			of us?
			(then) Can't we discuss this?

		Nixon slowly sets his spoon down.  An icy stare.

			What exactly did you want to discuss, Pat?

			You. What you're doing--

					NIXON (interrupts)
			And what am I doing?

			I wish I knew.  You're hiding.

			Hiding what?

			Whatever it is you've always been hiding.  You're 
			letting it destroy you, Dick.  You won't even ask 
			for help.  You're destroying yourself, Dick. 

	But Nixon won't talk about it, to which Pat responds:

			How much more?  How much more is it going to cost?
			When do the rest of us stop paying off your debts? 

	And she leaves with the most cutting remark of all:

			Dick, sometimes I understand why they hate you. (p273)

	Nixon's isolation is complete, and the final act begins.

Fourth Movement (Act III): "When they look at me, they see what they are"

Structure of Act III

	P24. Watergate hearings begin (102-4, p273)
	P25. Meeting with Brezhnev (105, p275)
	N3. Consequences of Watergate (106-7, p277)
	N4. Nixon in hospital (108-113, p279) - RELOCATE
	P26. Threat of impeachment (114-5, p282) - RELOCATE
F5,W5. Resume; Pat walks in while Nixon listening to tapes (116-7, p288)
	INSERT: IIIN4 - Nixon in hospital
	INSERT: IIIP26 - Threat of impeachment
	P27. Nixon upset over transcripts (118, p291)
	P28. Nixon to nation on Watergate (119-122, p295)
F6. Nixon signs resignation, prays with Kissinger (123-4, p295)
	W5. Nixon and Pat alone in White House (125, p302), "When they look 
	at me, they see what they are"
	P29. Epilogue - Nixon's final words to staff (126-7, p304)


	Once again, the movement begins with a historical turning point:
here it is the beginning of the Watergate hearings.  The frame action of
Nixon listening to his own secret tapes, absent in the second act,
returns.  Memories of childhood, developed into full scenes in the first
half of the film (I, IIA), now become moments of intense memory, fleeting
images from earlier childhood scenes, as the lines between past and
present blur in the mind of a man increasingly defensive and desperate.

	At one point, Pat walks into the Lincoln Room as Nixon is
listening to his tapes.  "They're like love letters," she says.  "You
should burn them. . . . They're not yours.  They are you.  You should burn
them."  As Pat leaves, an image of his mother appears before Nixon: "What
has changed thee, Richard?" (pp288-9)

	The courts want the tapes, of course, which is the last thing
Nixon will agree to.  The language in the tapes, his own language,
embarrasses him when he reads transcripts:

			You're lawyers.  How can you let this shit go by!  Look!
			This?  Nixon can't say this.

			You did say it, sir.

			Never.  I never said that about Jews!

		Buzhardt glances at St. Clair.

			We could check the tape again, sir.

			You don't need to check the tape.  I know what I said.

		He grabs the Magic Marker out of the lawyer's and furiously
		blacks out an entire section.

			And this?!  Good Lord, have you lost your mind?  Nixon
			can't say this.   "Niggers"! (pp291-2)

	Later Nixon reveals one source of his anxiety:  "For Christ's
sake, it soils my mother's memory.  Do you think I want the whole Goddamn
world to see my mother like this?  Raising a dirty mouth!" (p293)

	A major change from script to movie in this final act is the
relocation of Nixon's coughing up blood and going to the emergency
hospital.  In the script, this comes early on, without connection.  In the
movie, the emergency occurs directly after Pat's visit to Nixon while he
plays the tapes, a scene which ends with Nixon drunkenly fiddling with the
tape machine and apparently erasing an eighteen and a half minute gap.

	Although this moment comes close to psychosomatic melodrama, the
juxtaposition works to increase the building tension as we near the end.
It's as if Nixon's spitting up blood in bed is an explosion of repressed

	The parade of sacrificial lambs begins as Nixon steadfastly
refuses to admit knowledge of the very "plumbers" he helped create.  When
the Supreme Court demands the tapes, when Congressional support for
impeachment grows, Haig gives Nixon his only way out: to resign and
thereby be able to protect the tapes as a private citizen.  Nixon signs -
and then asks Kissinger to kneel and pray with him (Kissinger asks, "This
is not going to leak, is it?").

	Then Nixon is alone, facing a portrait of John Kennedy, the man of
Camelot, who had the proper background, who went to all the right schools,
whom the people loved - and whose death made Nixon's political rebirth

		Nixon shuffles back, alone, coming to a stop in front of a
		larger-than-life, full-length oil portrait of JOHN F. KENNEDY.
		Nixon studies the portrait, pads closer.  Looks up.

			When they look at you, they see what they want to be.
			(then) When they look at me, they see what they are 
			. . .

		PAT, overhearing, comes from the shadows in a nightgown.
		She looks weary, crazed.

			Dick, please don't . . .

		He half turns to her.  He is unshaven, eyes red-rimmed, a 
		wounded animal who can no longer defend himself.

			I can't . . . I just don't have the strength 
			anymore . . . (p303)

	The tragic fall of Richard Nixon is complete.


	NIXON, unlike JFK, manages to make "history" personal.  The fall
of Richard Nixon, unlike the crusade of Jim Garrison, is determined as
much by personal parameters as by events; or rather, Nixon himself is
responsible for the events that crucify him, and his own paranoia about
his roots and his enemies lets him act in ways that prove to be self-

	The dramatic foundation of this story is solid.  The four
movements - Act I, Act IIA, Act IIB, Act III - turn on major plot points
that build tension and jeopardy.  The different kinds of scenes (as
defined earlier), which are clearly delineated in the first half of the
film, become a montage of psychological deterioration as Nixon loses the
ability to separate fact from fiction (what he said from what he didn't)
and the past from the present.

	By calling this structure "symphonic," I have hoped to suggest the
way Stone plays the different kinds of scenes off one another: for
example, a comment about the tragic fate of the Kennedy brothers reminds
Nixon of his own brothers' equally tragic, if less grandiose, fate.  The
way the movie repeats thematic patterns in building toward climax suggests
a musical structure, Nixon's life played out as a symphonic tragedy.

	If the movie version matched the published script, the movie would
be significantly less powerful than it is because it would be less focused
and more conspiratorial in tone.  Perhaps Stone prefers the published
script, which is why it was published in the first place and presented
with such an abundance of justification.

	But movies aren't supposed to be lessons in history, and the
question of historical accuracy is not one that concerns me.  I like the
film for what it is:  a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, and in my
view the best film Oliver Stone has ever made.


Script quotations from:

Nixon.  Edited by Eric Hamburg.  Screenplay by Stephen J. Rivele,
Christopher Wilkinson, and Oliver Stone.  Hyperion, 1995.


SCREENWRIGHT: the craft of screenwriting