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Topics/Questions/Exercises Of The Week—18 December 2009

Your Avatar: The journalist and opinion columnist Charles Lane has been getting a lot of smack from various progressive political blogs and bloggers for his criticism of some rhetorical flourishes made by Ezra Klein in wake of Joe Lieberman's...well, we're not really interested in all that at the moment. Anyway, he was recently awarded Atrios' coveted Wanker of the Day award by the influential lefty blogger Atrios, and if you are interested, that blog post will take you where you need to go. Anyway. With all this talk about Lane I got to thinking the same thing I did when I first saw Shattered Glass, and the below photos, I think, competently illuminate my question: "Was there ever a real life figure done more of a favor in his motion picture depiction than Charles Lane?"

I mean seriously. That's the real deal above. Putting aside the fact that he clearly doesn't know how to pose for a picture (which he really ought not be judged on, let's face it)...well, the guy simply doesn't radiate savoir-faire, that's one thing. Now let's have a look at Charles Lane as portrayed by Peter Saarsgard in Billy Ray's 2003 Glass.

Good looking, so refined. Contemplative. The gaze both steely and poetically faraway. And the tie. And the hair. I never thought of Peter Sarsgaard as a knockout before, but man. Look at him.

In her review of Inglourious Basterds earlier in the year, my pal Manohla Dargis dismissed the notion of a "suave film critic" as "a risible fiction." I posit here that the notion of a suave New Republic editor is even more risible. But there is no fiction so risible that a fine actor cannot sell it. So I hold: Sarsgaard and Ray did Lane one of the best favors of his life.

Of course, when one is on the subject of film fictionalizations of actual journalists, one recalls the standard-bearer, All The President's Men, in which Washington Post investigative dudes Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman respectively. One might argue that the glamorization factor in this picture is even moreso than in Glass, particularly given the pronounced resemblance Bernstein bears to Chewbacca in photo above. But the actual Woodward and Bernstein were not without a certain native charm, and went on to become real-life celebs of a sort themselves.

Also, Hoffman and Redford really underplayed in the roles. While Redford could not fully suppress the magnificence that was his genetic inheritance, he played everything else down, essaying an interesting portrait of Woodward as a somewhat socially maladroit data-nerd. Sarsgaard's Lane in Glass seems like something of a hipster in comparison.

So the question here, I suppose, should be two-fold: What are your favorite portrayals of journalists—real life or fictional—in motion picture, and what's the biggest difference between an actual person and his or her fiction film depiction you've ever seen?

Mac
I thought Will Ferrell and Bruce Mccullough’s characterizations of Woodward and Bernstein in Dick were very impressive and probably closer to the truth than Redford’s and Hoffman’s.
The New Republic laid off its online film critic, Chris Orr, earlier this week. Orr’s a colleague — I see him at screenings and count myself as a big admirer of his — so I hope this comment doesn’t launch a string of nasty replies about his work. I just thought you should know about the recent developments at TNR, in light of the above post.
I got pretty snotty about Orr over something or other back in the day—as many of you know, I can be like that—but I’ve come to respect his work quite a bit since them. So you’ll get no nasty reply from me, just an observation that it’s a shame and the hope that he’ll find rewarding work elsewhere. I think there had been some writing on the wall pointing to this eventuality a few months back: Marty Peretz, God love him, took a swipe at Chris on his blog, snarking about the fact that Chris covered movies Marty had never heard of and wouldn’t see even if he had heard of them. That sort of thing never bodes well!
Paul
I’ve always been partial to Billy Wilder’s “Ace in the Hole.” Certainly a little dramatized and over-the-top as a representation of journalism, but a good film in any case.
Big fan of Edward G. Robinson’s performance as a fictional newspaperman in Five Star Final. Burt Lancaster in Sweet Smell of Success and Kirk Douglas in Ace in the Hole are fun performances too. Guess I like them outsized.
check out… Edward Judd and co in Val Guest’s The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961) Warren Beatty in Alan J Pakula’s The Parallax View (1974) Kurt Russell in Phillip Borsos’s The Mean Season (1985)
Have you seen/heard the real Jon Ronson, played by Ewan MacGregor in The Men Who Stare at Goats? He’s a lovely fellow, but he has an extraordinarily nerdy voice. And I say that with deep affection. But still, he’s definitely been reinvented for the movie.
Dirk Bogarde’s only a (tv) journalist in an incidental way in DARLING but so are many journalists I’ve known. His casualness seemed authentic. Jacques Perrin’s suave, amoral but sympathetic tv investigator helps propell Z forward. Capra/Riskin’s reliance on the reporter trope is indispensable to Capra’s achievement—-Arthur-Mitchell in Mr. Smith, and Stanwyck—Gleason in John Doe are uniquely idiosyncratic depictions of men and women working together non-romantically. And then we’ll always have Chicago with Grant-Russell in His Girl Friday.
Deleted
“Edward Judd and co in Val Guest’s The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961)” Much as I love that film (very, very much), Judd’s absolutely ridiculous toupee definitely douses his sauve factor!

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