Timed to coincide with the DVD release of Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon, this two-disc set is the first time the complete six-hour Frost/Nixon interviews have been made available on DVD. Compiled from a 1987 PBS rebroadcast of the original series, each episode features a brief introduction by David Frost: The 1977 series originally aired in four 90-minute parts titled “Watergate,” “Nixon and the World,” “War at Home and Abroad,” and “The Final Days”; for the rebroadcast, a fifth episode was created called “The Last Roundup,” which features unrelated sections culled from over 28 hours of interview footage taped with Richard Nixon over the 12-day shooting period.
With so much available material, there are some fascinating moments captured throughout these interviews, including Nixon defending the communist domino effect to an incredulous Frost, effectively blaming his wife’s stroke on reading Woodward and Bernstein’s book The Final Days, and describing a president’s ability to break the law in the interests of national security. It is in part three where Nixon famously remarks: “Well, when the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.”
Howard’s film version of this televised event, based on a play by Peter Morgan, does a tremendous disservice to Frost and these original interviews. As evidenced here, the real Frost was remarkably well prepared to take Nixon on and delve deeply into the issues of his presidency, routinely pushing him to provide answers to specific questions. Nixon certainly squirms several times during these sessions, repeatedly trying to dodge questions and change subjects often with a playful smirk on his face, but he’s never brought to the breaking point.
Make no mistake that the Frost/Nixon interviews do not offer any in-depth analysis into the late president’s emotional state or even an inkling into his true personality; Nixon was a consummate politician and he never lifts the veil during these sessions. Even during what is arguably the most emotionally revealing moment of the interview, when Nixon explains that no one can know what it’s like to resign the presidency, he still holds back a great deal and his appeals feel disingenuous. This is, from start to finish, a series of sober interviews and not the kind of probing psychoanalysis the fictional retelling portrays. However, it can’t be denied there’s a certain degree of insight revealed about Nixon’s state of mind and the hubris behind his decision-making that is invaluable to anyone with an interest in history or politics.
Image quality is quite good for a 30-year-old videotaped broadcast. No tracking problems or tape damage, but the screen occasionally flashes completely black for a split second. Seems like the kind of error caused by a loose wire during either filming or the DVD transfer. Video quality does sometimes change from section to section as the interviews were held over several days and the lighting or audio isn't captured exactly the same each time. But these variations are minimal. The packaging indicates 5.1 audio is included, but only the original mono track is provided. Audio is clear with some tape hiss. Thankfully, there's no evidence of noise reduction.
Although the press release for this DVD set stated there would be new footage of Sir David Frost reflecting on the original interviews and Peter Morgan's Frost/Nixon play, no such feature is included. (It is, however, included on the single-disc release Frost/Nixon: The Original Watergate Interviews.) Strangely, though hours of unused footage was recorded, this set includes no additional material. The portion labeled "The Last Roundup" could be considered bonus material since it was not part of the original 1977 broadcast, but it was compiled for the PBS rebroadcast in 1987 and was not assembled specifically for this DVD release.
An overdue historical document that offers a much more fascinating glimpse into Richard M. Nixon than the generic Hollywood adaptation.