Tag Archives: Dustin Hoffman

All the News That Fits, We Print

 

I have been a police reporter for 15 years, and a film reporter for another decade.

So I feel comfortable committing the following double heresy:

All the President’s Men is a lousy movie.

As a book, it’s poetry. As a story, it’s the gold standard for every aspiring reporter.

But, strictly from an entertainment perspective, the 1976 Oscar winner for Best Picture — and five other Academy Awards —  cinematically sucks.

I realized this last month, when HBO — perhaps in a plea for substantial political journalism — made it one of their feature films for the week spanning Election Day.

At least a dozen times, the movie has unspooled before me. I know the story, the characters and the circumstances inside out. I even recognized the lobby, newsroom and parking lot, as The Washington Post was my old employer, Bob Woodward my Sunday editor.

So on my most recent viewing, I decided to watch again. This time with intensified focus. Even played it with closed captioning, to absorb the nuance of the script.

No matter. It still blows.

For one, there are simply too many characters to follow. Just try keeping up with the names of more than three dozen actors with screen credits, from political wonks to Post editors. Unless you’re a journalism major in college, you likely don’t know the name Harry Rosenfeld (He was the Post’s city editor an a key figure in the scandal.). By the second hour, you need a score card and flow chart to keep track of the characters.

Second: we never meet the mysterious character behind the film, Deep Throat. The real life character, Robert Felt, was only identified posthumously.

Now imagine trying this strategy in any other film. Consider the pitch:
Producer: “So we’ve got this shadowy figure, who only meets Robert Redford in darkened garages after secretly signaling him he has found new evidence.”
Exec: “I love it. Who does it turn out to be?
Producer: “We don’t know, so we never reveal.”
Exec: “The door is that way.”

Or another scene, in which Carl Bernstein confirms his story with a source over the phone.
Producer: “It’s even got a 10-second countdown. Or count-up — the reporter is counting to ten.”
Exec: “Beautiful. What happens at 10?”
Producer: “Nothing. He confirms the story by not hanging up.”
Click

One thing it does get right: the acrobatics required to handle a telephone while trying to write down what people say. How many collective hours, I wonder, were wasted in old films of characters dialing a rotary phone?

phones

It’s easy to see why APM was an unmitigated success. For the public, it was a reminder of what a healthy press looks like in action. And they could drool over Redford.

For critics, Alan Paluka’s drama took painstaking measures to get the details right, and it did (however stultifying those details were). Good films raise the art of its subject matter.

And who in the mainstream press was going to knock it? Sure, the meetings between Deep Throat and Woodward were pure fiction. But when’s the last time reporters were portrayed by acting icons? Hollywood characterizations of reporters is typically  negative when the journalist is a minor character. But positive when they are central characters.

Finally (spoiler alert): the finale. APM concludes with no arrest, no showdown of powers. Simply a teletype, clacking the news that Richard Nixon resigned from office. Roll credits.

It was a wholly appropriate finale, one that perhaps was as spot-on as any based-on-a-true-story premise.

But ending a narrative with a few lines of text rarely makes for compelling drama.

See?

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To Phil, the Real Marathon Man

 

Perhaps because I’ve felt as if I’ve finished a couple, but my eyes have been drawn to marathons of late.

Maybe it’s that irritating commercial from Marathon Oil, whose new jingle implores you to “put a tankful of freedom” in your guzzler. (Does that make the Prius the official vehicle of the Socialist Marxist Party?). Maybe it was catching the classic film again.

Or, most likely, it was yet another documentary I consumed, this one on the famed run of 26 miles from Marathon to Athens, which gave birth to the modern day sporting event. The documentary touched on all the rote facts, including the roots of its distance, how it became the symbol of national pride in Boston, and how more than 300 are held annually in the U.S. alone.

But I began to wonder about the guy who ran the first. Why wasn’t he celebrated? I mean, he did die trying.

Turns out, the guy is as heroic as any of the A-list Greek gods, from Apollo to Zeus. And the guy was real.

His name was Pheidippides (Phil to his bowling pals), and he was born about 530 BC.

phil

Phil didn’t exude celebrity.  Not hulking, not that powerful, not even that cunning. Not…Herculean.

But Phil could run. And run. Like, further than you’d have the patience to drive run. And Phil believed in doing his share. So when he joined the Greek Army, they unwittingly turned him into one of the world’s first professional couriers, sending him to dispatch news between armies separated by miles.

Around 500, Persia was planning its biggest New World invasion yet, with Marathon as ground zero. What that documentary (and historical memory, for some reason) failed to mention is that Phil ran more than 150 miles over two days to get to Sparta and plead for help.

Sparta did, and helped repel the Persian army. And it was on that run, to Athens, that Phil died, giving the news of victory. Historians say his final words to the Assembly were ‘Joy to you, we won. Joy to you.’

Where’s  Phil’s pomp and circumstance?? His fable? His book deal? His summer blockbuster biopic?

Maybe his name was too tough to spell, let alone pronounce. Maybe we don’t like heralding those who die trying.

But don’t we all feel his pain, even a little? I can’t help but see him as that Everyday Greco Joe, who played to his strengths to get through the day, tried to keep his head down at work and do what feckless bosses commanded.

Bad news, Pheidippides. Bosses are still trying to run Joes to but a nub.

But you’d be proud of how much of your stride we emulate. Joy to you, Phil. Joy to you.

 

 

 

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