My Favorite Movies – All the President’s Men

“Woodward. Bernstein. You’re both on the story. Now don’t fuck it up.” Jack Warden as Harry Rosenfeld

My Favorite Movies:

All the President’s Men (1976)

On Sunday, I found myself flipping through channels as Sierra gracefully slept in. After a night of “letting her cry it out,” we were thankful for her extended siesta, and enjoying a rare early morning bout of cable television sure hit the spot.

All the President's MenI landed on the rarest of rarities – a movie on HBO that I actually wanted to watch. Even better, it was near the beginning. Even more better, it was one of my favorites: All the President’s Men.

I wasn’t alive when this movie came out. In fact, I wasn’t alive for most of the 70s. Watergate has always been more of a Trivial Pursuit answer than it has been a real life historical fact, one that many actually lived through, an encyclopedic scandal that you can measure ages by. “Yes,” they say. “I was 14 when I heard about Watergate.”

Well, I was -6. Watergate fell into a rare time period – from when history education stopped for the year (we never quite made it past JFK in any of my history classes, it seemed) to the year I was born. From 1963 to 1978, my historical knowledge is blank. Non-existent. I still know only a little, and that’s what I’ve seen on television.

I did pick up a lot of knowledge during a weird journalism kick that I went through a few years back. I wanted to be a journalist. Badly. During that time, I read Cronkite and learned about Ed Murrow and delved as deeply into the greats as I could handle. I read Ben Bradlee’s autobiography, A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures. I was suddenly entranced by the idea of investigative journalism. I wanted to know more.

Eventually, though, I realized I was out of my league.The journalism bug died shortly after a semi-failed attempt at sports writing for our local paper. However, a welcome byproduct of the dream was the discovery of All the President’s Men – the story of Bernstein and Woodward’s fight as junior reporters at the Washington Post to uncover one of the greatest scandals in Presidential history.

There’s little to no soundtrack, with background noises boiled down to the minimum: the anxious murmur of the press room, the sound of breathing on the other end of a telephone, the blaring silence that reporters are met with when a cover’s been blown. The dialogue carries the movie, as it should, and the paranoia – from the journalists, from the editors, from the witnesses – is palpable. It’s everything that’s great about screenwriting, nearly minimalist in its brilliance.

But the best part is that it serves as a time capsule to one of the greatest periods of print journalism this country has ever seen. People don’t do it like this anymore. Witnesses are too free to give up information, and the information is eventually ignored by the public as a whole. The sense of urgency to get a story out has been usurped by the Internet, by instant communication and by an increase in indifference.

Writing so raw, so exposing; brutally revealing and important. The paper, the journalists, the story, the informant, the time, the target – everything came together perfectly, just at the right time. A journalistic masterpiece was created. And when you compare it to everything else, it seems amazing that it ever happened in the first place.

The Top Five Movies About Writing and Journalism

1. All the President’s Men (1974) – See above.

2. Adaptation (2002) – The premise alone is brilliantly penned; a screenplay within a screenplay. Writer’s block never seemed so entertaining. Officially, one of the only two movies in which I can stand Nicolas Cage.

3. Good Night and Good Luck (2005) – More journalism than writing, the story of Ed Murrow’s public fight against the Red Scare and McCarthyism should have won the Oscar for Best Picture, in my opinion.

4. Capote (2005) – Another 2005 film that I thought was better than what won the Oscar. Great performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman.

5. Dead Poets Society (1989) – Does this one count as a movie about writing? I say yes, only because I liked it and am desperately trying to bring stuffy university sweaters back in style, one argyle at a time. I’m standing on my desk right now as you read this. (No, I’m not.)

This was lovingly handwritten on February 18th, 2008