Saturday, December 03, 2016
by Benjamin Premi-Reiller
POL128 Politics & Film - Ryerson University
The movie All the President’s Men portrays a real life story of the investigative reporting by two journalists, Carl Burnstein and Bob Woodward, into the burglary of Watergate. The investigation uncovers corruption at the highest levels of government. During this era, investigative reporting was conducted with minimal technology necessitating significant investment of human resources.
Using the article “Setting the scene: A theory of film and politics: by Chris and Haas”: “All the president’s men” is a film with strong political content and intent with three evident underlying themes. These include: the importance of a strong press to hold government accountable; how individuals will put their job security and safety at risk in the face of government corruption; and, the importance of social class in the application of the law and power.
In exploring the themes, this paper will identify cinematographic elements that help to convey the themes. This done by describing sound, camera shots, mood and pace.
Importance of a strong press
Politics is about power and control. This movie is about whether the public, through journalists, had the right to the information regarding the Watergate burglary. The film portrays the journalists as individuals doing the noble thing to try and hold the government accountable. The intent of the message is clear.
The content of the movie underscores that there are two elements of a strong press; one is the allocation of resources and the other is political courage. The film portrays both as being key to the success of the journalists. When the head of the Washington Post assigns the journalists to the Watergate burglary, he takes a great risk of putting the reputation of his company on the line. This is exemplified by his skepticism of the journalist’s evidence throughout the narrative. To crack the case, the head of the Washington Post deploys the two journalists to the case for an extended amount of time. The filmmaker portrays the resource intensity of the investigation through the long hours, day and night, and the progressively exhausted look of the journalists. The head of the Washington post assigns the journalists, weighing that it is worth the opportunity costs of missing other stories. It is worth pondering what would have happened if the editor hadn’t allocated the resources to this story
Pursing this story is a risky and bold project considering they are the only newspaper agency reporting on it. The following quote from Ben Bradley underscores how high the stakes are; “You guys are about to write a story that says the former attorney general, the highest-ranking law enforcement officer in this country, is a crook! Just be sure you’re right”. The film maker successfully creates a mood of tension and many of the dialogues are delivered in shouting conversations. Today it is rare to see such boldness because newspaper agencies are always chasing the stories that reward the highest rating and are not willing to invest in uncertain ventures.
Personal sacrifice for the greater good
Governments hold substantial power. Throughout the movie, the government attempts to utilize this power to supress unwanted information. However the film maker shows us that certain individuals put their personal safety and job security at risk for the greater good while still attempting to protect themselves from harsh consequences.
Burnstein and Woodward spend considerable time investigating sources. While searching for sources, many people refuse to speak to them out of fear. Many doors are slammed in their faces. However all the individuals interviewed choose to give them limited information.
The first milestone in their investigation occurs when “deep throat” gives Woodward vital information to “follow the money”. It is worthy to note that he refuses to give up more information at that time. Throughout the film, Woodward returns to “deep throat” and each time is given small amounts of information to point him in the right direction.
The bookkeeper is also quite hesitant to give up information fearing for her job when the journalists pester her repeatedly, but eventually provides critical facts such as the initials of the people who participe the re-elect Nixon slush fund. Hugh Sloan has already lost his job and provides key information off the record proving that he fears for his life. Burnstein and Woodward are not deterred from pursuing their story even when they become aware that their own lives are in danger and that their apartments have been bugged. Woodward types a message to Burnstein after he turns up the classical music in Burnstein’s apartment “Deep throat says our lives may be in danger … SURVEILLANCE BUGGING”.
The film maker depicts the element of fear and tension through the mise en scène with either dark ominous lighting (deep throat conversations in parking garage), tense expressions, closing of curtains to remain hidden (bookkeeper) or raising the volume of the music to muffle the conversation (Burnstein and Woodward).
The film maker explores different dimensions of social class. People of higher social class have substantially more power and immunity in the application of the law. This is true of people who are affluent and of people who hold power in government and the private sector. It seems that the higher one ranks in social class, the stronger this effect of immunity becomes.
At the end of the film, the television shows the re-elect ceremony of President Nixon with patriotic American music playing, while Burnstein and Woodward are in the background finalizing the story linking Nixon and his affiliates to the Watergate scandal. The juxtaposition of the scenes are particularly effective.The scene then cuts to a type writer printing the events that follow the release of the story. The typewriter prints all of the names of the people involved and their subsequent charges. Diegetic sounds of gunshots are heard in the background from the presidential ceremony on the TV each time a new name is mentioned. The effect created in the film by the gunshots and punching of the keys really drives the point that justice has been served. The typewriter then prints a few of the names of the people sentenced to jail. Based on the time given it is quite noticeable that most of the people sentenced were given minimal jail time due to their political rank, given the laws that they broke.
The typewriter then prints that footage was found of Richard Nixon approving the cover up of Watergate and that he will not resign as president. The fact that he states that he will not resign even in light of the evidence shows that he is aware of his power as president and that he feels immune to the law because of his position. Three days later he resigns from office because of the mounting pressure from the public and almost certain impeachment. It is well known that after he resigns, the new president Gerald Ford pardons him of all his crimes. It is worthy to note that only the president of the United States would be acquitted of crimes such as these and that any regular citizen would serve a long sentence in jail.
In addition to exploring differential application of the law, the film maker also reflects the reality of the time with regard to gender and race. People of color in positions of power are almost completely absent in the movie. Women are also regarded as submissive and are objectified. The only women who seems to be in a position of power is Sally Aikens, a female reporter, who is able to obtain key information from a spokes-person for the US president. The source of her power is only her personal sexual relationship with the spokes-person.
The above analysis should be viewed in the context of the time it was filmed and the cinematographic style of that era. While screening this film, it was apparent that the tempo and style of the movie is dated. The pace of this movie feels very slow and plodding. This contrasts with personal experience of more modern Hollywood movies which are easy to watch, action packed and follow a more cliché story line. For example, the movie concentrates on complex detail with minimal action and an abrupt ending showing very little of the aftermath. This film is very demanding of the viewer and requires a lot of focus and concentration to understand and follow. This is partly due to the lack of technology at the time to accelerate the investigation. It was very surprising to see the journalists searching phone books to find numbers. Today these tasks would be accomplished almost instantly.
The other marked difference is that today the journalists may have been perceived as traitors by the public at large. A current day example is that of Edward Snowden who also revealed government wrong doing regarding obtaining personal information by spying. Edward was largely perceived as a traitor and was forced to flee the country. Both examples involve the political control of government information.
Overall the screening of this film was both instructive and enjoyable. It afforded an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the political and social views as well as the depiction of political content and intent in film during the 1970’s.
Haas, E., Christensen, T., & Haas, P. J. (2015). Projecting politics: Political messages in American films [Second Edition].
Pakula, A. J. (Director), & Bernstein, C., & Woodward, B. (Writers). (9 April 1976).All the President's Men [Motion picture on DVD]. United Sates: Warner Bros.
by Adham Ghandour
POL128 Politics and Film - Ryerson University
The documentary begins showing us farmers explaining the effects that Monsanto products have had on their business some positively and others negatively. To start off the documentary that shows that the director wanted to show both points of views before showing her personal opinion on the matter. The next scene shows Marie-Monique turning on her computer with the presence of diegetic sound coming from the start up tone on a Macintosh computer. The sound of the computer turning on signifies the beginning of Marie-Monique’s extensive research on the topic of interest, which is Monsanto. The tone also sets the mood of the documentary showing that it will be informative and based on real research in support of Marie-Monique’s personal point of view. A reoccurring scene throughout the documentary that is present between cuts is the interviewer positioned on her desk physically surfing the web, in search of information regarding a corrupt company that is gaining power at a dangerously fast rate. The sound of the mouse clicking as she does her research is always there and intensifies the importance of what she is doing and how important it is for her as a documenter as well as a person (Robin, 2008).
Throughout the documentary Marie-Monique is narrating her thought process making the audience feel like we can read her mind. Every piece of information that she learns or wants to find out, we learn and discover simultaneously. This approach for documentation makes the viewers feel more engaged almost as if they are part of her research team contributing to the research. Early on in the documentary she makes this statement “For 20 years I have travelled the globe and everywhere I have heard about this American Multinational but what I have heard hasn’t always been positive, wanting to know more I surfed the web for months to put the pieces of the puzzle together” (Robin, 2008). The previous quote ensures the idea that the creator of this documentary is truly passionate about this topic and is genuinely interested in educating herself further to justify the negative image that her and many others have towards Monsanto. She understands that many might disagree with her on her personal opinion, but she is doing her job to provide as much credible research and encounters with specialists to prove her point of view on the unethical acts performed by Monsanto. In her narration she also poses questions that are then answered by a series of different interview approaches including talking heads with people that can relate or are informed enough to provide their experiences or opinions. The questions that are narrated act as sort of an introduction to what is to come up next in the documentary.
Marie-Monique was not afraid to delve into extremely controversial topics that had to do with government organizations and personnel. She took somewhat of a hostile approach when attempting to show all of Monsanto’s wrongdoings. This method does help her prove her personal opinions against Monsanto and satisfies those who share her same belief. In the documentary she seems to focus a lot on portraying Monsanto as the evil conglomerate that it probably is, but does not keep the balance of Monsanto supporters. Although that is not necessary for her to do, since her stance towards the topic is clear, it does give those who disagree with her reason to say that her studies are potentially biased towards one side. Such claims could cause the credibility and reputation of her documentary to suffer. Marie-Monique spoke openly about the food drug administration (FDA) accepting the production of genetically modified organs (GMOs) as suggested by Monsanto although they did not meet the safety standards. One of her interviews when discussing the FDA situation was conducted with James Maryanski who headed the biotechnology department at that point. In that interview Maryanski agrees that the FDA’s decision was influenced by politics rather than following real scientific criteria. She also spoke to Dan Glickman who used to be Bill Clinton’s secretary of agriculture, in that interview he mentions that he was given orders not to question the decisions being made regarding GMOs (Robin, 2008). She really went to any extent to prove her points, even if it means that her documentary became extremely controversial.
Another aspect of the film that really brings things into perspective is the inclusion of real life video recordings of historical events and commercials into the documentary. Footage is shown of George Bush senior on a visit to Monsanto’s research labs in 1987. In the video clip Monsanto scientists are taking the former vice president through the steps of creating genetically modified organisms. A video like the one mentioned above shows the influence that Monsanto has on society to the point that the vice president of the United States paid them a visit. It amplifies the severity of Monsanto’s reach on the political system and the economy. In the film when transitioning from one topic to the other, Monsanto commercials were put in to serve what I saw to be a strong purpose. The commercial would show an actor that looks like he could not be happier to present a product and talk about all its benefits, when in reality it is actually harmful in many different ways both for plants and humans. Directly after showing the commercial the viewer would receive ample research results and interview outcomes that point out all the flaws in the product that was just shown in the commercial. It is a more creative approach to portray an opinion and falsify the opposing one. (Robin,2008)
Marie-Monique Robin travelled across the world to become closer to the areas and individuals affected by Monsanto’s products. Amongst the many places she visited were cotton farms in India, soybean farms in Indiana and corn fields in Mexico. In each country she interviewed those directly impacted my Monsanto and allowed them to tell their story from their own point of view. By doing this she is breaking this intangible barrier that often lies between the interviewer and those being interviewed. It helps her show us that she takes pride in the issue she is discussing and will go as far as needed to retrieve sufficient evidence and information to support her argument. By getting up close and personal with the farmers she was able to show the emotions of those affected farmers. Emotions bring out other people’s emotions, which Marie-Monique needed to have the viewers feel to get them to understand the severity of the cause she is documenting and have them side with her (Hindo,2007).
In the film as the interviewer surfs the internet on her computer she often visits Monsanto’s website and other official Monsanto documentation and shows the statements that the company makes in support of their cause, as she narrates what she sees. In one scene she is looking at the Monsanto website as she narrates and highlights a piece of text that said “Our products provide significant economic benefits to both large- and small-holder growers. In many cases, farmers are able to grow higher-quality and better-yielding crops with fewer inputs and less labour” (Monsanto Company,2016). She is trying to show the viewers how Monsanto is able to get local farmers to use their products. Farmers have families to support and when promised less cost with more overall profits they will definitely want to give it a try even if they are not sure of the consequences. The fact that she uses the positivity in Monsanto’s statements to further supplement her argument against them is a powerful way to get her messages across to the masses.
As the documentary comes to a close we can hear the audio of a phone call between Marie-Monique Robin and one Cristopher Warner from Monsanto. In the audio we learn that Monsanto had refused to allow Marie-Monique to interview any current employees or directors at Monsanto. Throughout the film the viewer is flooded with an abundance of knowledge and information that opposes anything that had to with Monsanto as a producer of chemicals and GMOs as well as an establishment. The purpose of it was to raise awareness and really let the horrible acts that Monsanto has executed resonate with the audience. A scientific and fact based approach was taken by the filmmaker to convince people of the evil power that is Monsanto. A very emotional and human approach was also taken to really shake the viewers emotionally in a way that they can relate in a humane and ethical manner. Marie-Monique scrutinized every aspect of Monsanto to deliver a powerful message to millions of people around the world.
Whipple, Dan. The Futurist33.8 (Oct 1999): 10-12. 21 Oct.2016.
Iyengar, Sudarshan; Lalitha, N. Indian Journal of Agricultural Economics57.3 (Jul-Sep 2002): 459.21 Oct.2016.
Hindo, Brian. "Monsanto: Winning the Ground War." Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 6 Dec. 2007. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.
Fedoroff,Nina.”Can We Trust Monsanto with Our Food?” Scientific American. Nature American Inc.,25 July 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.
‘Latest Headlines.” A Sustainable Agriculture Company. Monsanto Company,n.d.Web. 21 Oct.2016.
The World According to Monsanto. Dir. Marie-Monique Robin. Perf. Marie-Monique Robin. National Film Board of Canada,2008.DVD.