'President's Men' still makes journalism interesting
One of the higher-profile documentaries at this year's Sundance was "Page One: A Year Inside The New York Times," which is also scheduled to screen at this year's South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival. While fascinating in many ways, the doc missed the lead when it came to last year's most significant journalistic controversy: WikiLeaks and the way the Times (and other respectable papers) came to cooperate with Julian Assange's organization.
"Page One" offered plenty of talk about the episode from those who observed it from a distance.
But some viewers were left wishing the camera had access to the high-level meetings in which old-school journalists decided how to integrate the Internet's Wild West news gatherers into their vision of what's "fit to print."
The movie that convincingly depicts the soul-searching discussions behind the series of Wiki-derived exposés hasn't been made yet. Maybe after the acclaim he has reaped for showing us Facebook's birth in "The Social Network" (just released by Sony), director David Fincher should tackle it. Until then, we'll always have Watergate.
"All the President's Men," coming Tuesday (on Warner Bros. Blu-ray) alongside its TV-centric cousin "Network," is a kind of moviemaking miracle: Somehow, director Alan J. Pakula and screenwriter William Goldman turn typing, talking on the phone and arguing in fluorescent-lit offices — stuff that should be about as exciting as sitting in a dentist's waiting room — into nail-biting, breath-holding action.
Much credit goes to Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, who as Woodward and Bernstein convey the thrill of turning trivial-seeming pieces of paperwork into a presidency-destroying news story. We might have come to the film expecting its weight to derive from the specifics of Richard Nixon and the crimes he tried to hide, but we watch it again for the pure pleasure of seeing the sweat and anxiety that determined exactly what facts made it onto the pages of The Washington Post. (The notes and research behind those stories, incidentally, are now archived at the Ransom Center at the University of Texas.)
It's less surprising that the behind-the-scenes action in 1950's "All About Eve" (just out on Blu-ray from Fox) stands the test of time.
The oversized egos, ambitions and passions of a famous actress and a newcomer who yearns for fame are tailor-made for simmering intrigue.
As scripted and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and acted by Bette Davis and Anne Baxter, the rivalry between an established star and her devoted fan has become iconic — and watching its irony-laden scenes of acting-awards banquets now, as the Oscars loom, just adds to the appeal.
How do you add appeal to the already lovable "Almost Famous," in which Cameron Crowe pays homage to the 1970s rock scene that was the backdrop for his coming of age? Simple: Just give us more of it.
The Blu-ray "bootleg cut" of Crowe's film (which Paramount, annoyingly, is only releasing at Best Buy for the moment) is aptly named. Bootlegs exist for fans so in love with a song they'll listen to 20 live versions just to hear an ad-libbed solo, or hunt down poorly recorded demos looking for an abandoned verse — and Crowe's preferred cut of this film demonstrates the same yearning for more detail, more atmosphere. None of the scenes that were trimmed for the theatrical cut are required for our understanding of the plot, in which an innocent kid is exposed to the inner workings of a rock tour and of the all-powerful Rolling Stone magazine. But every minute of the extra footage enhances the nostalgic and romantic allure of the memoir.
In this case, the actual backstage discoveries (the guitarists and groupies, editors and disillusioned scribes) are only the bait to get us watching. The real focus is on the rosy-cheeked, smart-but-innocent kid who gets to peek behind the curtain, have his heart broken a bit and — miraculously — remains sweetly in love with it all.