Topics in History: History through Film

Topics in History: History through Film

Topics is a course at Southport High School taught by Kevin Sanders that analyzes major events from United States and world history through Hollywood films that attempt to portray those events. Students investigate historical documents and other sources to determine if a film is historically accurate.

The goal is for students to develop deeper understandings of the historical discipline while generating questions about the way the world is around them, along with watching classical films that have graced American and international screens.

Student: Sam Brookshire

Film Reviewed: All the President’s Men

All the President’s Men, a film directed by Alan J. Pakula, is a 1976 political thriller and political drama showcasing the discovery connecting the break-in at the Watergate Hotel to the White House and the administration of President Richard Nixon. The film opens with the break-in at the Watergate, a hotel where the National Democratic Committee’s offices are located. We then follow the story of two journalists from the Washington Post, Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), as they try to look for leads in the story.

Woodward and Bernstein show the struggles of investigative journalism. They try to get their story verified by working with different sources. They find getting the sources to give up information challenging. Yet, in the end they are able to expose the cover-up and conspiracy of the Nixon administration. While the pace of the movie starts out very slow, the pace does increase in the later part of the film. The director does a great job of making the viewer feel as if they are part of the journalistic investigation. Pakula uses a technique called “diegetic sound.” Diegetic sounds are sounds that the director intentionally places in the film to make the set sound like the natural setting. Using the diegetic sound technique in the Washington Post headquarters, the director makes the viewer feel as if they are inside the building working alongside the main characters Woodward and Bernstein. Hearing the clicking of the typewriters and the spinning of the rotary phones transport the viewers back to 1970s DC. This then hooks the viewer and makes them more invested in the film since they feel more involved.

Alan J. Pakula also uses “loose framing” in the film. Loose framing is where the camera is backed up from the center of the set, not really focusing on anything but the set as a whole. This is contrasted with the “close up” technique which focuses on one specific item on set. Pakula uses the loose framing to show us the whole set, mainly using this technique in the Washington Post headquarters. While filming the reporters and editors of the paper in their office, the director makes sure to keep the frame loose so the viewer can see the office as a whole at work. By doing this the viewer can not only see the hustle and bustle of a national newspaper office, but feel it as well. This makes the viewer feel as if they are an omniscient being, with a full scope of knowledge. Getting this feeling of omnipotence is helpful as the viewers are trying to piece the puzzle of the investigation together.

Overall, I enjoyed the film All the President’s Men. It was an immersive film where I could really be engaged with what the Washington Post investigation of Watergate was like. The techniques used by Alan J. Pakula made that happen. I would recommend this film to anybody willing to expand both their historical and film knowledge.

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