Penny Lane, Brian L. Frye, and Richard Nixon

Brent recently met the filmmaking duo Penny Lane and Brian L. Frye, who work in collaboration as Dipper Films but also work separately as well, at a Creative Capital event where old and new grantees talked about their experiences. After meeting them Brent came home and said, possibly with a little tear in his eye (?), "You have to watch this film called The Voyagers" (embedded directly below!). Now, Brent is rarely moved by art so I should have listened right away. But I didn't. It wasn't until this past Wednesday, on our trip to upstate New York to play with lasers for an afternoon, that I saw my first Dipper film in the form of a sneak preview of Penny & Brian's latest feature, Our Nixon. The film screened in raw form at the art department of Union College and, as it slowly unfolded before me, I too became completely enamored with these filmmakers and their stunning vision (said with a little tear in my eye)!

Mixing Super 8 home movies by three of Richard Nixon's White House aides (Chief of Staff H.R. "Bob" Haldeman, Chief Domestic Advisor John Ehrlichman and Special Assistant to the President Dwight Chapin) that were confiscated by the FBI upon the Watergate investigation and other archival elements (including 16mm film of White House documented events, tons of incredible recorded phone conversations, televised interviews etc.), this film tracks the confusing Nixon reign, humanizing the characters that led to such a disgraceful downfall, exploring the mindsets of those who loved and worked for their fearless leader.  

Our Nixon is a documentary portrait compiled of media, private and public, where the lines of actions & words and images & sounds intersect to form an understanding of the beginning of what it means to exist in an increasingly technological society. The phone conversations of Nixon after his televised addresses where he critiques his performance next to the very personal home movies of his aides shows the development of a media identified self, the first glimpse at a self awareness and consciousness that has become a silent part of our everyday lives (thanks social networking!). Watching this group of powerful people reveling in experiences, with an often blurred understanding of reality and filmed reality was a stark realization as to the power, dubiousness, and meaning that the changing media landscape brought about, and still brings about. As the film shows, the Nixon presidency began with walking on the moon but ended in wire tapped burglary, the polar opposites of technology's abilities, the polar opposites of man's abilities and perfect symbols of such an enigmatic era. O, and then there was the breathtaking filmmaking!

This was a rough cut of the film so things like the music and final film scans weren't complete, coarse elements that seemed to bug a few of the audience members but that didn't even effect me as I remained engrossed in the overall stylistic connectivity of the piece. A mix of perfect old cheesy Nixon/America anthems with some MC5, Carpenter's 60s/70s nostalgic flare, edits with just enough film leader to add texture and pause, even the intertitles were all supremely cool and vibrant combining seamlessly to make the entire film stylized to a particular aesthetic and not make it feel as disconnected as it could easily have been given the many sources it drew from.

According to the filmmakers, this film has been in the making for over twelve years. A labor of love that actually sparked a real life love in the process: Brian wooed Penny with his discovery of the Super 8 home movies when they first met, eventually leading to not only this beautiful collaboration but to their marriage as well (thinks of The Voyagers, sniffles again!). Despite how long Our Nixon has been in the making this film doesn't seem belabored at all, if anything the long, hard work makes it feel loved, respectfully portraying a group of people as people, not just as the villains they are historically known as. Since this is just the beginning of the finished film I don't know where you'll see it just yet but I highly recommend keeping an eye out for it...!!! And also, after spending some time with them, it is clear Penny & Brian are equally as amazing people as they are filmmakers...! I can only hope the best for this truly amazing film! Our Nixon NOW!



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