By Tony Williams.

Like most of his films, Oliver Stone’s Nixon (1995) generated considerable critical debate usually emphasizing questions of historical accuracy and biographical depiction. However, unlike JFK (1991) and Natural Born Killers (1994), it received poor box office returns. Nixon not only represented Stone’s decision to change his usual style towards restraint rather than bludgeoning his audience into submission but also contained the longest running time of all his films to date. But despite excellent performances by Anthony Hopkins, Joan Allen, James Woods, J.T. Walsh, Ed Harris, and many other players reinvoking the best acting traditions of the classical Hollywood cinema,[1] audiences stayed away. Explanations vary. Perhaps the long running time and the American audience’s historical amnesiac desire for mindless spectacle (Twister, Independence Day) rather than viewing the darker side of their political system may be among the major reasons? However, Nixon represents Stone’s major cinematic achievement to date. It is the Heaven’s Gate of the 1990s, a comparison I make along the lines of Robin Wood’s excellent analysis and defense of Michael Cimino’s flawed masterpiece in Hollywood: From Vietnam to Reagan. Nixon has its flaws. But it stands head and shoulders above its impoverished contemporaries in an artistically bankrupt Hollywood system. Nixon reveals that responsible and creative use of both literary motifs and classical Hollywood’s legacy may still result in major achievements.

The debate over Nixon will continue over the years. But rather than analyzing Nixon in terms of supposed historical accuracy or Stone’s references to Citizen Kane, the paranoid power politics of Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible I & II, American cinematic Gothic (see Sharrett 1996),[2] and Dziga Vertov’s Kino-Eye techniques, it is also important to see it in terms of Stone’s application of seventies family horror techniques to his “psycho-biography”[3] examination of Richard Nixon. Despite the claims of Carol Clover in Men, Women, and Chain Saws concerning the redundancy of family horror motifs in 1980s and 90s films, this important element still exists as a key “structured absence” in most contemporary horror films. Nixon carries The Omen‘s theme of the monster in the White House to its logical conclusions. Despite Stone’s tendencies to emphasize the metaphysical over the historical dimensions (an error marring both Natural Born Killers and the original Nixon screenplay where the “Beast” motif from Platoon often drowns rational political critique), both theatrical and director’s cut make absolutely clear that the American political system is run by patriarchal repressed guardians of morality who are really little better than the “monsters” they supposedly protect their country from. Oliver Stone transmits this theme by key cultural quotations from literature as well as cinema.

richard-helmsDue to the demands of running time, one important scene ended up on the cutting room floor but survives in the director’s cut. Despite its loss from the theatrical version, the scene between Nixon (Anthony Hopkins) and CIA Director Richard Helms (Sam Waterston) acts as a cornerstone making explicit what is implicit in the theatrical version. It opens with an overhead shot which zooms out from the CIA logo to reveal the American Eagle, the bird of prey as national emblem. Nixon and his associates are on their way to visit Helms. They pass a quotation from John 8.32: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” This is one of many contradictory quotations within the film showing the dangerous gap between reality and deception. Stone links two shots together in his own form of Eisenstein intellectual montage, one of many formal strategies used in the entire film. The first shot is documentary black and white footage of troops leaving a helicopter in Viet Nam while the other is a color close-up of an orchid sprayed with water. As Stone points out, artistic (rather than historical) considerations govern his choice of imagery. The real Helms never cultivated flowers while another CIA director James Angleton did. Stone also comments that “the smell of flowers always sickened Nixon.” However, Stone may also have another reference in mind. In Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, General Sternwood asks Philip Marlowe whether he likes orchids. When the latter replies negatively, Sternwood, debilitated by a life of corruption and decadence, responds, “They are nasty things. Their flesh is too much like the flesh of men.” Stone replays this scene when Nixon responds to Helm’s question, “No. They make me sick and they smell of death.” Both scenes involve two men. While Chandler associates General Sternwood with corruption and death, Stone sees the same features characterizing Helms.

nixon_jfkHelms likens his dark activities as CIA director to his flowers as “an organic phenomenon. It grew. It changed shape. It developed…appetites”. His language is very similar to Ehrlichman’s description of Nixon’s involvement in Cuban assassination activities which somehow resulted in Kennedy’s death. During this scene Stone intercuts documentary footage showing the violent consequences of Helms’s hidden activites involving the Dominican Republic, the former Belgian Congo, Cuba, and Iran. Dark metaphysical associations dominating Helms receive further visual emphasis. Helms stands to the left of a stuffed predatory bird (hunting hawk or falcon?) in a manner evoking Norman Bates in Psycho‘s motel office scene. Stone’s cinematic quotation emphasizes other forces really control Helms as they do Norman Bates. When Nixon agrees to Helms remaining as CIA director, Stone inserts the lap-dissolve image of a huge orchid over Nixon’s face emphasizing dominance of a Freudian Death Instinct in the body politic.

As the scene continues, Stone breaks rigid divisions between reality and fantasy in a striking manner. When Nixon comments, “There are worse things than death,” the next image reveals a close-up of Helms bending towards one of his orchids. As he responds, “Yes,” his eyelids open. We see no eyes but dark sockets. We are now in the realm of the horror film in which Helms now appears as a Death emissary equivalent to the Bergmanesque figure in The Seventh Seal. Helms then quotes from W.B. Yeats’s poem, “The Second Coming,” traditionally associated by most critics with the coming of the Antichrist at the end of Christianity’s historical era. As Helms quotes significant lines, “Turning and turning in the widening gyre/ The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre can not hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world […] The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity,” John Williams resorts to disturbing atonal music in the background. Stone again lap-dissolves an orchid over Nixon as he listens as well as circling his camera around him hovering like a falcon. He lap dissolves Nixon’s face and back in the same frame before dissolving to a tracking movement following Helms from right to left as he continues the quotation. After finishing with the lines, “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” Helms states his own moral as dark patriarchal guardian of American values. “This country stands at such a juncture.”

The circling movement of the camera during Helm’s quotation is no redundantly flamboyant device. It cinematically articulates and complements Stone’s choice of Yeats’s poem to represent key elements within Nixon. To understand the nature of this choice, it is necessary to analyze the significance of this poem as well as Stone’s utilization of the “gyre” concept in his film.

2399595,MRum1fCz2O6_eLuS_9LWpLPsl+_dc+gypBT4ClHIYRsnm+EWsaVCjwlRbnp_jUqxpD4DpoIEurcPu_c64MAIyg==“The Second Coming” first appeared in Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921) written after the turbulent events of the Armistice, the Irish Easter Rising of 1916, the Balfour Declaration of 1917, and the appearance of Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West. The poem is generally understood to refer to the birth of the Antichrist at the end of a Christian cycle of two thousand years which followed an Ancient Cycle beginning with a first annunciation in 2000 B.C. featured in Yeats’s poem “Leda and the Swan.” Noticing the rough beast as dramatizing “the moment, expounded upon in ‘A Vision’, when an antithetical age develops over a primary age,” Richard Peterson sees “‘The Second Coming’ as containing ‘a stark, powerful vision of the chaos following the collapse of traditional values and the attendant fear of the unknown’ increasing violence of the contemporary world and Yeats’s own system of violently changing phases and ages” (Peterson 1982: 123). Yeats commented in his own footnote concerning the “widening gyre” that, “All our scientific, democratic, fact-accumulating, heterogeneous civilization belongs to the outward gyre and prepares not for the continuation of itself but the revelation as in a lightening flash […] of the civilization that must slowly take its place” (Yeats 1989: 493).Yeats describes this outward gyre as being different from the narrowing gyre before the time of Christ. Due to the expansive centrifugal force of the outward gyre, “the centre cannot hold” and, “Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” Raghu notes that the security offered by each civilization within any of the two historical cycles contains within it “the seeds of its own destruction” (Raghu 1992: 224).

Helms, of course, acts as an aesthetic reader choosing to see in the poem a sublime representation reductively applied to the turbulent historical forces of his era. However, the antithetical nature of the sublime in Yeats has several contradictory features several of which may be applied to the artistic discourse conditioning Nixon. Jahan Ramazani points out the risk inherent in such an approach “presupposes the aestheticization of historical violence and the renunciation of what he thinks of as feminine and bourgeois” (Ramazani 1990: 104). This may be applicable to any alternative and revolutionary movement threatening the status quo. Yeats’s dangerous elitism and brief flirtation with a Fascist movement designed to bring order to a turbulent Ireland spring readily to mind. Ramayana also notes that the sublime has an affective structure which may be related to apocalyptic and prophetic features as well as a death obsession leading to the annihilation of the ego. Although this may give rise to a counter assertion of life, an oedipal dynamic occurs whereby an individual surmounts the threat represented by the destructive father through identification with him (Ibid.: 106, 110). Ramayana also recognizes that if “The Second Coming” “rehearses death, putting on the power of the repressed father it tropes as rough beast, then it risks destabilizing the self while trying to achieve stability” (Ibid.: 111-112). This feature links both the eyeless image of Helms and the “Beast” imagery used to describe Richard Nixon and the body politic throughout the film. Although Yeats aims at an eternal recurrence of his notion of the sublime in a personal, rather than an historical sense, Oliver Stone relates both personal, political, and historical to his conception of a cinematic tragedy indebted to the imagery within “The Second Coming.” As Ramazani further notes, other Yeats poems reveal the presence of a death drive at work within the poetics of the sublime which can lead to “identification with the violent father and, ultimately, with the death drive; hence it helps to explain the attraction that authoritarianism held for the older Yeats.” The sublime is thus irreconcilable with a violent death drive which is “part of a larger poetic impulse to use a violence within to counteract the violence without it” (Ibid.: 128). In Nixon, the results are psychic, historical, and political corruption mediated within an apocalyptic “Beast” imagery never far away from its true origins within American social and historical institutions.

2399590,MRum1fCz2O6_eLuS_9LWpLPsl+_dc+gypBT4ClHIYRvY+4oH_fbEpRbtj4Zub5e6jEcDMsJxX_yLRqxCvaC3fg==Not all interpretations of “The Second Coming” are negative. The new era may be positive (see, for example, Murphy 1981 and Cervo 1995), but others may identify it with the collapse of civilized values. This is certainly true of Helms, Nixon, and Hoover, who all see the turbulent anti-war demonstrations as heralding the collapse of American values and not foreshadowing a new idyllic era. But, ironically, like Larry Hagman’s “Jack Jones,” whose facial features are lit up to resemble the demon Ashtoreth in Paul Wegener’s The Golem (1920) in his second appearance in Nixon, the guardians are the real monsters.

Yeats borrowed the “gyre” (or revolving cone) concept of historical patterns from ideas found in Giambattista Vico’s Principles of A New Science Concerning the Nature of Nations (1725), Henry Adams’s essay “A Dynamic Theory of History” (1904), and other sources (Murphy 1981: 103; Macrae 1995: 154-155). The “gyre” concept involves an understanding of human history as symbolized by two intersecting cones, one objective and the other subjective. In “The Great Wheel” section of A Vision, Yeats sees the “gyre” as representing a constant vacillation between the “inner world of desire and imagination” and things external to the mind. The gyre must expand or contract according to whether mind grows in objectivity or subjectivity. Peterson points out that Yeats added flexibility and complexity to this system by introducing Four Faculties which move back and forth on the doubled cone in complementary opposition.

“Representing the antithetical, Will and Mask oppose each other as what the mind is and what it most seeks to become. The primary’s Creative Mind and Body of Fate, in turn, represent what the mind knows from past lives of others and the events imposed on the mind from without. These opposed pairs whirl in opposite directions while pulling each other’s back and forth, thereby creating another movement to go along with the expansion and contraction of the primary and the antithetical. All this whirling and pulling gives Yeats four dimensions of human experience to balance between his objective and subjective contraries.” (Peterson 1982: 127)

nixon9Stone uses this concept in a cinematic manner which his particular stylistic and thematic choices articulate. In the laserdisc and video versions of the director’s cut, Stone comments that the editing techniques are meant to reflect his view of Nixon as a “psychohistory” rather than a typical biography. Referring to “vertical editing” techniques begun with JFK and continued with Natural Born Killers, Stone refers to his practice of stopping at a particular moment in the film to enter into its internal and external dimensions. The internal aspect involves a disassociated state in which visual techniques may either comment on the events depicted in a contradictory manner or supplement them sometimes in multiple ways. This type of vertical editing is no form of stylistic showmanship but comments upon the forces determining individual actions whether historically, psychologically or politically. Stone ironically depicts Nixon’s will to power as the manipulated result of his mother’s desire to push her son into areas he has no real desire for. Although Mary Steenburgen’s Hannah Nixon may superficially appear to be another of the director’s misogynistic monstrous mothers, Stone does make clear that she is also a victim of the same system as her son as well as his victimizer. This is clear in Frank Nixon’s (Tom Bower) grace speech when he makes Hannah flinch with his reference to “that business with the snake.” The film does depict a slight positive change from Stone’s usual sexist attitudes towards women as Joan Allen’s magnificent performance as Pat Nixon shows. By submitting to a patriarchal-induced system of power drives, Stone’s Richard Nixon eventually wears his Mask – that of the Beast. This is clear in the editing sequence following Hannah’s role in pushing her son to fill Harold’s role and the 1968 Miami Republican Convention scene. It begins in silence as the camera cranes from a low angle shot of Nixon as he looks out at the auditorium like a caged beast before the familiar masked smile breaks out with the soundtrack opening as he accepts the Republican nomination.

Stone also represents this tension formally with his employment of different film stocks and references to past cinematic techniques reminiscent of Orson Welles, Eisenstein, and Vertov to depict varying historical periods often at tension with each other in the film’s sophisticated editing sequence. They are less homages within their own right but more examples of cultural and historical tensions between past and present dominating Nixon throughout the film. Whether conscious or not of the twenty-eight revolutions in The Great Wheel, Stone wisely decides to limit the contrasts available to him from Yeats’s complex system in A Vision to emphasize those between Nixon the man and Nixon the Beast, and the contrasting Civil War and Viet Nam War eras in terms of the more concrete nature of the artistic medium he uses. His references to Welles, Eisenstein, and Vertov belong within this Yeatsian scheme rather than any Tarantino flamboyance.

Oliver Stone’s Nixon is a film based upon dualities, especially those involving the past’s (whether historical or familial) influence on the present. His “Nixon” is not meant to represent the real Richard M. Nixon in terms of an accurate historical biography but rather a psychodramatic representation of a victim/ monster created by a particular vision of an American culture he supposedly set out to protect. If Stone’s Nixon can never escape history neither can he avoid the destructive consequences of a dark culture which formed him in his crucial years. Nixon is less important for its attempted artistic evocations of Shakespearian tragedy and more for it’s historically and politically grounded analysis of a tormented figure produced by the American Way of Life and following the ruthless competitive pattern of the will to succeed. The eventual result is seen less individualistically but in terms of personal and national tragedy. As Peter E.S. Babiak pointed out in terms of the superiority of Chimes At Midnight over Citizen Kane, the latter film made “little attempt to depict how Kane’s life is intertwined with historical and social factors that might share this responsibility” (Babiak 1996: 49). Nixon certainly does this. Although it uses the Beast metaphor throughout the film, it does so sparingly in contrast to the original screenplay (and thankfully, unlike Natural Born Killers) so that the horror metaphor complements the political issues in the best manner of seventies horror films. Unlike eighties horror excessive style does not fetishistically drown out alternative meanings. Stone uses both the “Beast” metaphor and Yeats’s gyre concepts to embellish his narrative both artistically and historically.

2399601,tLmch_TO9w6b3b1LveSr9bke6mKyYFU4upoYQPxxlojUuQZpM6LPlArm0UA5ENB2KSQKrAPtYcJjzPcJVNgyTw==The very many visual techniques and cinematic references in Nixon highlight a dark apocalyptic strain conditioning the film. During the credit sequence Haig’s (Powers Boothe) visit to the White House sees him entering a Xanadu-like interior whose Gothic associations and John William’s brief quotations from Bernard Herrmann’s soundtrack inform the viewer that the film is not intended to be a straightforward political biography. Welles’s Citizen Kane is not just a Hollywood classic dealing with the empty personality of a possessive capitalist but a film dependent upon film noir, expressionist motifs common to the horror genre, and an early example of what would become the seventies family horror movie. Like Kane, Nixon is dominated by images of his dead mother who has acted in a subservient (yet powerful) role in forcing him into the Law of the Father. Ironically, as we learn, from the young Nixon’s early age, he has learned lying and deception as a means of gaining political power as a substitute for the love he lacked in his early years. When Haig first sees Nixon, he is a shadowy beleaguered spidery figure inhabiting the Lincoln Room dominated by an almost skeletal image of a former political father figure who presided over one of the most devastating conflicts in American history that certainly had nothing to do with any dominant idealistic motifs of freeing slaves. Although Nixon inhabits this room in summer, a fire contrasts with the active air-conditioning operating in a Dante-like inferno environment. The lap dissolves showing flames attempting to consume Haig’s body represent the hellish environment in which Nixon dwells both personally and politically. Rather than being an individual in control of his destiny, the President is really controlled by dark forces within the system he lives.

Although Stone’s classical comparisons between Shakespeare and Nixon are shaky at best, they also reveal an ironic recognition of a twentieth century era in which the tragic dimensions of the conflict are as deliberately absurd as the ex-President’s farewell speech and the use of televised video footage of his funeral. Nixon’s farewell speech uses lines already parodied by Hoover and Tolson earlier in the film. Ironically, the same old lies are told again, believed by the President and his 1973 audience at the White House. It is an interesting metaphoric depictions of the ideological attempts to “rehabilitate” Richard Nixon during the eighties and nineties which ended with the appalling NBC news tribute following his death. Although Stone hedged his bets by showing both Clinton and Dole before the 1996 election uttering their hypocritical eulogies, the veracity of both figures is undercut both formally by the use of video footage paralleling the semi-Brechtian “alienation” of different film stocks earlier in the films. Clinton modelled himself on Kennedy but may end up like Nixon while Bob Dole often speaks of himself in the third person like his former mentor. The close-up of Hillary Clinton in the video footage presents her as another potentially damaging Hannah Nixon figure.[4] Although Nixon is never A.P. Rossiter’s Angel With Horns, he is a Macbeth-like figure haunted by social, historical, and familial forces over which he has no control. Rossiter points out that unlike the more intellectual and conscious forces operating in Richard III, “in Macbeth the springs of action are deeper, more mysterious and more alarming because they seem so utterly beyond intelligent control and so involved in the course of things” (1961: 218). Rossiter also distinguishes between Shakespeare’s image of a past chaos-ridden age and the use of difficult (to contemporary eyes) Jacobean stage machinery involving witches and the supernatural in a manner we may apply to Nixon as political history and its horror film techniques such as the “Beast” imagery. However, Rossiter also notes the latter’s metaphorical applications in representing the dark underside of human existence which civilization attempts to control. Both Macbeth and Nixon reveal the impossibility of any definitive control for most of the action and even beyond the climax. Fortunately, Stone decided to control the “Beast” imagery when he began shooting rather than follow the distracting hyper-realistic representations within the original screenplay. But Rossiter’s concluding comments on Macbeth also aptly apply to Nixon.

“But once you can get past the difficulties of the setting of the fable in an imaginary world of witchcraft and demonic states at once human and divine, then all these metaphors bring in ‘a world of past and possible experiences’. The disintegrations brought about by the urge to power, which makes all mankind worse than brutes, are near enough to our minds to make the experience of order and disorder worth our most painful exploration.” (Rossiter 1961: 230-231)

2399577,MRum1fCz2O6_eLuS_9LWpLPsl+_dc+gypBT4ClHIYRuoqbETr1Xte07yqwMOzm454ieIiONGje1Ulgjy4w02eg==In this sense, Nixon fits Christopher Sharrett’s definition of an “American Nightmare.” It is also another version of that quintessential American Tragedy (Freedman 2006) that determines the lives of all caught up within the system whether they be Dreiser’s victimized Clyde Griffiths or a disgraced President of four decades ago.[5] Nixon was also the last significant historical and political film Stone was able to direct within the realms of mainstream Hollywood cinema mixing experimental cinematic approaches to historical enquiry attempting to make the spectator an active analyzer of the material presented on the screen rather than a passive consumer of well-worn formulaic approaches. As Joseph McBride commented during his presentation of the Kennedy assassination on the campus of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, the opportunities Stone earlier had to make films such as JFK and Nixon are now long gone.[6] However, he has not vanished from sight like Michael Cimino but still remains active producing documentaries and television series that still aim at rocking the conservative boat of consensus ideology as works such as South of the Border (2009), Castro in Winter (2012), his TV series The Untold History of the United States (2012-2013), and Mi Amigo Hugo (2014). Unlike Welles, he is allowed to continue working in the Hollywood system as long as he directs harmless mindless entertainment products such as World Trade Center (2006) and W (2008) but what is most missing through no fault of his own are works such as Nixon where he interrogates the perverse nature of American society, interweaves cogent literary references into his narratives very much like his masterly use of W.B. Yeats in Nixon in a critical manner. Here Stone provided an answer to the fashionable dismissal of the so-called “dead white males” who are really more relevant to understanding the operations of contemporary society rather than the dreadful mainstream product being churned out today and the acclaim given to inferior talents such as Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino whose works are a disgrace to the creative and intelligent construction of films such as Nixon, films they know they can never match in their inherent mediocrity and gratuitous self-indulgence.

This article was written more than a decade ago and appears here thanks to the encouragement of and provocation by Christopher Sharrett.

Tony Williams is Professor and Area Head of Film Studies in the Department of English, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He is currently reading the novels of Sir Walter Scott and enjoying the films of Wheeler and Woolsey.


Auster, Al (2000), “The Bacchae, the ‘Missing Prince’ & Oliver Stone’s Presidential Films,” Journal of Popular Film and Television 28.1, pp. 30-25.

Babiak, Peter E.S. (1996), “Maintaining the Dual Perspective: Orson Welles and Chimes at Midnight,” CineAction, 41, p. 49.

Cervo, Nathan (1995), “Yeats’s THE SECOND COMING,” Explicator 53.2, pp. 161-163.

Cockburn, Alexander (1996), Washington Babylon, London: Verso, 1996.

Freedman, Carl (2006), “An American Tragedy: On Oliver Stone’s Nixon,” Film International 19, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 14-23.

Gilley, D. Shane (2003), “The Patriot and the Scoundrel,” CD-ROM Annual.

Linville, Joanne (2002), “Standing Pat: The First Lady in Oliver Stone’s,” Women’s Studies 31.1, pp. 1-31.

Macrae, Alasdair D.F. (1995), W.B. Yeats: A Literary Life, New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Murphy, Russell E. (1981), “The ‘Rough Beast’ and ‘Historical Necessity’: A New Consideration of Yeats’s ‘The Second Coming’”, Studies in the Literary Imagination 14.1, pp. 101-110.

Peterson, Richard (1982), William Butler Yeats, Boston: Twayne.

Raghu, A. (1992), “Yeats’s ‘The Second Coming’, Explicator 50.4, pp. 224-225.

Ramazani, Jahan (1990), Yeats and the Poetry of Death, New Haven: Yale University Press.

Rossiter, A.P. (1961), Angel with Horns, New York: Theatre Arts Books.

Sharrett, Christopher (1996), “The Belly of the Beast: Oliver Stone’s Nixon and the American Nightmare,” Cineaste 22.1, pp. 4-8.

Singer, Marc (2008), “Making History: Cinematic Time and the Powers of Retrospection in Citizen Kane and Nixon,” Journal of Narrative Theory 38.2, pp. 177-197.

Yeats, W.B. (1989), The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats, ed. Richard J. Finneran, New York: Macmillan.


Bob Hoskins Nixon[1] The one exception is Bob Hoskins’s stereotypical camp performance as J. Edgar Hoover influenced by Anthony Summers’ sensationalist biography. Despite Oliver Stone’s former intention to film a Hoover biography in collaboration with Larry Cohen, the whole scheme fortunately collapsed. We still have Cohen’s low-budget, but cinematically intelligent, masterpiece The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1977) which remains unsurpassed in terms of characterization and historical analysis.

[2] Commenting that Nixon “shows greatest political savvy when we are offered Nixon as product of a long history of Protestant repression,” Sharrett also notes several other references to the Roger Corman Poe movie cycle and “Lincoln as Mephistopheles” (6). For Citizen Kane associations see especially Singer (2008) as well as Joanne Linville’s fascinating analysis “Standing Pat: The First Lady in Oliver Stone’s” (2002), especially pp. 18-28, that also sees an implicit link to Agnes Moorehead’s Mrs. Kane in relation to Hannah Nixon. Al Auster (2000) discerns the presence of The Bacchae by Euripides in Stone’s dark mythical recreation contained within his two Presidential films while D. Shane Gilley views Nixon as a deconstruction of the Frank Capra formula contained in Mr. Smith goes to Washington.

[3] Stone uses this term in his introduction to the deleted sequences in both the director’s cut laserdisc and video versions.

[4] For factual information concerning the oppressive activities of this figure against impoverished working-class women see Alexander Cockburn (1996).

[5] See also Sharrett (1996) and Linville (2002), who sees the film as a key example of the “social Uncanny” in its emphasis on doubles, alter egos, omens, specters, and repetition compulsion among many other Freudian elements (3).

[6] McBride made these comments during his talk on campus during late October 2013.

5 thoughts on “Nixon – Oliver Stone’s Rough Beast Slouching”

  1. Tony, a very intelligent, literate close reading of this film, about which I’ve had mixed feelings. I sense that Stone hesitated with the project–it was noted in the press before it went into production as another “conspiracy epic” by Stone. If he had his way, the film would have been more condemnatory, less involved in Stone’s own Oedipal conflicts. The JFK film, by Stone’s own accounting, divided his life and career in two–before and after the film. You can’t talk about dirty state affairs, at least not in front of a mass audience. Nixon is indeed very Gothic, very downbeat. It reminds the new generations—or those who care to look–what a psychopath this man was, if the word has meaning, since one could so describe most of our state figures as such. But the atrocities of the Nixon years are many, from the destruction of Southeast Asia to the coup in Chile against the government of Allende, making Chile a lab experiment for the “Chicago Boys” and the neoliberals like Milton Friedman, who destroyed the public sector. The scene between Helms and Nixon, excised from the theater prints as you note, is one of the most important moments in recent American cinema.

  2. Tony, I am so glad that Chris encouraged you to publish this brilliant analysis! This close analysis of Stone’s Nixon is indeed beautifully written and well argued. By invoking the motifs of horror, you give us a better understanding of the ‘Beast’ as it appears here. Nixon was a psychopathic man who was indeed driven by dark forces. His existence and his wake of destruction leaves a devastating and dark path in American politics from which we have not recovered, and it is indeed like a horror film that cannot end. As for Stone, I agree that his newer work is problematic; though, to be fair, I have not seen his most recent project, The Untold History of the United States.

  3. As Hank Worden would say, Gwendolyn, “Thank you kindly!” This means a lot. I was interested in exploring the Yeats reference in this film to show how it related to the dark psycho-biography that Chris pioneered in his earlier analysis. More work needs to be done on NIXON in terms of its status as a fertile inter-generic text, the like of which is very rare today in terms of its mature handling of this project.

  4. Tony: I regularly teach Ollie Stone’s NIXON and only just today learned of your outstanding essay on the subject. In the future, I will post it on Blackboard for my on-line graduate seminars. Bravo!

  5. Frank, Thank you. I’m honored. It was originally written, several years ago, submitted and rejected by two CINEMA JOURNAL readers, and was something I had faith in rather than the way SCMS has turned out today. Your response has “made my day.” (That, of course, is an “informal comment” – see elsewhere!)

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