David Frankel on cinema's great journalists
The two most recent films by David Frankel have been about journalists. ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ (2006) was set in the offices of fictional fashion glossy Runway, while ‘Marley
'All the President's Men' (1976)‘The movie that sticks with me the most and captures my own experience of newsroom life is Alan Pakula’s “All the President’s Men”. It’s the first of a series of films, including, say, “Apollo 13” and “Frost/Nixon”, which take a story of which we already know the ending yet make it gripping by revealing the details and depths of the characters involved. The chemistry between Redford and Hoffman is amazing, but more than anything, it conveys the real relationship between editors and writers and the ethical challenges that reporters face.’
'Broadcast News' (1987)‘This captures the end of an era of broadcast journalism. In the history of television news, this explores the end of the “Ed Murrow era”, if you will, when there was a real sense that these older, avuncular anchors were godlike. When “Broadcast News” was made, we were starting to see the rise of younger, more blow-dried anchors and reporters and there was a sense that news was becoming entertainment. The conflict between the old and truthful reporting versus the not necessarily great presenters who play a little fast-and-loose with the facts was wonderfully dramatised.’
'Network' (1976)‘It may seem an obvious choice, but Paddy Chayefsky was almost visionary in the way he anticipated the rise of TV entertainment. It came out long before all the reality shows, in which you have massive exploitation of people and political movements for entertainment purposes. You also have the invasion of privacy and the incredible exhibitionism on show which is now commonplace and accepted as part of normal life. At the same time, we’re now seeing the end of the newspaper, and so when Peter Finch says “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it any more” it represents the moment the world changed and feels more relevant than ever.’
'The Paper' (1994)‘This movie captures the vocabulary of the newsroom. It also offers great analysis of a tabloid newspaper and how far people go for a story. In a way, it’s the same old story – that the journalist always pays – but it also looks at the lines people cross, the nature of privacy and how to get a real scoop. It’s a great ensemble piece, so it tackles a lot of the issues that different types of journalists face in the newsroom. The characters, also, are really identifiable.’
'Superman' (1978)‘The original Christopher Reeve “Superman” is just great. The relationship between Perry White and Clark Kent is up there in the pantheon of editor/reporter relationships on film. There’s something very paternal about your relationship with a great editor, and the thing about Jackie Cooper’s performance as White is that he really comes through as the film’s father figure.’
'Citizen Kane' (1941)‘What can you say? It’s a masterpiece. During the period when I became aware of the film in the 1970s and ’80s, it initially seemed very remote to me, especially the type of journalism that it looked at. Growing up in the era of the New York Times where it was “All the News That’s Fit To Print”, there were barely any pictures, there certainly wasn’t colour, there was nothing racy and exploitative and there was no hint of tabloid in there. I think you could say that our culture has come full circle where we’re back to the pop psychology that was a plot device of ‘Kane’: ie trying to find out what was the meaning of his last words, the meaning of ‘rosebud’. And that, it seems, is very close to how journalists practise today.’
‘Marley and Me’ opens on Friday.
Author: Interview: David Jenkins
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