A Movie A Day #233: Secret Honor (1984, directed by Robert Altman)

Disgraced former President Richard M. Nixon (Philip Baker Hall) sits alone in his study.  He has a bottle of Scotch, a loaded gun, and a tape recorder.  He is surrounded by security monitors and paintings.  All but one of the paintings are portraits of former presidents, all of whom are destined to be more fondly remembered than Nixon.  The only non-presidential painting is a portrait of Henry Kissinger.  Over the course of one long night, Nixon drinks and talks.  He talks about his Quaker upbringing and his early political campaigns.  He rails against all of his perceived enemies: Eishenhower, the Kennedys, the liberals, the conservatives, and everyone in between.  As he gets drunker, he starts to talk about the real story behind Watergate and why his resignation actually shielded the country from a greater scandal.  As Nixon explains it, his resignation was his greatest act of patriotism, his secret honor.

A mix of historical fact and speculation, Secret Honor was one of the filmed plays that Robert Altman directed in between the flop of Popeye and his comeback with The Player.  Secret Honor is a one-man show, with Philip Baker Hall and only Philip Baker Hall on screen for the entire movie.  Though he looks nothing like Nixon, Hall gives an amazing performance.  Hall’s Nixon is bitter, angry, full of self-pity, and occasionally even sympathetic.  Altman’s stagey direction makes no attempt to hide Secret Honor‘s theatrical origins but it is impossible to look away from Hall’s mesmerizing performance.

(Secret Honor was made long before Hall found fame as a character actor.  It was his fourth feature film and his first major role.)

Secret Honor will probably not change anyone’s opinion on Nixon.  Nixon haters will find more to hate and Nixon defenders will find more to defend.  But everyone will agree that Philip Baker Hall gives a great performance as one of America’s most controversial presidents.

Music Video of the Day: Blue Monday 88 by New Order (1988, dir. Robert Breer & William Wegman)

I turned on this video in order to write about it for Monday, but became so hypnotized by its imagery that I couldn’t write till today.

I felt it was critically important to watch several forgotten early-90s thrillers in order to write about this video.

I felt it was better that Lisa do it because of Tobe Hooper’s passing.

Or I’ve been having difficulty eating and sleeping, which really caught up with me on Sunday afternoon.

Unfortunately, it’s the fourth one, and it’s still going on as I write this, so I may be in and out for awhile. We shall see.

Anyways, Lisa jumped in yesterday and spotlighted the one music video I’m aware of that was directed by Tobe Hooper–Dancing With Myself by Billy Idol.

If I had to wager a guess as to how he ended up directing that video, then I figure it probably went one of two ways:

  1. He was a fan of Generation X (Idol’s band prior to going solo), and ended up getting in contact with Idol to film the video. Then he brought on the cinematographer who shot The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and did uncredited camerawork on The Funhouse (1981)–Daniel Pearl.
  2. Or it went the other way, and prolific music-video cinematographer Daniel Pearl suggested they hire Tobe Hooper.

No matter what the reason, I’m sure Hooper and Pearl having collaborated before had something to do with it.

How they ended up shooting it on a set from a production of Ann Jellicoe’s punk rock-themed play The Sport Of Mad Mad Mother is a mystery to me.

Something else that’s a mystery to me, is how and why there are at least four different music videos for Blue Monday made in 1983, 1984, 1988, and 1995. Not versions of the song. Actual videos made for those different versions. No, I am not going to try and track them all down right now.

I could embed an okay-at-best cover version of this song that was done by HEALTH for the movie Atomic Blonde (2017) to try and tie it to something recent, but I’d prefer to embed the video of Orkestra Obsolete playing Blue Monday using nothing but instruments from the 1930s. I find that much more interesting, and by doing so, I won’t be lying by implying that movie is the reason I’m doing this video.

For me, the dog is the biggest selling point of this video.

I’m not sure if I want to know how it got so good at balancing.

The dog’s name is Fay Ray. Not only can this dog balance on a chair that is balanced on another chair, but she was able to catch the tennis ball her mouth.

Lead-singer Bernard Sumner couldn’t do it.

Yes, I’m sure they pulled it away at the last second. Nevertheless, it did appear to nearly hit Gilbert, so there seems to have been a fair amount of randomness to that part of the video. I’m kinda disappointed that he didn’t snatch it out of the air with his mouth.

Director and photographer William Wegman owned Fay Ray along with three other dogs named Batty, Chundo, and Crooky. They would all go on to teach kids the alphabet in 1995’s Alphabet Soup.

Wegman did sketches for the video, and the other director, Robert Breer, is the one who did the hand-drawn animation.

While I’m not sure I want to know about the training Fay Ray went through, I am curious as to what Gillian Gilbert is looking at in this shot.

The only other thing I have to say about this video is that I am completely perplexed as to why it appears to be comparing the dogs ability to balance with her ability to balance.

Maybe you’ll have better luck figuring out the video than me.

Maybe you’ve read Breakfast Of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut–where they got the title from.

Or maybe you’ll just sit back and enjoy it as I do.

Information on the song, and it being re-invented over and over is easy to find on Wikipedia and Songfacts.