I don’t play thigh and knee-slap drums like I did in my teens and 20s, but I got into the habit of always carrying around a pocketful of silver for high-hat and cymbal effects. Mostly dimes, some quarters. Last week I asked a bank teller for some Kennedy half-dollar coins and for some reason she had a few Eisenhower dollars (’71 to ’78) to spare. It just feels right to carry them around. The more of a jingly sound, the better. The other night at a West Hollywood falafel joint I was out of singles so I gave an Eisenhower to a young female cashier. She studied it, caressed it, moaned slightly. I guess the more accurate word is cooed.
Cinema Guild has been screening Asghar Farhadi‘s About Elly, his 2009 masterpiece, for New York-area critics but not LA-area critics…yet. It opens in New York this Friday (4.8) but not in Los Angeles and other cities until early May. I’ve been hearing for years about Elly, made and released two years before A Separation (’11), but it hasn’t had any kind of U.S. theatrical release until now. So today I asked the Cinema Guild guys if I could please be sent a DVD screener or be allowed to watch it online. That’ll happen tomorrow, I gather.
“It’s just an accident that we happen to be on earth, enjoying our silly little moments, distracting ourselves as often as possible so we don’t have to really face up to the fact that, you know, we’re just temporary people with a very short time in a universe that will eventually be completely gone. And everything that you value, whether it’s Shakespeare, Beethoven, da Vinci or whatever, will be gone. The earth will be gone. The sun will be gone. There’ll be nothing. The best you can do to get through life is distraction. Love works as a distraction. And work works as a distraction. You can distract yourself a billion different ways. But the key is to distract yourself.” — Woody Allen in a 2013 “What I’ve Learned” Esquire piece.
I don’t know if I have much of a regular-type life these days (i.e., “barbecues and ball games“) but writing Hollywood Elsewhere sure as hell provides nine or ten hours’ of distraction each and every day, including Sundays. “Don’t let your work get in the way of your life,” they all say. The motto around here is “don’t let your life get in the way of banging out five or six posts day plus your exercise hour plus hitting the evening screenings.” And I’ll tell you this much. It’s never easy. Sometimes it pours out without too much difficulty and sometimes you’re pushing a rock up a hill, but it’s never like skimming stones across the pond. It always takes it out of you.
Over the last 12 years there have been, by my count, three significant films about journalistic screwups at major publications, two of them concerning the N.Y. Times. 2003 saw the release of Billy Ray‘s Shattered Glass, about the exposure of several fabricated news stories by New Republic staffer Stephen Glass. Ten years later Samantha Grant‘s A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power, and Jayson Blair at the New York Times, a documentary, was released. And on 4.17 Rupert Goold‘s True Story, a truth-based thriller based on a memoir by discredited N.Y. Times reporter Michael Finkel, will hit theatres. I’m now betting that within a couple of years we’ll be watching a fourth movie in this vein, one about the staggering screw-up by Rolling Stone reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdel and her editors in the UVA rape story of 2012, which has now been retracted and discredited. The Rolling Stone saga has the potential to be All The President’s Men in reverse — not a story of a liar or a plagiarist but an entire news organization turning a blind eye to basic journalistic essentials because the news story presented a politically correct legend — i.e., campus rapes are commonplace and college authorities rarely seem to do enough to adequately condemn or prevent them.
The moviegoing public will never be that interested in films about journalistic malfeasance, but Shattered Glass, at least, was a gripping, above-average melodrama about faking it in order to get ahead. It regarded an anxious American go-getter mentality that lusted for fame regardless of how that fame is achieved, and in so doing seemed to put its finger on something unsettling in the culture. In my view there’s something just as unsettling contained in the story of Rolling Stone reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdel and her editors in the reporting and almost total lack of fact-checking of the UVA “Jackie” story, which has now been retracted and discredited. It’s basically a tale of a reporter who so believed in the politically correct legend contained in a story about a gang rape of a woman named “Jackie” at the University of Virginia that Erdel (and her asleep-at-the-wheel editors) decided that the “facts”, ignored or unexplored as they seem to have been, weren’t as important as the general story it told, and how that story supported a description of a deplorable problem (i.e., campus rape is definitely prevalent today) that the p.c. crowd wanted to call attention to in a big way.