Nightcrawler (and five of the best films about the media)
Since CNN mogul Ted Turner launched the first 24 hour rolling news channel in 1980, TV news broadcasting has become so ubiquitous, so all-pervading, that it's almost impossible to get through a day without seeing a brief flash of news on a screen somewhere. It's easy to take for granted, but step behind the scenes of any TV news bulletin and there, behind the news anchor's perfectly coiffured hair and brightly-coloured attire, are any number of people working to make that broadcast happen. From the studio's floor managers, directors and producers to the cameramen, journalists and operators working in the streets to bring you every grisly detail of the latest incident, there are many unsung heroes working to keep you abreast of the latest developments. Of all of these, perhaps one of the lest well known roles is that of the 'stringer', but that may be about to change.
Released next week on DVD & Blu-Ray, Dan Gilroy's new film, Nightcrawler, offers a rare insight into the world of the freelance men and women who roam the streets armed with a police radio scanner and a video camera, looking for that snippet of footage that will earn them their next pay cheque and and wind up being beamed into your living room.
Starring Jake Gylenhall, Nightcrawler recounts the experiences of Lou Bloom, an ambitious and driven young man living in Los Angeles who is desperately looking for work when he witnesses an accident and stumbles upon the world of crime journalism. Witnessing a team of stringers – or 'Nightcrawlers' as they are often called in the U.S. - going about their business filming shots of the incident in the hope of selling the footage to local news networks, Lou buys himself a video camera and sets himself up as a freelance video journalist. Although he is inexperienced and not as artful as some of his counterparts, his enthusiasm and desperation mean he often gets very close to to the action and before long his work catches the eye of a local news station producer named Nina Romina (Rene Russo).
Lou recruits an assistant and as his appetite for work increases, so do the risks he is willing to take to get the footage he needs. This includes disturbing crime scenes and failing to notify emergency services of accidents, among other things, and as Nightcrawler progresses Lou's appetite for getting the 'money shot' soon leads him to an inevitable conclusion when he finds himself mixed up in a murder case.
Dan Gilroy has been making a name for himself as a screenwriter in recent years and although this isn't his debut in the director's chair (having taken the reins from Paul Greengrass to direct The Bourne Legacy), this could be counted as the first time he's been able to make a film on his own terms and the result is pretty impressive. Gylenhall's performance is one of his most convincing yet and the film has already begun picking up awards for its director, so if you're into crime stories Gilroy's new film is definitely one worth checking out.
You'll be able pick it up in-store next week and you can find the trailer for Nightcrawler below, but in the meantime we've picked out five other great films on the subject of the media to get you in the mood...
Sidney Lumet is still one of the film industry's most highly regarded directors and was behind a string of great movies including Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon, but one of his most brilliant films is set in and around a TV news studio. Released in 1976, Network stars Peter Finch as Howard Beale, a TV news anchor who learns that, due to poor ratings, his show is due to be cancelled in two weeks. In response, he announces on air that in two weeks' time, on his final show, he will commit suicide live on air, which sends his ratings through the roof. What follows is a bitingly satirical account of an unscrupulous news network ruthlessly exploiting the nervous breakdown of one of its longest-serving employees in return for a fleeting increase in viewers.
As observations on the inner workings of television studios go, Network is as sharp, brutal and brilliant as they come. The film picked up four Oscars at the Academy Awards and the performances from a cast that includes Faye Dunnaway and Robert Duvall are just superb. We cannot recommend this film highly enough.
As directorial debuts go, they don't get much better than this. Widely regarded as a masterpiece – and rightly so – Orson Welles' first stint in the director's chair brought us Citizen Kane. Based around the exploits of fictional media mogul Charles Foster Kane (rumoured to be based on the real-life media mogul William Randolph Hearst), Citizen Kane is an unflattering account of a megalomaniacal newspaper proprietor whose thirst for power sees hime alienate everyone around him.
Often credited with the rise of 'yellow journalism', Hearst was so enraged by the film that he tried to stop it from being released, as well as using his newspapers and considerable influence to try and end Welles' career. Welles himself always kept quiet on the inspiration for the character, but the fact that Hearst tried so hard to stop the film arriving in cinemas suggest that there is more fact than fiction in this brilliant film. Not to be missed.
Spike Lee has earned himself a reputation outspoken commentator on equality in the film and TV industries and by the time Bamboozled arrived in cinemas in 2000 Lee already had some notable films to his name, including Do The Right Thing and Malcolm X, but for this film it's the TV industry that finds itself firmly in the crosshairs. Damon Wayans stars as Pierre Delacroix, a young, Ivy League educated black man working as a TV writer for a moronic boss who keeps rejecting his idea for a new show aimed at black American familes. In an attempt to get himself fired so he can free himself from his contract, he pitches another idea: the new minstrel show. Delacroix explains that in his version, rather than white actors made up in black faces, the show will have black actors made up “in even blacker faces”.
To his amazement, his boss (a white man who regularly drops the 'N' word into conversation and justifies it on the basis that his wife is black and he has two mixed-race children) thinks its a great idea and, as it transpires, so do the public. The show is an instant hit, but their success brings repercussions for everyone. If you're easily offended then this film might not be for you, but it's a smart, satirical account of the depiction of black people on American television delivered in a manner that only Spike Lee could pull off.
For a brief time during the mid-1990s, Stephen Glass was one of the hottest properties in journalism. Graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1994, he landed a job as an editorial assistant at one of America's most prestigious and well-respected magazines, The New Republic, where his writing talent soon saw him penning his own features. Gaining a reputation for breaking news stories, Glass turned out bizarre and sensational reports week after week and in a very short time his stories had seen him graduate from intern to hotly tipped young reporter. There was just one problem: he was making them all up.
Directed by Billy Ray - the man behind Captain Philips and the Hunger Games films - Shattered Glass tells the true story of how a young journalist fooled the world into believing his stories were real, right up until his editor began to suspect something was amiss and eventually proved that one of his young writers was repeatedly committing what amounted to journalistic fraud on a pretty monumental scale. 27 of the 41 articles Glass wrote for The New Republic were found to contain at least some fabricated material and this captivating film illustrated the lengths he went to to corroborate some of his far-fetched tales. If you have a natural distrust for journalists anyway, this film will do nothing whatsoever to change your mind.
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
Those who know that name Chuck Barris will remember him as the TV producer behind The Dating Game and The Gong Show, the latter of which he presented himself, so you have him to thank for shows like Take Me Out and Britain's Got Talent. What you may not know, however, is that in 1984 he released a book containing his memoirs, which he named Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. In the book, he claims that while he was working at the height of his television career he was also leading a double life as an assassin for the C.I.A.
A directorial debut for George Clooney, his 2002 screen adaptation stars Sam Rockwell as Barris, charting his recruitment into the Agency while his life is at a low ebb and detailing some of the bizarre situations Barris claims happened. These include the fact that many of the holiday 'prizes' in The Dating Game involved trips to bizarre locations that were, Barris claims, designed to put him in the right place to carry out an assassination while posing as a chaperone for the young couple. Skeptics have dismissed Barris' claims as little more than the ramblings of an attention-seeking madman, but whatever the truth it sure makes for an entertaining movie.