Wednesday, June 22, 2005

"This is great! It writes like butter -- I mean there is actual butter coming out of my pen."

My friend from high school used to repeat this quote to me all the time (either that or I'm totally making this up), and I'd look at him with a blank stare. He was shocked: I worked on the school paper and had never seen The Paper, that great 1994 Michael Keaton-Glenn Close movie?

Yes, it's taken me a decade to get around to it, but I finally ordered it from the library and watched it tonight. It's not a masterpiece, but it's definitely worth watching for anybody who's ever had newsprint running through their veins. That quote, spoken by Randy Quaid's character McDougal, is full of the rush of a hot story breaking on a tight deadline, and it was hilarious to actually hear it after all these years. It actually felt more like Quaid was quoting my friend, instead of the other way around.

The plot contrives one of those insane days where everything inside and outside of the tabloid newspaper world crashes together for several people typically chained to the newsroom. You can sort of imagine what's going to happen from the opening scene, when two (basically) innocent black teenagers happen upon a double murder of two white businessmen, framed to look like a racial slaying. There are a few surprises along the way, which keep it interesting, but it's mostly paint-by-numbers don't-you-love/hate-days-like-this drama.

As the film ages, a few things stick out for me:
  • The murders happen in Williamsburg, which I guess at the time was not quite the hip hangout that it's become today, especially what with the talk of potential race riots occurring as a result.
  • The newspaper's 8 o'clock deadline (which they shockingly(!) break during the course of the movie) seems extremely early by today's standards. Don't most mainstream big-city papers close a bit later than that each night, like 11 or 11:30?
  • The "New York Sun" is still printed on presses in the basement of the main offices; and yet more and more big papers are printed offsite these days.
  • During a scene with a police source, Keaton's character Hackett makes an awed mention of the Penn State Nittany Lions' football team at one point, which made me a little wistful. (They went on to have a massive unbeaten season in '94.)
  • There's a two-scene appearance by Spalding Gray, who committed suicide last year. He plays a top editor at the impressed-with-itself "New York Sentinel," a stand-in for the old Gray Lady (get it). When Hackett is snubbed for a job there because he secretly snags a story tip from Gray's character during an interview, he is told that he won't get a chance to "cover the world." In a famous (profanity-filled) scene, Keaton yells back over the phone something like, "I don't live in the f-ing world. I live in f-ing New York City."
  • And at the time of the movie, the Sun as a newspaper name hadn't been used in the city for decades. (Remember what Papa says? "If you see it in The Sun, it's so.") Today, there's an upstart broadsheet that goes by that name.
In the movie's credits, two tools of the journalist's trade are gratefully acknowledged: "QuarkXPress" and "Adobe Illustrator." The building at 127 John Street is also thanked: I'm pretty sure that's where they shot scenes of the Sun newsroom, with its nearby view of the Brooklyn and Williamsburg bridges (and another skyscraper that was under construction at the time -- not sure which one). Thus, the Sentinel's offices are spoken of as being "uptown."

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