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In 1974, Connie is a White House stenographer who finds the infamous 18½-minute gap in President Richard Nixon’s Watergate tapes. She wants to leak the tape to reporter Paul, which could bring down the Nixon Presidency. They meet up in a secluded town, and their search for a working reel-to-reel player leads them to friendly swingers, paranoid hippies, and the one-eyed proprietor of a bayside motel. Once the tape starts playing, though, it’s clear that nefarious forces might also be out to get it.
The film 18½ is historical fiction. None of the main characters seen in the movie ever existed. That said, large portions of the 18½-minute tape heard in the film are based on contemporaneous Nixon tapes and the historical record since that time. Sometimes truth is indeed stranger than fiction.
On June 17, 1972, burglars (nicknamed "the Plumbers") tied to the Nixon campaign broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel for the second time. The -minute gap is on a taped conversation between Nixon and his then Chief of Staff, H.R. "Bob" Haldeman, made on June 20, 1972. Haldeman's notes indicate that they were likely discussing the break-in at the Watergate during the gap. The gap was not discovered until November, 1973, after Watergate Judge John Sirica subpoenaed many of the tapes. After Haldeman resigned amid a wave of Watergate resignations and prosecutions, Nixon hired General Alexander Haig as his next chief of staff in May 1973.
In December, 1973, Nixon's loyal secretary Rose Mary Woods admitted to erasing the 18 1/2- minute gap by accidentally hitting one button with her foot and another with her opposite hand. Known as "the Rose Mary Stretch," this idea was widely ridiculed at the time and by historians since.
President Richard Nixon really did have multiple taping systems in the White House complex, including the Old Executive Office Building (OEOB) across the street. And there are indeed tapes of Nixon listening to tapes of himself. Plausibly, a tape such as the one Connie finds in the movie could have existed (and indeed, might still). To this day, nobody knows exactly why the burglars broke into the Watergate, who really erased the full 18½ minutes, and why it was the only tape that had erasures.
But there are some things we do know that are alluded to in the film: In 1970, Howard Hughes paid Richard Nixon's associates $100,000 in cash. Hughes' former associate Larry O'Brien was chair of the DNC at the time of the Watergate break-in, and there's been speculation over the years that the break-in was tied to finding out what, if anything, O'Brien may have told the DNC about the money Hughes paid Nixon over the years. Hughes was also connected to Nixon in Project Azorian, the bizarre plot to raise a sunken Soviet sub from the Pacific Ocean.
International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation (ITT) pledged $400,000 to finance the 1972 Republican National Convention at the same time it was negotiating with the Nixon administration to end anti-trust efforts. At the time of the Watergate break-in, the ITT/Nixon scandal was already front page news. Less well known at the time was that among its conglomerate companies, ITT owned Continental Baking Company, the maker of Wonder Bread, from 1968 to 1984. On September 29, 1973, the Weatherman Underground was tied to a bomb that exploded at the ITT building in New York City, apparently protesting the company's activities related to the military coup in Chile. No one was hurt.
Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974.
Sat April 8, 7:30 PM, Muenzinger Auditorium
2022, in English, 89 min • official site
Director: Dan Mirvish, Writer: Daniel Moya, Cast: Willa Fitzgerald, John Magaro, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Catherine Curtin, Richard Kind