Saturday, July 26, 2008

Pantheon movie of the month - BROADCAST NEWS

Before James L Brooks became famous as the writer of THE SIMPSONS, he was famous for making award-winning tragi-comic cinema. Indeed, with AS GOOD AS IT GETS, he proved he could still do it. BROADCAST NEWS is, to my mind, his best film. It's a wonderfully funny, chillingly perceptive movie about the kind of relationships that over-achieving careerists have, and the decline in the quality of public discourse. Unlike NETWORK, the brilliantly cruel satire of the "dumbing down" of television, BROADCAST NEWS has a heart. And unlike George Clooney's more recent homage to the good old days of journalists with integrity, GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK, BROADCAST NEWS has a sense of humour. In short, BROADCAST NEWS is the most wonderful of films: intelligent; funny; scabrous, but never despairing.

The movie opens with a brilliant little intro to its three main characters as kids. First up is a cute but dumb kid called Tom who wonders what a cute but dumb kid can do for a living. Answer: network news anchor! We then switch to a high-energy, highly-strung kid called Jane who berates her father for applying the word "obsessively" to her incorrectly. Caption: network news producer. We then switch to a nerdy kid called Aaron, who berates the school bullies as he graduates early: "You'll never earn more than $19,000!". Caption: network investigative journalist. So there you have it: the philosophical and emotional triangle has been established. Jane is the ambitious editor who admires everything Aaron stands for and sympathises with him. They're the smart kids who hate the dumb, beautiful people who are killing intelligent news coverage. Problem is, Jane doesn't fancy Aaron. Worse still, she's falling for Tom's open charm and winning good looks.....

BROADCAST NEWS gets so much right. We care about the three main characters. We ache for Aaron, with his unrequited love; we are confused with Jane; and we fall for Tom's charm. Their emotional entanglements, flaws and foibles seem real. Albert Brooks, Holly Hunter and William Hurt are all excellent in their respective roles. The supporting cast of characters is full of recognisable types and odd-balls - notably Joan Cusack as Jane's assistant and Jack Nicholson as the hard-assed Network anchor. But what James L Brooks really gets is how seductive the adrenaline-rush of the deadline-driven job can be. We all know that it's unhealthy - a little off-balance, but that feeling of camaraderie and achievement when you've pulled it out of the hat at the last minute? Brilliant.

The only tiny flaw with this film is the denouement, which is just a little too pat. And I guess that such a flaw should disqualify BROADCAST NEWS from being a pantheon film on my own rules - a film of which I would change not a frame - of which every component is perfection - and the combination magnifies their brilliance. But frankly, this movie is so damn good other than those three minutes, I can break my own rules!

BROADCAST NEWS was released in the US in 1987 and played Berlin 1988 where Holly Hunter won the Silver Bear. At the Academy Awards, it lost Best Film to THE LAST EMPEROR; William Hurt lost Best Actor to Michael Douglas for WALL STREET; Holly Hunter lost Best Actress to Cher for MOONSTRUCK; it lost the Best Screnplay award to John Patrick Shanley for MOONSTRUCK; it lost Best Cinematography to Vittorio Storaro for MOONSTRUCK; it lost Best Editor to Gabriella Cristiani for THE LAST EMPEROR. On the whole, as much as I love BROADCAST NEWS I can't disagree with these choices. MOONSTRUCK is a great film and both Nic Cage and Cher are outstanding in it. And as for WALL STREET, BROADCAST NEWS is by far the more intelligent, prescient film, but Michael Douglas' performance is iconic. BROADCAST NEWS is available on DVD and on iTunes.

No comments:

Post a Comment