By Diana Abou-Saleh
Citizen Kane (1941)
“Citizen Kane” is a classic American tragedy that is viewed by many critics as one of the most significant motion pictures of all time. The director and protagonist is Orson Welles, a young and innovative filmmaker at the time. The film also represents the summit of Welles’ filmmaking career. “Citizen Kane” was nominated for nine Oscars, but only won one for best screenplay due to the controversy it caused.
For the most part, “Citizen Kane” is a flashback of Charles Foster Kane’s life as described by those who knew him. The movie opens with a view of an isolated, fog-shrouded eerie castle on a hill. This place, called Xanadu, is the dwelling of Kane.
Within moments of the film’s eerie opening, Kane is dead, but not before whispering the word “rosebud.” The news travels quickly and The New York Inquirer is perplexed and confused at Kane’s last word. Generally, the film focuses on The New York Inquirer’s Jerry Thomson’s quest to understand the significance behind Kane’s last words.
Kane is portrayed as a man of greed and power who ultimately brings ruin to himself. Kane’s vision starts when he builds The New York Inquirer with the help of a friend. A publication that once had a circulation of less than 30,000 becomes the most successful newspaper in the nation.
“Citizen Kane” carries a snapshot of journalism practices during the first half of the 20th century. Back then, journalism was seen as business more than anything else. Most of the newspapers of the ‘40s believed in selling themselves more than reporting the important news of the time or the truth, as the film depicts.
Shattered Glass (2003)
“Are you mad at me?” is Stephen Glass’ famous line. A line that actor Hayden Christensen, who plays Steve Glass, repeats throughout the film “Shattered Glass.” Glass knows he messed up. Yet, he is also aware of his charming personality and uses that to dazzle his colleagues and ensure that everyone is on his side. Without a doubt, no one is mad at Steve. Not yet, at least.
Directed by Billy Ray, the film “Shattered Glass” tells the true account of one of the most dishonest journalism scandals in America. Stephen Glass is a young, charismatic writer/editor who wrote for Washington’s political magazine, The New Republic. Glass is no ordinary reporter. He is a talented storyteller who chooses to elaborately fabricate most of the stories he writes. Christensen portrays Glass smoothly — he is the perfect brown-noser desperate for approval.
Journalism culture is heavily portrayed throughout the film. For instance, when Glass is speaking at his former high school, he explains to students the responsibilities of a journalist by telling them about the development of a news article –the writing, the editing, the fact-checking process and editing all over again until the piece looks right. His words, full of hypocrisy and deceit, are received with admiration and respect by the students. Ironically, all of the responsibilities he mentions are standards that he corruptly abuses in one way or another.
“Shattered Glass” also skillfully reflects the nature of journalism through the hectic atmosphere of The New Republic: peer-to-peer editing, staff meetings, discussions, deadlines, and staying up late. Needless to say, the film is must-see for future journalists because it captures the essence of journalism.
All The President’s Men (1976)
“All The President’s Men,” a political thriller directed by Alan J. Pakula, tells the story of one of the biggest political scandals in America: Watergate. Starring in the film are Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein and Robert Redford as Bob Woodward, the two reporters who broke the story that ultimately led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation.
The year was 1972 in an era of doubt. The film opens with the notorious break-in of the Democratic National Headquarters of the Watergate Building. All five men were caught. The Washington Post assigned Bernstein and Woodward to cover the story.
At times, Bernstein and Woodward’s investigative duty seems to drag on and on to the point that it seems like they are getting nowhere. Pakula combines a political account with a genuine telling of the struggles encountered by journalists when breaking a huge story.
Pakula also intends to give journalism tips while simultaneously developing the plot. For instance, from this film, a journalist learns to follow one’s instincts and take risks to uncover the truth at all costs, even if the person hurt happens to be the president of the United States.
“All the President’s Men” leaves the audience compelled to accompany Woodward and Bernstein on their search for the truth.
The Paper (1994)
Ron Howard’s “The Paper” is a high-energy comical drama that captures a day in the life of Henry Hackett, the assistant managing editor of The Sun, a daily New York newspaper. The paper has always been an underdog tabloid and now finds itself on the brink of bankruptcy.
The staff members are a witty bunch of individuals who live in their own world. Still, one thing that The Sun has to be proud of is the accuracy of its articles.
The story centers on two black teenagers who are framed for a murder that they did not commit. Hackett believes this could become a big story for The Sun and eventually discovers a police conspiracy. Hackett’s ultimate struggle is to convince Alice Clark, the paper’s other managing editor, to dig deeper for the truth instead of printing a trivial story of the teens’ arrest.
Unlike “All the President’s Men” or “Shattered Glass,” “The Paper” reveals a more entertaining and comical approach to the newspaper business. The film explores another aspect of working as a journalist – it can consume your personal or social life. In the film, Hackett is so obsessed with finishing a story that he leaves his pregnant wife and parents waiting at a restaurant.
Almost Famous (2000)
“Almost Famous” is a sentimental film set in the ‘70s – a time of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll – that tells the story of director and writer Cameron Crowe in his early teenage years as guest writer for Rolling Stone magazine.
When William Miller, a high school journalist, is handed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to write for Rolling Stone, he goes on a tour with the fictitious band Stillwater. On tour, he goes to concerts, parties, becomes friends with Russell Crudup, the band’s lead guitarist, and falls in love with Penny Lane, a so-called “Band Aid.”
It all seems great fun, until the end of the trip. After William sells his story to Rolling Stone, the band denies the article’s accuracy, seeing that the story did not make them look good.
Before going on tour, rock critic and mentor Lester Bangs suggests Miller “be honest and unmerciful” in his writing. As if predicting the boy’s future, Lester warns him not to make friends with rock stars.
The film does not follow the traditional trail of newspaper writing because it is about a music journalist delving into the world of rock music. Instead, the film focuses on capturing the action of the story Miller is trying to tell.