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NewCityNet Deep Throat Revealed

Andy Fleming's goofball "Dick" joke

By Ray Pride

AUGUST 2, 1999:  History repeats itself: the first time as tragedy, the second as comedy for teenage girls.

Andrew Fleming's "Dick," a possessory title not on screen, but certainly there in spirit, is a comedy of errors that gleefully works through the outrageous conceit of a slightly wacked, alternative universe in which everything good or bad that happened in the Nixon White House from the end of the Vietnam War to his resignation, was the handiwork of two beaming, giggle-snort 15-year-old blondes. They're a pair of teen Romy and Michelles, Arlene Lorenzo (Michelle Williams) and Betsy Jobs (Kirsten Dunst). Clueless or "Clueless"? The answer is both. And while "Dick" is a political burlesque, it's also a celebration of these Two Stooges' guileless blonde-osity - their exuberance and delight is endlessly amusing even if you didn't know a lick about Watergate. With more than thirty costume changes and the emphatically tacky set design of its early 1970s setting, it's like a night of TV Land on cheery hallucinogens. The result is surpassingly silly and delicious fun.

On a White House tour, the complications begin as these junior Zeligs stumble into becoming Nixon's dog-walker, then meet all the players in the scandal, including Saul Rubinek's priceless Henry Kissinger and an exorbitantly vaudeville version of what Nixon calls "the radical muckraking bastards," Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (Will Ferrell, Bruce McCullough) that no doubt gets closer to their inner selves than "All The President's Men"; Ferrell's Woodward is a humorless prig; Bernstein a hair-tossing fop.

I asked the 38-year-old director how concerned he was about authenticity. "[Co-writer] Sheryl [Longin] and I came up with a timeline. We let our knowledge inform the scenes, but we tried to figure out if the scenes were interesting behaviorally if we got rid of Nixon and Watergate entirely. We came up with the main public events that people remember. We tried to learn that, then went off with our own story. We tried to only invent the areas where there are gaps. Where we don't know, like Deep Throat's relationship to the President. We felt free to make that up. But history as a whole, we tried to respect."

Fleming has shown a great affinity for teens in the past, notably with the coven-next-door schlock of "The Craft." Is bubble-headed girlhood an idyllic state? Why does he have such empathy for the giddiness of teenage girls? "I dunno. I'm endlessly amused by teenage girls. Teenagers, young people in general, but teenage girls as opposed to teenage boys are more demonstrative. Teenage boys? 'Mmmphmmpm.' Sometimes that lasts their entire life! But teenage girls express their feelings, 'Oh my God, I feel like this or that!' Young characters are the most spontaneous. I've always written things about young people. Young people don't have preconceptions. We made the girls as naive and trusting as possible because they kind of represented the populace as a whole. The girls are kind of us."

The script was finished about a month before the first Monica Lewinsky story broke, and Fleming and Longin figured out later that a research visit to the West Wing took place on a day one of the liaisons between Lewinsky and Bill Clinton went down. "We didn't see them. Or hear them. The idea of teenagers having the run of the White House has become more resonant since then, shall we say."

So Fleming's irreverence preceded current events? "We had these girls first. They wandered in from another script where we liked them better than their parents. Then, they stumbled into this situation of meeting Nixon and being Deep Throat. We did research and our initial take was, this is a really irreverent look at something serious. But the more we read about Watergate and about people like Gordon Liddy and Martha Mitchell and Henry Kissinger, the more we realized that there was a farcical element to the events themselves, that a lot of the henchmen, the 'ratfuckers,' as they were known, were behaving like frat boys. They actually went to college campuses to find operatives from frathouses. We were inspired by how loony they were, and felt free as loony as that. The question came up, how do you get the farce out of the satire? The point being, these characters, Nixon, everyone around was being irreverent to the public trust, so we felt free to be irreverent to them."

It seems like an utterly eccentric movie to be made in today's studio system, but Fleming says, "The marketing department is extremely happy. They're selling it to teenage girls, even the ones who just walk away, going, 'The clothes, the clothes, the clothes.' Y'know, ranting on about the clothes. I don't write thinking, this will work for a particular audience. I try to amuse myself, or in this case, Sheryl and I tried to amuse each other and forget about demographics. If you start off trying to nail an audience, you turn cynical and the work's bad."


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