Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.
1. The Search for Local Investigative Reporting’s Future. Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight” has wracked up critical accolades for many reasons, but certainly one of them is that it valorizes the painstaking process of investigative reporting. It depicts how the Boston Globe Spotlight team spent day and night sifting through data and knocking on doors to uncover The Big Scoop, something that feels increasingly outdated in this new era. In light of the film, The New York Times’ Margaret Sullivan writes about the future of local investigative reporting.
For decades, local investigative reporting has been done largely by regional newspapers like The Globe. With their substantial staffs — often several hundred journalists — newspapers could do the painstaking, time-consuming and often unglamorous work that can lead to breakthrough stories. But now, with newspaper profits hit hard by the sharp decline in print advertising, and with newsroom staffs withered after endless rounds of cost-cutting layoffs, local investigative journalism is threatened. The director of “Spotlight,” Tom McCarthy, has been talking about that recently. The film he wrote with Josh Singer is gathering rave reviews, and there is talk of Oscars. But for newspaper readers around the country, the future seems hardly as rosy. “I’m not sure those who will see the movie will say: ‘Wow! That barely exists anymore.’ They are not going to know that it’s too late,” Mr. McCarthy told Variety in September. “The ice caps have melted. These papers are gone, they’re decimated.” Dean Baquet, executive editor of The Times (and a former Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter himself) told me that cities like his hometown, New Orleans, and those where he spent parts of his career — including Chicago and Los Angeles — all are suffering from the blows to local newspapers. “When I judge contests I see a lot of really good work, but there’s no way there’s as much of it now,” he said. “I do really worry about the decline of hard-hitting local coverage with a public-service mission.” The Times, which has maintained its large staff, has increased its commitment to investigative journalism on every desk, including Metro, Mr. Baquet said. Investigations of abuses at Rikers Island, the city’s “three-quarter” houses, and the Cuomo administration’s interference with the anti-corruption Moreland Commission all came from that locally oriented staff. And, although business prospects of The Times are far from assured, there’s good reason to hope that the paper will remain vibrant. But that’s far from true at most papers around the country. Newspaper staffs are down by 40 percent since 2003, according to the American Society of News Editors. Put more starkly, two of every five reporters have disappeared, leaving crucial beats vacant and public meetings without coverage. Statehouse reporter ranks have shrunk even more drastically, says the Pew Research Center. And predicting a turnaround in newspapers’ fortunes is a loser’s bet.
2. “The Leftovers” Is One of American TV’s Great Dramas (And It Deserves a Third Season). HBO’s “The Leftovers” is currently the most divisive show on the air. Its subject matter and execution demands a strong reaction, and it’s almost destined to be a “cult show.” Well, HBO still hasn’t renewed the series and there is rumbling that last Sunday’s finale will be its last episode. Vulture’s Matt Zoller Seitz argues that “The Leftovers” not only deserves a third season, but it’s one of American TV’s great dramas.
To watch “The Leftovers” is to leave all pretense behind, and experience the story as a child might experience a bedtime story, or as an adult (or a child) might experience a dream or nightmare, specifically a lucid one. There were, no joke, several points during season two (particularly “International Assassin” and the season finale) when I got so wrapped up in the show’s eerily powerful images and situations that I felt as if I weren’t watching the show, but having a dream about it. Everything has a tactile reality, from the sound of the coat hangers moving around as Kevin chooses a uniform in the dream hotel to the skritch-skritch of dry soil shifting as the resurrected Kevin claws his way up out of the earth. Everything is presented so matter-of-factly — one action leads inexorably to another not according to rules of “realism,” but through emotional or visual logic — that the entire show resists any attempt to critique it in terms of believability. Style-wise, 2015 TV’s closest equivalent to “The Leftovers” was the third and final season of “Hannibal,” another series that seemed to be unfolding entirely in figurative or metaphorical space. The characters feel like real people, and they feel real emotions (as do we), even though what’s happening from minute to minute makes no sense at all by the standards of our world. Based on Tom Perotta’s novel of the same name, and developed by Damon Lindelof (“Lost”) and Perotta, “The Leftovers” was strong right out of the gate, though at times too unmodulated in its gloominess — the necessary consequence of its premise, probably. It must be tough to maintain a light touch on a series about the aftermath of a mysterious event that made a percentage of the world’s population simply disappear, especially when the characters look so bereft at every moment. In season two, though, “The Leftovers” splintered and deepened its vision, building on storytelling experiments Lindelof had tried on his last major series, “Lost.” While some episodes this season, particularly the first two and the finale, were ensemble pieces, it more often focused its energy on a handful of major characters, following their journeys from start to finish in the space of an hour. Season two thus wove in and out of TV drama’s two dominant modes: the short-story anthology and the novel. This technique was, of course, characteristic of “Lost” as well (they might as well have titled this series “Loss”), but to its credit, “The Leftovers” dialed back the former’s arbitrary-seeming and often-audience-pandering twists, as well as its tendency to wildly oversell what co-creator J.J. Abrams (now the boss of the “Star Wars” franchise) has termed “puzzle-box storytelling.” The refrain of season two’s opening-credits song is “Let the mystery be” — the phrase might have been the watchword for “The Leftovers'” second season, which built out the show’s already-elaborate mythos, shifting the setting to a new location, adding new major characters, and fleshing out the “rule”” of this world without ever listing them in a tediously prosaic way. It seems obvious from watching this series that Lindelof, Perotta, and their collaborators have thought about why certain things are happening, and might even have a set of lists, flowcharts, and blueprints in the writers’ room somewhere, but they never show us their homework, and as a result, the show never feels like an equation that viewers can “solve” and then discuss purely in terms of their own mastery. The imaginative foundation of this story is, and should remain, like the foundation of a house: rock-solid but unseen. Otherwise it loses its magic. And this show is magic. To watch “The Leftovers” is to willingly surrender the imagination to a state of emotional openness, empathy, and intuitive understanding, not unlike the sensation I felt at age 16 when I woke up from a deep sleep to see my beloved grandfather, who had died two weeks earlier, standing in my doorway in his trademark coveralls and white short-sleeved shirt and bolo tie, telling me, “I just stopped by to let you know that I’m all right, and you don’t need to worry about me, and you’ll always be my buddy,” and then stepping away and gently closing the door behind him.
3. Can “The Hateful Eight’s” 70mm Roadshow Really Change the Future of Film? Over the past few weeks, there has been quite a bit of handwringing over the future of film, just in time for Quentin Tarantino’s new film “The Hateful Eight” set to be projected in 70mm this Christmas. Our own Sam Adams wrote about this very issue just a week ago, and concluded that it’s up to people like Tarantino and the public to demand the viewing experience they want, but does this roadshow really hold the future of film in its hands? The Verge’s Tasha Robinson tries to answer that question by examining the process of projecting 70mm.
Union projectionist Diego Gorbea, one of the IATSE Local 33 members who’s been hired to screen the film for the Director’s Guild in LA, says “Hateful Eight” has been playing “all over town for the last couple of weeks,” in a series of screenings for the DGA, the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and selected members of the public, none of which have had any issues. Though he didn’t work at the Crest screening, he says it suggests the kind of issues the roadshow may have in trying to train non-union, inexperienced staffers onsite on complex, unfamiliar equipment. The “Times’ article quotes Boston Light & Sound co-founder Chapin Cutler as saying the company will be handling projection for the tour on a case-by-case basis: “One way or the other, we will fulfill this need…It will be a combination of house staff that we can train, professional projectionists that we can bring in, projectionists that we can find locally, and potentially some technical staff that we’ll bring in.” Gorbea is dubious about the idea of jumping site staff into a series of high-profile screenings if they don’t already have significant 70mm experience. “In my experience, I would say that running 70 is a little more tricky. Usually you need to teach a baby to crawl before they can walk. Usually with projectionists, you teach them 35mm first, and then you move them to 70.” And the added challenges of working with outside equipment becomes significant, especially for “platter” theaters, where the film comes prebuilt as that single 350-pound reel. “By no means can you take someone who is not trained and run a platter show,” Gorbea said. “That’s just not going to happen. You have to thread up that thing through the platter, then through the projector, then back to the platter … The threading itself is more difficult.” On the other hand, projectionists working with single-reel projectors, and switching back and forth between them throughout the show, don’t have it much easier. “With platters, you only have to thread it up once,” Gorbea said. “With reel-to-reel — “Hateful Eight” is 11 reels long, so you have to thread it up 11 times, on two different projectors. There’s more room for mistakes.” For Tarantino, though, there’s more room for magic, as well. He still considers digital projection in theaters to be “HBO in public.” He’s holding onto history by holding onto 70mm and Ultra Panavision, but he means for the roadshow to echo history as well. The touring 70mm prints of “Hateful Eight” will include six minutes of extra footage, the kind of bonus used in traditional prestige tour shows to bring viewers to theaters for a special event. Tarantino and his cast explained more about his vision in an 8-minute featurette touting the excitement of the special event roadshow and the quality of the visual format. The word “glorious” comes up a lot. “Ultra Panavision!” Samuel L. Jackson enthuses. “When you absolutely, positively got to wow everyone in the room! Accept no substitutes!”
4. The Most Underrated Film Performances of 2015. As 2015 slowly wraps up, critics and writers take time to celebrate their favorite films that were released this year along with the many performances within them. However, there are so many good performances in any one year that it’s easy to overlook some. Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey picks the most underrated performances of the year.
Teyonah Parris in “Chi-Raq”: Parris is turning into one of our most reliably and breathtakingly chameleonic actors; if you (like me) did a double-take when you realized Coco from “Dear White People” was Dawn from “Mad Men,” then maybe you were prepared for the exciting possibilities of her tackling the lead role in Spike Lee’s modern-day take on “Lysistrata.” It’s not just that Parris so intoxicatingly captures the intelligence, toughness, humor, and sensuality of the role. She manages to take the trickiest elements, which could feel telegraphed and clumsy in the hands of a lesser actor — the rhyming-verse dialogue, the political proselytizing, the movements of metaphor — and make them feel fresh, instinctive, and alive.
Ben Mendelsohn in “Mississippi Grind”: One of the true joys of the past couple of years has been watching the great character actor Ben Mendelsohn make the transition from “that one guy” to “that guy,” if you know what I mean — he’s become one of those actors who makes audiences sit up and pay attention when he appears onscreen, whether it’s for ten minutes or 100. This late-summer gambling drama thankfully falls into the second category, with Mendelsohn in the dream role of a sad-sack born loser; our first look at his hangdog mug tells more backstory than reams of dialogue, and even his most casual line readings have a deadpan simplicity that’s endlessly engrossing. Mendelsohn knows this guy backwards and forwards, and resists any impulse to overplay. Who knows how many honest-to-God leading roles he’ll get, but this one is worth cherishing.
Kathryn Hahn in everything: Livewire Hahn has been a secret weapon for countless film- and television-makers for years now, and she puts a jolt into any project she waltzes into. But this year, she was particularly on fire. Her single scene (with an equally welcome Keegan-Michael Key) was a highlight of the unfortunate “Tomorrowland,” her brief but effective turn in the elder jumper “The Visit” dug out that picture’s surprising soul, and she turned what could’ve been a one-note throwaway role in “The D Train” into a real gem. But her best work of the year came in Peter Bogdanovich’s “She’s Funny That Way,” where her spurned wife is an ebullient screwball confection; Hahn rattles off her rat-tat-tat dialogue, slings accusations and insults like well-aimed arrows, and exudes both stymied anger and elegant sexiness without breaking a sweat. She’s been doing bit roles and second bananas for over a decade now, but it feels like we’re just staring to get an idea of what she’s capable of.
5. What Happens on a Typical Day in the Ultimate Movie Library. While we may know of people with extensive movie libraries or places that house a remarkable number of movies and respective supplemental material, it’s hard to hold a candle to The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science’s Margaret Herrick Library, which has an unprecedented collection that chronicles the history of film. On Medium, The Academy details some of their collection and what happens on a typical day in the library.
We manage, collect, catalogue, and provide access to amazing pieces of film history: The heart of our library is our Core Collection Reference Files, which include more than 250,000 files filled with article clippings and promotional materials from the earliest years of cinema through the latest releases. Some of these materials are acquired through generous donations and on a typical day the items that come into the library can be staggering. For example, this press book for the original “King Kong” (1933), which was recently restored by our conservation staff. Another recent addition was this 1962 want-ad featuring Bette Davis seeking work as an actress. As well as Marion Davies’ chest x-ray from 1950. In a recent acquisition, the Technical Services department was lucky enough to add a very rare exhibition book to the collection. Produced in 1930–1931, the book promotes the annual releases of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. This illustrated annual features a variety of stars and upcoming productions, including Ramon Novarro in a production entitled “Song of India,” which was released in August of 1931 as “Son of India.” The film “Madam Satan,” released in 1930, is featured in a gorgeous two-page illustration of a masquerade ball. This production was directed by Cecil B. DeMille with extravagant costumes designed by Adrian, and starred Kay Johnson and Reginald Denny. It is a daring foray into the realms of sexual allure and infidelity.
Tweet of the Day:
Any work of art that gives pleasure or stimulates thought, even if it doesn’t seem to parallel current events, is “as relevant now as ever.”
— #BRANDREW $ARRI$ (@NickPinkerton) December 8, 2015