Fourth Estate Film Series (AFI): All the President’s Men, Broadcast News, Network, The Front Page, & His Girl Friday

AFI Silver and Washington Monthly magazine presented a series of films that investigated the world of journalism recently (May-June 2019). Below are my thoughts.

All the President’s Men (1976)

“Follow the money.” Deep Throat’s (Hal Holbrook) words have guided reporters in the 40+ yrs since Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman starred as “hungry” young Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, uncovering the Watergate scandal. The all-star cast also includes Jack Warden, Martin Balsam (12 Angry Men), Jason Robards (then in his waning yrs battling alcoholism), Jane Alexander, and Ned Beatty.

There was a post-screening Q&A with Bob Woodward (it was a full house, of course) moderated by Washington Monthly Editor-in-Chief Paul Glastris. There are a lot of phone calls, knocking on doors, as well as research depicted in this film. Though journalism has changed over the years (along w/ technology), Woodward pointed out that nothing beats in-person interviews where reporters can build trust w/ their subjects. Woodward is still going strong; in fact, he recently interviewed individuals who haven’t even spoken to Robert Mueller- WOW!

Broadcast News (1987)

This is one of my favorite films, as I’ve written before. It’s set in a DC TV network news bureau where the lives of three individuals are intertwined: ambitious producer Jane (Holly Hunter), telegenic anchorman Tom (William Hurt), and brainy field reporter Aaron (Albert Brooks). All three are fully fledged out characters, no one is a typical bad guy, and there is sparkling chemistry between both pairs- Jane/Aaron and Jane/Tom. Jack Nicholson (not billed) has a cameo as a powerful anchorman based in NYC. It launched the career of Hunter and was nominated for seven Oscars, incl. Best Picture.

There was a panel discussion with Academy Award-winning filmmaker James L. Brooks (Terms of Endearment, As Good As It Gets, The Simpsons, etc.) and New Yorker Staff Writer Jane Mayer, moderated by Washington Monthly Digital Editor Eric Cortellessa. Though the work life/personality of Jane was based more on Susan Zirinski (who now heads CBS News), the love triangle was inspired by incidents in Mayer’s personal life; she had trouble choosing between a man who was “like a schlubby best friend type” (like Aaron) and another guy. Neither one was right, she admitted (LOL)! This film is more of a workplace comedy, not a rom com, as it puts career over romance. Albert Brooks (who plays Aaron and also worked on the screenplay) was the first one cast; they waited 6 mos to get Hurt; Hunter was cast a few days before filming started.

James L. Brooks considers this one of the best-written scenes:

There is also an alternate (happy) ending to the Jane/Tom romance:

Here is my earlier review: https://knightleyemma.com/2010/11/14/two-movies-ive-seen-recently/

Network (1976)

“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” When Howard Beale (Peter Finch), a veteran news anchor w/ slipping ratings, is informed that he is being let go, he launches into a rant (on live TV) proclaiming his intention to commit suicide on his next broadcast. The network’s execs (incl. Robert Duvall) decide to keep Beale on and exploit the ratings boost. Beale’s closest/oldest friend, Max Schumacher (William Holden), thinks that he may truly be ill (going mad); he tries to care for Beale. Director Sidney Lumet’s examination of the news media depicts a cruel, ratings-obsessed world, in which populist sentiment is exploited for profit. One of the must-see films of the ’70s, Network earned 10 Oscar noms, incl. acting wins for Finch, Faye Dunaway and Beatrice Straight, and the screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky.

There was a panel discussion with Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page, Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter Beth Reinhard, a local veteran film critic, and moderated by Glastris. I used to see Page on the PBS commentary show- The MacLaughlin Group– along w/ other TV journos; he appears on MSNBC these days. The rise of Trump (UGH) was compared to what happened w/ Beale. Dunaway’s character would also fit in w/ the people making policy around Trump. Page also recommended another film, A Face in the Crowd, for those who enjoyed this one.

Here are my reviews:

https://knightleyemma.com/2018/07/31/network/

https://knightleyemma.com/2016/10/09/a-face-in-the-crowd/

Mr. Jensen (the scene-stealing Ned Beatty) explains to Beale how money makes the world go around in one of the iconic scenes from this movie:

The Front Page (1931)

Newspapermen-turned-playwrights Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur made their names with the 1928 Broadway play The Front Page. Adapted for the screen in 1931, this is the story of star crime reporter Hildy Johnson (Pat O’Brien), fed up with his manipulative editor Walter Burns (Adolphe Menjou), and about to quit his job to marry his sweetheart Peggy (Mary Brian). But when a big story breaks, Hildy can’t resist covering it, even if it means putting his honeymoon on hold. The play was expertly re-arranged by director Howard Hawks and screenwriter Charles Lederer in 1940 with their adaptation- His Girl Friday (see below). I watched it last year, but will check it out again (see the link to YouTube below).

His Girl Friday (1940)

This Howard Hawks’ remake of The Front Page (see above) with reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) recast as a woman, her love-hate relationship with hard-driving editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) now complicated by the fact that they were formerly married. These were career-defining roles for the actors in one of Hollywood’s greatest screwball comedies. There was a panel discussion with The Atlantic’s Film Critic Christopher Orr, New Yorker Staff Writer Margaret Talbot, and Washington Post Media Reporter Paul Farhi, moderated by Cortellessa. They touched on topics ranging from the rom com genre, portrayal of journos, Chicago history/politics, feminism (as it pertains to smart/clever/career woman Hildy), casual racism (at least in two scenes), and the enduring popularity on this film (the theater was nearly full, yet again).

Here is my earlier review: https://knightleyemma.com/2019/01/11/awfultruth-girlfriday/

Glory (1989) starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes, Morgan Freeman, & Andre Braugher

I re-watched this Civil War drama on TCM recently; it’s one of my fave (and most-watched) films! The music is used very well; each scene is enhanced by it, incl. the battles. It was originally released in the Summer of 1989; Fathom Events will be having its 30th anniversary screening later this year in select cities/theaters. Kevin Jarre (a white man) was inspired to write the screenplay when he saw monument to Shaw on Boston Common (shown in the closing credits). Jarre’s inspiration came from two books: (1) One Gallant Rush: Robert Gould Shaw and His Brave Black Regiment (1989) by Peter Burchard, a novel that itself was based on letters written by Shaw and (2) Lay This Laurel (1973), a photographic tribute to the Civil War sculpture of Augustus Saint-Gaudens with text by American writer/arts patron Lincoln Kirstein. Jarre has a brief (yet notable) cameo as the white Union soldier who shouts “Give ’em hell, 54!”

Edward Zwick was initially apprehensive about how his African-American cast would feel about this telling of a crucial part of their history by a young Jewish director. To his delight and relief, he found his cast to be very affable and good-humored towards him, some of them even grateful that he was brave enough to tackle such an important subject. Zwick and Denzel Washington (here in his breakout role) would continue to work together on other (successful) movies. The director later commented (during a promo tour for Courage Under Fire) that “Denzel is always doing something interesting. I don’t want to take the camera off him.”

Several of the extracts from Shaw’s supposed letters to his mother (in voice-over narration) were taken from Army Life in a Black Regiment, an 1870 book by Thomas Wentworth Higginson (who commanded the 1st South Carolina Regiment). The historical figures in this movie are: 1) Francis George Shaw, Sarah Blake Sturgis Shaw, and Ellen Shaw (direct relatives of Robert Gould Shaw), 2) John Albion Andrew, the governor of Massachusetts, 3) Charles Garrison Harker and George Crockett Strong, Union generals, 4) Charlotte Forten Grimké, an antislavery activist, 5) James Montgomery, Union colonel, and (6) Frederick Douglas, former slave turned abolitionist, speaker/activist.

Any negro taken in arms against the Confederacy will immediately be returned to a state of slavery. Any negro taken in Federal uniform will be summarily put to death. Any white officer taken in command of negro troops shall be deemed as inciting servile insurrection and shall likewise be put to death.” Full discharges will be granted in the morning to all those who apply. Dismissed. -Shaw reads a proclamation sent from the Confederate Congress

Zwick explained that, for the flogging scene of Trip (Washington in his Best Supporting Actor Oscar winning role), the actor was lashed at full contact, with a special whip, that would not cut his back, but still stung. For the final take, Zwick hesitated calling “Cut!” to signal the flogging to stop, and the result was Washington’s spontaneous tear down his cheek. The deep scars on Trip’s back were Washington’s idea; they showed how Trip was already a survivor of many lashings (being a runaway slave w/ a willful nature).

That Col. Shaw- he a hard man! -Jupiter Sharts comments, tired after a tough day of drills

He’s a boy. A scared white boy. -Trip quickly retorts with disgust

At first, the regiment is only given manual labor; this was a fact w/ the “colored” soldiers. They were also given less pay; in real life, Shaw was the one who protested this matter. As my A.P. American Government teacher commented, Shaw used his class privilege (incl. his sense of entitlement and rank) to get what is needed for his men (shoes, uniforms, and rifles); we see this in the scene in the Quartermaster’s office. Shaw is surprised at how quickly his men learn (even under their tough, racist Irish drill sergeant). Broderick’s small, youthful face and micro-expressions (when Shaw was uncertain, nervous, or looked in over his head) were played so well. Andre Braugher (currently on the comedy series Brooklyn Nine-Nine) has perhaps the most interesting role; Thomas is an educated, free man who has never before had to fight for his survival. Trip takes an instant disliking to Thomas; they come from such different backgrounds, though both are young black men yearning to prove their worth. Thomas was partly based on a successful freedman who owned a shop in Boston.

I ain’t fightin’ this war for you, sir. -Trip quietly explains to Shaw (after being praised for his skill in battle)

Unfortunately, most of Elwes’ scenes were cut from the film. He and Broderick did not get along, according to Zwick; I think they also had differing acting styles and personalities. Many scenes/subplots were cut from both the theatrical version and DVD; these include Shaw and Forbes attending school together and fencing one another. Nearly all of the scenes of veteran actress Jane Alexander (Shaw’s mother) were cut. Freeman (who brings gravitas to this film, being older and more experienced than his co-stars) did his own stunts, as Zwick asked of all his actors. He used his own experience (Air Force) to inform how relationships would be formed in the unit.

At the end of the film, Shaw is thrown into the mass grave with the black soldiers. Normally, officers were given formal burials, but the Confederacy had such contempt for the black regiment, that the officers were thrown in with the regular soldiers (w/ no honors). After the war, Shaw’s parents visited the site where their son had died. When asked if they wished to have his body exhumed, so they could take it home to Boston for burial, they declined. “We would not have his body removed from where it lies, surrounded by his brave and devoted soldiers,” explained his father, Francis George Shaw. “We can imagine no holier place than that in which he lies, among his brave and devoted followers, nor wish for him better company. What a bodyguard he has!”

Related Links

Article by historian (a consultant on the film):

Fathom Events: Glory

 

Die Hard (1988) starring Bruce Willis & Alan Rickman

I saw this (VERY well-known) action movie on Christmas Eve w/ a Meetup at AFI (I live across the street). I liked it a LOT more than I expected! And yes, it’s meant to be comedic and campy (esp. to young/modern viewers). Who wouldn’t love the dry “ho-ho-ho” spoken by Alan Rickman (as the villainous Hans Gruber)!? While the film was released in Summer 1988, it has since evolved into a Christmas movie (it takes place on Christmas Eve).

NYPD detective, John McClane (Bruce Willis), flies to LA to spend time w/ his estranged wife/business exec, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), and their two young kids. The family has been separated for several mos; Holly took a job (promotion) w/ a Japanese company, Nakatomi Corp, and John stayed back to wrap up some outstanding cases. Unlike many action movies, we get some time to learn re: the hero; John is nervous re: flying, hasn’t ridden in a limo (which Holly sends to pick him up from LAX), and is worried re: where his marriage stands. He carries a (comically) large teddy bear wearing a red bow- a gift for his kids.

On the 32nd fl. of Nakatomi Towers, Holly fends off advances from her egotistical/lecherous colleague, Harry Ellis (Hart Bochner); this is the type of scene you wouldn’t see in 2018. When John arrives, he meets the president of the company, Mr. Takagi (James Shigeta), and Ellis (while he’s brushing away cocaine from his nose (yet another thing NOT seen today). Holly eventually comes in; she’s wearing a watch (Rolex) which was given to her by the company. Holly shows John the executive washroom, where they argue re: her moving to LA and using her maiden name- Gennero.

It’s scripted so that the two of them end up talking over each other about what McClane’s idea of their marriage is, and it’s such an honest depiction of estranged spouses that I find myself forgetting what movie I’m watching when I get to that part. -Excerpt from IMDB review

Holly gets called back to the party by her (VERY pregnant) secretary. While John takes off his shirt and shoes and washes up, a dozen men (incl. some speaking in German) armed w/ an assortment of weapons, infiltrate the building. What do these men want? Are they terrorists? Everyone is rounded up in one spot, except for John, who peeks out after hearing gunshots and screams. There is an “EXIT” sign across the hall above a door, BUT (of course) he doesn’t take it to escape. He’s a cop; he has to get help and save Holly (along w/ the others), w/o being discovered.

[1] One could claim that “Die Hard” is one of the most influential action movies ever made, because it basically revolutionized one of the most copied (but never matched, at least in terms of quality) formulas: a loner, by some unique twist of fate, battles it out with an “x” number of terrorists [villains] in an enclosed environment.

[2] I always love when McClane talks to himself whenever he was about to do something crazy. 

[3] Die Hard even succeeds as a knowing commentary on the action film genre, dropping references to other action heroes, and exemplifies Bruce Willis as a new type of hero. One that can get hurt, one that feels pain, and one that actually has ties to the world.

[4] Rickman was amazing and it is one of the best bad guys performances and the one scene when we snaps at John’s wife is priceless.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

It’s a great pleasure to me to work on film now as well as on the stage. But it is no soft option. It isn’t easier. It’s in many ways more difficult, and it’s a different kind of a challenge. You have to think a lot quicker and be a lot more immediate. -Alan Rickman

Some Trivia Behind the Film

In the spring of 1987, producer Joel Silver and director John McTiernan attended a performance of the play Dangerous Liaisons, in which Alan Rickman played Valmont. They realized they had found Hans Gruber.

According to his German co-stars, Rickman did an excellent accent after researching German speech. English is a second language in Germany; Rickman even got the dialect of German correct. When Hans tells Takagi that he enjoyed making models as a boy, he says: “I always enjoyed to make models when I was a boy” (the correct German way to say it in English).

The scene in which Gruber and McClane meet was inserted into the script after Rickman was found to be proficient at mimicking American accents. The filmmakers had been looking for a way to have the two characters meet before the climax. This scene was also unrehearsed.

Die Hard: Hans meets McClane

For the shot where Hans falls from the top of the building, Rickman was actually dropped by a stuntman from a 20-foot high model. The stuntman dropped the actor on the count of two, instead of 3, so that shocked look on his face is real.

Matewan (1987) starring Chris Cooper, James Earl Jones, Mary McDonnell, & David Strathairn

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Director John Sayles at AFI Silver Theater on May 17, 2017.

I’d never seen this movie (part of DC Labor Film Fest this year) before, though I’m a BIG fan of independent director John Sayles. On this blog, you’ll find reviews of Passion Fish and Casa de Los Babys– two of his more female-centered works. In my view, Sayles was a “masculine feminist” even before the term became popular. He writes BOTH male and female characters who are multi-dimensional living inside stories which are realistic.

Now, you may be thinking- HOW does Sayles keep doing his own high-quality, yet rather low-budget projects!? He explained that his day job is “writer for hire”- he worked on movie and TV scripts, many of which didn’t get made by the big Hollywood studios. “In the past 15 years or so, studios seem to want their leads to be like Tony Soprano,” Sayles explained in the Q&A session after the film. (Most of the audience laughed at this part.) 

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Union organizer Joe Kennehan (Chris Cooper) addresses the miners.

Matewan is based on true events which occurred in a rural town in 1920s West Virginia. Some of the character names are real; others are amalgams of several people. When I first saw the trailer for the film two weeks ago, it reminded me of the Western genre (which Sayles was inspired by). The cinematographer here was Hollywood veteran Haskell Wexler (d. 2015); he won two Oscars, one for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and the other for Days of Heaven (1978)- considered one of the MOST beautiful films by critics and fans alike. The music is also a crucial element here; there is a blending of different styles.

A stranger- Union organizer Joe Kennehan (Chris Cooper in his first film role)- arrives in the town of Matewan. (Cooper plays the lead in Sayles’ Lone Star, which also stars a young Matthew McConaughey.) He gets a room at a boarding house run by a widow, Elma Radnor (Mary McDonnell- lead in Passion Fish), and her teenage son Danny (Will Oldham, then just 17 y.o.) Danny recently went to work in the mines, though he’s NOT yet 15 y.o. His real passion is preaching. 

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Few Clothes (James Earl Jones) is a representative/leader of the black miners.

Joe meets w/ (white/native born) coal miners at the local restaurant. These workers, struggling to form a union, are up against the Stone Mountain Coal Company operators and thugs from the Baldwin-Felts agency (basically guns for hire). Black and newly-arrived Italian immigrants, brought in by the company to break the strike, are caught in the middle. A tall, burly black miner- nicknamed Few Clothes (James Earl Jones)- boldly comes to this meeting. He’s an advocate for the African-American men brought in to work recently from further South. The local white miners don’t want to include the black men (or Italians) in the union; they consider these two groups to be a threat to their livelihood. (Well, some things NEVER change! And yeah, Italians were NOT considered “white” at this time in American history.)  

You think this man is the enemy? Huh? This is a worker! Any union keeps this man out ain’t a union, it’s a goddamn club! They got you fightin’ white against colored, native against foreign, hollow against hollow, when you know there ain’t but two sides in this world – them that work and them that don’t. You work, they don’t. That’s all you got to know about the enemy. -Joe explains to the white miners

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Police chief Sid Hatfield (David Strathairn) readies his pistol in his office.

I’ve met Mr. Felts. I wouldn’t pee on him if his heart was on fire. -Sid Hatfield tells the men from the Baldwin-Felts agency

This film contains some colorful characters, including stone-faced cop Sid Hatfield (David Strathairn). Kevin Tighe (a veteran of film and TV) and Gordon Clapp (who later made a name on NYPD Blue) play the main villains. Sayles is in the small role of a fiery, anti-union Baptist preacher. Producer Maggie Renzi (herself of Italian heritage) takes on the role of Rosaria, wife to one of the Italian miners and mother to several kids. Sayles and Renzi have been creative and life partners since their days as students at Williams College. Sayles also met Strathairn at Williams; they’re good friends. Local people (NOT professional actors) were used in MANY of the scenes of Matewan; they give authenticity to the film, as does the setting.

I think ALL the actors did a fine job; I esp. liked the characters played by Jones (what a great get for young filmmakers) and Renzi (who spoke in Italian). Cooper was the first actor who auditioned for the role of Joe; he had ONLY done theater before. Sayles revealed that several well-known actors also went in for the part, BUT he and Renzi kept thinking back to Cooper. As for Jones, they wanted someone like him, b/c they thought there was a small chance of the man behind Darth Vader taking on a supporting role. Well, you NEVER know until you try!

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

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Photo from the poster of the film

Hannah (Mia Farrow), Holly (Dianne Wiest), and Lee (Barbara Hershey) are sisters (somewhere in their 30s) from a show business family in Manhattan. Their parents, Norma (Maureen O’Sullivan- Farrow’s real mother) and Evan (Lloyd Nolan) are still together, though can be combative and cranky towards each other.

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Thanksgiving at Hannah and Elliot’s Upper West Side Manhattan apartment

Hannah has been married to Elliot (Michael Caine) for four years. He is a British financial advisor, but has a penchant for poetry. Unbeknownst to Hannah, he has developed feelings for Lee (revealed via his internal monologue at the opening of the film). 

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Elliot (Michael Caine)

However, Lee has been living for several years w/ an older European painter, Frederick (Max Von Sydow). He isn’t a people person, but is a boyfriend, mentor, and financial support for Lee.  

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A view of Central Park

Hannah is the success of the sibling trio, but taking a break from acting to raise her children. Her first husband, Mickey (Woody Allen), is a comedy show writer and hypochondriac. Mickey goes on a (rather funny) quest for religion, fearing he might die soon.  

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A flashback scene: Mickey (Woody Allen) and Holly (Dianne Wiest) at a concert

Holly is the insecure single sister who is a struggling actress; she recently started a catering business with her actress friend (or perhaps frenemy), April (Carrie Fisher). One time, Hannah even set up Holly w/ Mickey. (Wow, looks like even 30 yrs ago, there was a lack of eligible single men in NYC- LOL!)

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April (Carrie Fisher)

On a catering job, Holly and April meet an architect, Michael (Sam Waterston in an uncredited role). Michael was bored at the party, thought they were pretty, and ended up showing them around Manhattan, pointing out his favorite buildings. (That sounds like a cool date, or in this case- quasi-date!)

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Michael (Sam Waterston) meets Holly (Dianne Weist)

Michael takes Holly to the opera (which he loves); she gets excited about the potential for a relationship. April tells her that Michael also asked her to the opera when they meet after a rehearsal. (Uh oh, not a good sign!) 

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View of a bookstore in Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan

Elliot hangs around Lee’s neighborhood, then runs into her one afternoon. They browse through an old bookstore together. He doesn’t reveal his feelings, but insists on buying her a volume of e.e. cummings poetry. 

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Lee (Barbara Hershey) looks through a book of poetry with Elliot (Michael Caine)

I’d never seen this film before, though I’d heard about it many times. Both Caine and Wiest won Oscars for their roles. The dialogue is great, but you shouldn’t expect less from Allen (who wrote and directed). Though the themes are quite serious, there are some funny moments. I also enjoyed seeing the scenery of ’80s NYC- it was quite different from when I lived there (2005-2009). Check out this film for yourself!