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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt


Most reminiscent of (and more satisfying than) Good Night and Good Luck, Ron Howard’s 2008 docudrama, Frost/Nixon, from Universal, is about a television news personality who rises to the occasion and achieves a journalistic milestone when tasked with interviewing an emotionally enfortressed politician. Yes, the imitative but psychologically thorough performances by the two stars- Michael Sheen as David Frost and Frank Langella asRichard Nixon – are admirable, and the step-by-step process in which Frost bungles his way up to and through most of the interview until he realizes he has to get his act together, and does, is entertaining in the same way that those sports movies about teams that unexpectedly win title games are entertaining, but what is most satisfying about the film is that it gets all of the small details right, so that you wholly believe that the atmosphere of each scene is what it was like in real life. The film is primarily made of conversations, and so viewers with a predilection for action movies are not going to be interested in it, and even the dramatic excitement of Sheen’s character finally rising to the occasion is at best a modest thrill, but the 123-minute film is the kind of valid history lesson that you can only get from the movies, a clearly well-researched and carefully executed re-creation of a significant event that lets you get a genuine feel for what the times were like and how the people represented by the characters and the cast actually lived, maneuvered and felt about the events they were involved with, a dimension that a documentary or shared memories of the event itself cannot come close to duplicating.

The picture is presented in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback. The color transfer is fine. The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound is not showy, but it has a functional dimensionality. There are alternate French and Spanish audio tracks in 5.1 Dolby and optional English, French and Spanish subtitles. What DVDs can do better than movies is to provide a greater context for the primary program, and the special features on Frost/Nixon are excellent in this regard. Firstly, there are 22 minutes of deleted scenes that would unquestionably have slowed down the drama too much, but are for the most part marvelous, giving Langella, in particular, more chances to work his magic on the screen. The original, complete interviews are available elsewhere on DVD, but there is a tantalizing 7-minute piece about them that includes a few excerpts presented in comparison to the film’s renditions of the same exchanges. There is also a thorough 23-minute production featurette and a surprisingly touching 6-minute piece about the Nixon presidential library. Finally, Howard supplies an informative commentary track. Howard tends to approach his commentaries the way he approaches many of his films. He is so overly prepared that even when he is clearly improvising, imitating someone else’s laugh or other noises, it still sounds scripted. But the content of his talk is worth it. Not only does he describe the history of the production, he conveys the drama of its challenges and successes. He also explains the logic behind big choices and small choices, and conveys vivid pictures of the many personalities involved with the film, not only those behind the screen and in front of the screen, but those represented by the screen.

– by Douglas Pratt

Douglas Pratt’s DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter is published monthly.
For a free sample, call (516)594-9304 or go to his website at

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon