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Arts & Culture

Rob Edelman: Oscars and Journalists

Momentarily, the latest Academy Award ceremony will be at center stage. Combine this with a new U.S. president who has declared war on the media, and it is well-worth recalling that the Best Picture Oscar winner from just a year ago celebrates the importance of journalism in a free society. That film is SPOTLIGHT, and it is the fact-based tale of reporters who doggedly knock on doors and ask questions, all in a search for truth. The bottom line in SPOTLIGHT is that, if not for the tenaciousness of the Boston Globe journalists presented in the film, would we ever have known about the long, distressing history of a massive scandal involving the sexual abuse of children and its cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese?

Furthermore, SPOTLIGHT is not the only Best Picture Oscar winner that is fact-based, and that centers on journalistic derring-do. Back in 1976, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN took home the prize. Here, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (who are played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman) unearth the particulars of the Watergate scandal. They exposed the lies of one U.S. president, Richard Nixon, and this directly resulted in his resignation.

Across the years, other American films have celebrated the value of journalists in our culture. One of my favorites is DEADLINE – U.S.A., which dates from 1952 and which was released to home entertainment this past summer. I cited this film at the time, and these observations are well-worth recalling.

At its core, DEADLINE – U.S.A. ruminates on the significance of journalism in a free society, what journalism should be in a free society, and how steadfast reporters often place their personal lives on hold just to do their jobs. Humphrey Bogart plays the fast-walking, fast-talking managing editor of The Day, a forward-thinking big city paper dedicated to reporting “the facts, and the meaning of those facts.” In the course of a brief time period, he must deal with a range of crises. They involve everything from exposing the nefarious activities of the local crime boss to dealing with advertisers who pressure editors regarding the content of news coverage to responding to the news that his paper is about to be sold to a competing tabloid.

Briefly, other films have centered on journalism American-style. Some are fact-based, others not. Some herald reporters while others expose their flaws. A short list includes THE INSIDER, THE KILLING FIELDS, THE PAPER, ACE IN THE HOLE, ABSENCE OF MALICE, BROADCAST NEWS, and the various versions of THE FRONT PAGE. And as for journalism on TV, you might recall LOU GRANT, the Emmy Award-winning CBS series which aired between 1977 and 1982.

And finally, as for this year’s Oscars, I would bet that LA LA LAND will walk off with the Best Picture prize, not to mention a slew of other citations. These days, musicals are not in vogue, but LA LA LAND has been doing surprisingly well at the box office, and for reasons that go way beyond its superior quality.

At is core, LA LA LAND is pure escapism, and that escapism even transcends such films as LION and HIDDEN FIGURES: issue-oriented yet crowd-pleasing Best Picture nominees that center on individuals who, through sheer determination, are able to transcend their quandaries. These days, when so many films dwell on graphic, in-your-face violence or deal with issues ranging from terrorism to child abuse and bullying, a film like LA LA LAND is a Hollywood fantasy of the highest order.

Rob Edelman has authored or edited several dozen books on film, television, and baseball. He has taught film history courses at several universities and his writing has appeared in many newspapers, magazines, and journals. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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