If you read the Times in the online backdoor mode, and don’t pay for it, Page One: Inside The New York Times could be a goad to your conscience. Not an exposé, more a hagiography—and massively entertaining, at least to fellow travelers in imperiled journalism—Andrew Rossi’s doc spends 14 months with the men of the Times Media Desk: editor Bruce Headlam and reporter-writers Tim Arango, Brian Stelter and, the star of the show, David Carr. Amid revenue bleeding (stanched by a loan from Mexican telcom zillionaire Carlos Slim) and layoffs (100 in 2009, another 20 the next year), the Times is the Zsa Zsa Gabor of newspapers: the world keeps anticipating the demise of the ailing old Gray Lady, but she just won’t die. Carr, himself gaunt and flinty, says he can appreciate the Times because he came to it late in life (he looks about 80 but is probably in his 50s). “I have an immigrant’s love of the place,” he testifies, and testily defends the paper at a conference titled “Media Armageddon: What Happens When The New York Times Dies.”
A famously reformed crack addict, as he detailed in his 2008 autobiography The Night of the Gun, Carr aims jokes at the young ex-blogger Stelter—“He’s a robot created in the basement of The New York Times to come and destroy me”—to lend Page One the barbed, bantering tone of ’30s newspaper movies; his screen antecedent would be the crafty managing editor played by Oswald Perkins in the 1931 film of The Front Page. But the journalists here aren’t rapacious picture-snatchers and widow-beraters. They are the underdog saviors of a grand tradition, and Rossi’s doc is their 300. That would make Carr the movie’s Leonidas, with his long investigation of mismanagement and sexual predation at the Tribune Company serving as his own battle of Thermopylae. (Rossi was pretty clearly hoping the story would win Carr a Pulitzer; it didn’t.)
Carr’s tangy personality has celebrity, and maybe Aaron Sorkin sitcom hero, written all over it. Indeed, the film juiced his popularity; he, not Rossi, appeared on The Colbert Report to flack Page One. (Carr also Tweeted money quotes about the film.) Bill Keller, who during the movie’s shooting was The Times’ top editor, was replaced by Jill Abramson, the paper’s first woman boss. Just this week she was on CBS News Sunday Morning, promoting her own autobiography: a love story about a golden retriever called The Puppy Diaries: Raising a Dog Named Scout. So, in a mix of media, the paper now has all Internet obsessions covered, except for topless dancing. Mary will keep subscribing, and I reading, to see if the Times drops that last spangle.
Page One: A Year Inside The New York Times (2011)
Director: Andrew Rossi
With David Carr, Bruce Headlam, Tim Arango, Brian Stelter, Bill Keller
Magnolia Home Entertainment, $29.98
The Last Circus
Film festivals like Cannes and Venice can stoke strange passions. Critics fight to get into movies that no one back home would ever pay to see, but which, in the heady atmosphere of a European resort town, cue passionate debate. Such a film was Alex de la Iglesia’s Spanish horror parable. At Venice 2010, it was both denounced [EM] as a lurid panorama of degradation and self-mutilation [EM] and laureled: the Venice Jury, headed by Quentin Tarantino, gave it Best Director and Best Screenplay, and many observers inferred that QT awarded these prizes because he was a friend of the director. Nearly a year later, The Last Circus (known in Spain as Balada triste de trompeta) opened in U.S theaters. In two months, it has earned the grand sum of $37,295. Now it’s on DVD, and home viewers can decide whether to be enthralled or appalled.