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Nixon's historic China visit to get revisited by Hollywood

By Chris Davis | China Daily | Updated: 2018-07-03 07:26

There's a rumor going around Hollywood that Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment is in the process of making a movie about US President Richard Nixon's 1972 visit to China.

The Great Banquet is said to focus on the "awkward" State dinner Nixon attended seated next to then Premier Zhou Enlai, Entertainment Weekly reported - awkward because Nixon did not know how to use many of the utensils before him and had no idea what was actually in dish after dish.

Amblin describes the comedy drama like this, "With stakes high, ordinary people from both countries find a way to work together and discover that the common language of food ultimately brings them and the world to the same table."

The event, which the press at the time dubbed "Chopstick Diplomacy", was publicly broadcast and Nixon, who was not known for his sense of humor, put on quite a surprising show. Here was an American president who got his start in politics as an anticommunist McCarthyist toasting the leaders of communist China.

Nixon's historic China visit to get revisited by Hollywood

Public opinion at the time dismissed it as a publicity stunt or photo-op at best, but time has proved otherwise. For all the troubles awaiting Nixon back at home, his muddling through dinner with Zhou was (to borrow a Chinese proverb) the first step in the thousand-mile journey to build a relationship that could transform the world.

Nixon himself called his visit "the week that changed the world" and the term "Nixon goes to China" became a catch phrase for a sudden 180-degree reversal of political policy. Many historians agree that it was probably the most significant visit by any US president anywhere ever.

History in the making, sure, but comedy? The 1999 movie Dick made light of Watergate by having two 15-year-old girls stumble onto the break-in and then get paid off for their silence by Nixon making them official White House dog walkers.

It earned respectable reviews and $6.3 million at the box office.

Britain's Sky studios built a replica of the Oval Office and made a hit comedy out of Nixon's notorious Watergate tapes, sticking verbatim to some of the most shockingly bigoted remarks made by the chief executive, too tawdry to repeat here.

Nixon was played by Harry Shearer, who does the voices of factory owner Mr Burns and his toady assistant Smithers on The Simpsons. Shearer told the Telegraph in 2011 that he had grown up in Los Angeles with Nixon "in my brain my whole life".

"It recently struck me that the current portrayals of the man were leaving out the wonderland of his emotional complexity."

The funniest part of it all, he said, was that these horrendous conversations were being held by the most powerful man in the world during working hours.

The 1997 "mockumentary" Elvis Meets Nixon was a sendup of the bizarre-but-true 1970 meeting between Tricky Dick and the King, Elvis Presley. Elvis wanted to be appointed a roving undercover agent for the bureau of dangerous drugs (which he happened to have an intimate familiarity with) and Nixon hoped the meeting would improve his image among the youth of America (it didn't).

History has not been kind to the 37th president of the US but his breakthrough with China remains the one undisputed feather in his cap.

Maybe a movie about an awkward meal will add a new facet to that wonderland of complexity.

And it should do well in China, which is, after all, what it's really all about for Hollywood.

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Nixon's historic China visit to get revisited by Hollywood

(China Daily 07/03/2018 page22)

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