Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Five Film Favorites: Newspapers

by F.T. Rea
Legendary editor Ben Bradlee at the Washington Post.

This installment of Five Film Favorites offers a special challenge. It touches on two industries I've poured years of my time and toil into – the movie business and periodical publishing. It's also challenging, because, from what I can tell, after the field is properly narrowed with some rules, the remaining list of outstanding flicks about newspapering isn't as long as one might expect.

Then again, this list is isn't about declaring what I think are probably the five greatest films in the category. Instead, it's about favorite films. My favorites, today. Next week the list could change.

About those rules for this column: “Citizen Kane” (1941) isn't on my list this time. Here's why: Rather than focusing on Charles Foster Kane, the publisher or editor, etc., it's really more about Kane, the vain empire-builder who must dominate all he surveys. That and the lonely Kane, who has a fetish for collecting objects. Although it has been one of my all-time favorite films since forever this time around it doesn't make the cut. Rules.

“The Parallax View” (1974) is well worth watching again. Nonetheless, it's more a political thriller with a dauntless reporter for a protagonist. It's not a look at the people who put out a newspaper and how they do it. Accordingly, this means a ton of movies, good and bad, are being ruled out for this particular list since they rely too much on cliché-ridden variations of the independent-minded reporter being a fist-fighting, tough-guy detective.

So, in addition to being about films with interesting stories to tell about good characters, this list is about appreciating what it takes to assemble the staff, gather the news properly, write and edit the copy on deadline, design the pages, sell the ads, run the presses and circulate the newspaper. In alphabetical order, here are my five favorite films about newspapers:
  • All the President's Men” (1976): Color. 138 minutes. Directed by Alan J. Pakula. Cast: Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Hal Holbrook, Jason Robards, Jack Warden. Note: In covering a story about unusual burglars getting caught breaking into the Democratic Party's headquarters, which was in the Watergate building, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward (Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Hoffman) find some loose ends. Following up, they begin an investigative journey that eventually hastens the collapse of the Nixon presidency.
  • Between the Lines” (1977): Color. 101 Minutes. Directed by Joan Micklin Silver. Cast: John Heard, Lindsay Crouse, Jeff Goldblum, Jill Eikenberry, Gwen Welles, Michael J. Pollard. Note: As the 1970s wound down the alternative periodicals that had thrived in the late-'60s and early-'70s began to go out of style. And, the baby boomer staffers for such publications were getting older. This film reveals the conflicts they faced and the angst they felt as the culture was changing and their time for being carefree and cool was running out.
  • Deadline U.S.A.” (1952): Black and white. 87 minutes. Directed by Richard Brooks. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ethel Barrymore, Kim Hunter, Ed Begley, Paul Stevens. Note: Bogart is the embattled editor of a large daily newspaper that's about to be sold off to tabloid-publishing interests that will pull the plug on it. It's interesting to see that some of the problems large newspapers have struggled with in the last 20 years of decline seem to go back much further than the age of the Internet. This film's noirish style and somewhat corny plot actually holds up pretty well.
  • Newspaperman:The Life and Times of Ben Bradlee” (2017): In this documentary black and white and color still images, as well as movie footage are presented. 90 minutes. Directed by John Maggio. Note: Among those seen and heard (as themselves) are: Ben Bradlee, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Tom Brokaw, Sally Quinn, Jim Lehrer. Most folks are at least somewhat aware of Bradlee's pivotal role as the editor of the Washington Post during the Watergate scandal (See "All the President's Men"). However, Bradlee's life story, before and after that episode, is well worth knowing more about.
  • Spotlight” (2015): Color. 129 minutes. Directed by Tom McCarthy. Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci. Note: In 2001 investigating the Catholic Church for charges of facilitating the sexual abuse of children, many children – in Boston! – posed quite a problem for the Boston Globe. This view of the methodology of the editors and reporters doing their jobs properly is as good as it gets. The revelation of the powerful forces against them is brutally unsparing.
By the way, another rule I usually apply to movies selected to be on Five Film Favorites lists is that I must have seen the picture more than once. It's a good rule. Accordingly, I just watched “Spotlight” again recently, so I could include it. It's a well-crafted film.

These five movies do a good job of presenting pictures of inky newspaper people, on the job, publishing – always on deadline! – what Washington Post publisher Phil Graham liked to call,“the first rough draft of history.”

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