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S E A R C H    D V D B e a v e r

(aka "Lords of Treason" or "Secret Honor: A Political Myth" or "Secret Honor: The Last Testament of Richard M. Nixon")

 

directed by Robert Altman
USA 1984

 

Sequestered in his home, a disgraced President Richard Milhous Nixon arms himself with a bottle of scotch and a gun to record memoirs that no one will hear. He is surrounded by the silent portraits of Lincoln, Eisenhower, Kissinger, and his mother, as he resurrects his past in a passionate attempt to defend himself and his political legacy. Based on the original play by Donald Freed and Arnold M. Stone, and starring Philip Baker Hall in a tour de force solo performance, Robert Altman’s Secret Honor is a searing interrogation of the Nixon mystique and an audacious depiction of unchecked paranoia.

***

Robert Altman's "Secret Honor," which is one of the most scathing, lacerating and brilliant movies of 1984, attempts to answer our questions. The film is a work of fiction. An actor is employed to impersonate Nixon. But all of the names and many of the facts are real, and the film gives us the uncanny sensation that we are watching a man in the act of exposing his soul.

The action takes place in Nixon's private office, at some point after his resignation. The shelves are lined with books, and with a four-screen video monitor for the security system. The desk top is weighted down with brass and gold. From the walls, portraits peer down. Eisenhower, Lincoln, Washington, Woodrow Wilson, Kissinger. Nixon begins by fiddling with his tape recorder; there is a little joke in the fact that he doesn't know quite how to run it. Then he begins to talk. He talks for ninety minutes.

That bare description may make "Secret Honor" sound like "My Dinner with Andre," but rarely have I seen ninety more compelling minutes on the screen.

Excerpt of review from Roger Ebert located HERE

Theatrical Release: January 26th, 1986 (France)

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DVD Review: The Criterion Collection (Spine # 257) - Region 0 - NTSC

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Distribution

The Criterion Collection

Region 0 - NTSC

Runtime 1:30:27
Video

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 5.43 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Audio English (Dolby Digital 1.0)
Subtitles English, None
Features Release Information:
Studio: The Criterion Collection

Aspect Ratio:
Fullscreen - 1.33:1

Edition Details:
• Audio commentaries with director Robert Altman and co-writer Donald Freed
• Interview with actor Philip Baker Hall (21:51)
• Archival-film excerpts from the political career of President Richard M. Nixon (1:20:54)
• Fully Illustrated Booklet

DVD Release Date: October 19th, 2004
Keep Case

Chapters 29

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Comments

I think that we owe Criterion a debt of gratitude for rescuing this Robert Altman film from his time in the wilderness. While a justifiable amount of attention has been given to his works in the 70s, 90s, and 00s, few outside of Altman completists are familiar with his post -"Popeye" films made outside of the major Hollywood studios. This is a shame, for this gem has remained hidden for too long, even after Criterion released it on DVD 2004. The film, which tells the fictionalized story of the night before Richard Nixon resigned the presidency in disgrace, stars veteran actor Philip Baker Hall. Although Hall is the only actor to appear on screen, his drunken rants and one-sided conversations with the portraits that adorn his office ensure that we feel as if the film is populated with others, if only in his mind. While only bearing a slight resemblance to Nixon, Hall masterfully portrays a man undone by his own paranoia and sense of self-entitlement. It's a truly brilliant performance.

Unfortunately, the image suffers from some severe limitations despite having undergone a full digital restoration. Since the film was originally shot on 16 mm film stock and then blown up to 35 mm for projection, the image lacks clarity and sharpness, and possesses an exaggerated grain structure. That being said, I'm reasonably confident that this looks as close as the film can (or more accurately as SD can) to the way that the film looked in theaters. But, what's here has clearly been cleaned up, without any artifacting, warps, instances of damage, or dirt to speak of.

As per Criterion policy of the day, the disc comes with a competent, but uninspiring English language Dolby Digital 1.0 track. There really are no problems to speak of (dialogue is clear, no background noises), but just don't expect to be wowed by it. Optional English subtitles are also included.

Although this is in many ways a small film, Criterion loaded it up with extras. To begin with, we get two commentaries. The first comes from Altman and one with co-writer of the screen play, Donald Freed. Both commentaries reveal a lot about the film, but as anyone who has ever heard a track from the rascally Mr. Altman knows, his tended to be a lot of fun. Next, there's an informative 20 minute-plus long interview with Hall about the film and his career in general. Also included in an illustrated booklet with an essay on the film, and rounding out the extras is a feature length documentary looking at the aspects of Nixon's career that are pertinent to the film.

This is another one of the titles that tends to get overlooked in Criterion's massive catalog. I'm not sure why more haven't checked this film out, as it's a showcase of the one the most underrated character actors of our time. This is a stupendous film and Criterion has done it right. Another of one of my highest recommendations!

  - Brian Montgomery

 



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DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

 

 

Distribution

The Criterion Collection

Region 0 - NTSC

 




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