Now here’s an advertising mechanism for newspapers that we should support. The Newspaper Picture festivalat Film Forum is an amazing act of collective werd-nerd nostalgia that, I hope, is more wistful and celebratory than creepy and necrophilic. I caught a double feature on Sunday that included what may now be my favorite movie of all time, Park Row, the story of hard-charging, fair-minded idealistic reporters who escape the sensationalist cloud of their yellow journalism publisher and strike out to start their own scrappy new rag (printed on butcher paper, at first) in an already saturated New York newspaper market.
The festival highlights the golden age of print journalism, and the most recent film is All the President’s Men (1976). I was impressed at the detailed accuracy of Park Row, and how it played part like a historical instructional film on the machinations of the old press machines, the marvel of mechanical type setting, the knowledge that one blockbuster story is enough to sell papers one day, but you need to keep them coming after that day after day after day. I was also impressed with how ridiculously romantic the narrative was, especially considering how there have been little to no movies in recent times showing journalists as anything but a writhing, heatless mob, a gaggle of seedy scandal makers or ethics-less wretches who sleep with any source who will have them. Park Row throws its full force behind the cleansing power of journalism and the high-minded integrity reporters should aspire to, including great lines like “We fight with news! Not knuckles!” You tell em, chief.
Of course, the whiskey chugging, fedora tipping newsrooms of old are mostly a collective fiction, or at least an amalgam. Even AO Scott says:
But maybe those old-school newshounds are mythical creatures after all. Maybe no newsroom couple ever talked as fast or flirted as sharply as Hildy Johnson and Walter Burns, played most memorably in 1940 by Rosalind Russelland Cary Grant in “His Girl Friday.” The same characters were played, with a bit less sparkle, nine years earlier by Adolph Menjou and Pat O’Brien in “The Front Page.” Both versions are naturally part of The Newspaper Picture —how could they not be?—and they mark out one area of this vibrant and protean genre.
Film Forum is showing some 43 movies about newspapers, in one way or another, with a few special guests introducing the films (Randy Cohen, Brooke Gladstone, etc). Got some time? Go see them. Even if it never was quite as good as it was in Park Row, it shows us a time when Hollywood thought journalists were worth more than objects of sexual escapades.