show no traces

“somewhere along the way, nixon and the godfather started to become one, turning up in my thoughts and in the flow of daily events…”

Richard Nixon and the first two Godfather films have been regularly finding their way into my writing right from the start. Early on, I wrote a long piece for Nerve on early-‘70s soul (not included here) that had Nixon all over the place; indeed, the Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes” should have been played at Nixon’s second inauguration. Somewhere along the way—you can see this most clearly in the John Cazale piece halfway through this chapter—the man and the film started to become one, turning up in my thoughts and in the flow of daily events in ways both expected (Nixon has become the Freddie Kruger of every presidential election-cycle, rising up from the grave again and again—a lingering backlog of audio tape will do that) and entirely intuitive (“Do you know who I am? I’m Mo Vaughn…”).
[from the chapter introduction]


I have often felt that The Conversation is an even better film than the first two Godfathers. It’s a meaningless comparison ultimately: one is small and moody and cerebral, the other is large and effusive and emotional, and it’s almost difficult to reconcile them as being the work of one director. (I’m simplifying, of course—there’s lots of moodiness in the Godfathers, and if cerebral just means smart, then they’re cerebral, too.) I believe Coppola has gone on record as saying he felt closer to The Conversation, but that doesn’t count for much as far as my own response goes (besides which, artists are not always their most insightful critics). What is less open to dispute, I’d say, is that it’s either the definitive Nixon film, or at the very least one of two or three on which you might hang that title. And, as you may have guessed by now, that’s worth a whole when it comes to ranking my favorite films.

The Conversation is a Nixon film not just because of the obvious, that Gene Hackman’s grubby surveillance expert is like a composite of Hunt, Liddy, Segretti, and all of Nixon’s other low-level operatives, the plumbers and dirty-tricks experts who themselves functioned as a subversive extension of Nixon’s paranoia. You don’t need all the middlemen; in many ways, Hackman’s Harry Caul is Nixon himself. He’s socially inept, ultra-secretive, conspiratorial, shadowy and anonymous, and he’s able to dissociate himself completely from the morality of his actions if called to account. Pestered by Moran about a job of his that once led to someone’s gruesome murder, Harry just brushes it aside: “It had nothing to do with me—I just turned in the tapes.” As Caul skulks around San Francisco in his grey, rumpled raincoat, trying to remain as invisible as humanly possible as he implicates himself deeper and deeper in some shady corporate power-play he only dimly understands, he’s like a phantasmagoric embodiment of the last miserable months of Nixon’s presidency. He’s Nixon and he’s Nixon’s henchmen rolled into one, trying to navigate his way through a maze as murky and unknowable as Watergate…
[from review of The Conversation, #14 on the 2011 facebook movie countdown]

Also included in the “Show No Traces” chapter:

  • Nixon books
  • notes on Godfather II
  • Hillary/Nixon
  • Oliver Stone’s Nixon
  • John Cazale
  • All the President’s Men… + more

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