TVRA 1165 – Mass Media Archive

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More Than Great Legs – Sloan Sabbith Character Study

If there’s one character that really stands out to me on Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, it’s Sloan Sabbith. Played by the devilishly gorgeous Olivia Munn, Sloan is the only female character that has a truly complete character arc in the first season. As she transitions from a shy, socially awkward college girl to a dominating force and true student of honest news and investigative journalism, the audience has the chance to learn, grow and experience News Night alongside her.

A stunningly beautiful actress, comedian and Atlantis Cable News personality!

A stunningly beautiful actress, comedian and Atlantis Cable News personality!

 

When The Newsroom began, Sloan really wasn’t an integral part of any single story. At first, I assumed that she was a lower-level staffer on the News Night team, someone who was there to fact check and work out statistics and data. Since she was thrown in the corner and wasn’t given any real screen time, I didn’t think anything else was possible. Don even called her his “fourth and only choice”  when he needed her to fill in another newscaster’s time slot in one of the first episodes. As the season progressed however, people like McAvoy and MacKenzie started letting the audience know how smart she really was–who knew that she received a PhD in Economics at Duke University and studied under some of the country’s greatest economic minds!?

After being acknowledged as News Night’s Senior Financial Reporter, Sloan was given five minutes every night to “tell us where we are and how we got here” by MacKenzie. At this point in the show, the audience really started getting to know Sloan as a female professional in the American broadcast television workplace. Compassionate, quirky and knowledgable, Sloan captured the attention of a lot of ACN people very quickly. She was given more tasks to discuss the state of the economy and was asked to cover more stories, occasionally being allowed to fill in for missing reporters.

The most notable instance where she filled in for someone else was during the Fukushima power plant meltdown.At this point in the show, Sloan had really only focused on financial stories and helping MacKenzie try to better understand economics for a speech she had to give. Always helpful and always eager to learn, Sloan didn’t back down–she accepted the story and made the egregious mistake of using off-the-record information on live television. This is one of the parts of the show that I remember the most, specifically because it’s such an honest human error. When I worked for the Queens Chronicle newspaper, I spoke to assemblymen and local politicians off the record multiple times, and it was always hard to hear them say things to me that they didn’t necessarily say in public. No matter how much journalists would like to publish or broadcast everything they hear off-the-record, they simply can’t–it’s a matter of not only ethics and principle, but legal responsibility and overal believability.

In Sloan’s case, she caused panic in Japan based on information that hadn’t been formally released yet. Although she thought she would save lives and prove that the nuclear plant and government was not being truthful in their assessments of the meltdown level at the plant, she caused more problems than fixed them. It’s moments like this that remind the audience that everyone makes mistakes. Sloan was still learning how to do the news and do it well, and it’s safe to say that she learned a lot from that experience. Thankfully for her, McAvoy and Skinner loved her too much to let her get fired, so they had her lie (one of the only times they allowed a blatant lie to be aired) to save her job and the honor of the Japanese spokesperson she quoted.

In a video interview with Munn, she said that newsworthy is defined as something that the people “need to know.” Even during and after het worst mistake, Sloan was only thinking about the people and what they needed to know.

 

By the end of the show, Sloan had become extremely comfortable with live reporting. So much so that we would often only catch the ending of her segments on the economy and finances today. When it reached that point that MacKenzie, McAvoy and Skinner were confident that she knew what she was doing and how to get it done right, they didn’t have to watch her do it anymore.

As for Sloan’s social life, she also stood out to me as a character that went from a state of total social awkwardness to emotional understanding and bravery. In the first half of season one, she was always trying to help McAvoy, Don and MacKenzie with emotional issues and problems. Even though she didn’t have a boyfriend herself (or any real relationship experience at all, for that matter), she did her best to answer the questions of her coworkers and friends. I can really connect to this, because I’ve been helping friends with relationship problems and dating issues ever since the start of high school even though I’ve never really been involved in a relationship myself. Most people would think that this would limit the amount of help you can give, but I find that when you listen to everyone else’s problems and experiences, you’re able to form a database of knowledge that you can access to help others–and I definitely see Sloan accessing hers.

Always watching and always learning, Sloan has carried herself through one hectic season of work for News Night.

Always watching and always learning, Sloan has carried herself through one hectic season of work for News Night.

 

Towards the second half of the season, Sloan began standing up for what she thought was right. She began telling people like McAvoy, Neal and Don how she felt about them and what they should really think of themselves. In Don’s case, Sloan was courageous enough to say that she was “only single because [Don] never asked [her] out,” which was no doubt a hugh emotional boundary for her to jump. Although this did finalize her character’s emotional arc and bring her into a new stage of bravery and honesty, I did find it odd that she admitted this when she never really displayed any feelings or affection towards Don throughout the show. Don had asked her questions about problems with Maggie before, but Sloan only helped him as much as she did everyone else. Since she never gave Don any special attention or praise, it makes the audience wonder why she feels the way she does for a guy that really isn’t all that great.

Since she admitted to turning down an annual salary of four million dollars with a financial firm to serve the country and the News Night team, Sloan has clearly grown attached to the people involved in the News Night team. If I were her, I would stay with the News Night 2.0 team, too. Through the bonds she’s developed and trust she’s gained as the Senior Financial Reporter, Sloan is definitely learning that some things in life mean more than money and notoriety (cliche, sure, but Sloan absolutely displays this level of understanding by the final episode). Compared to other women on the show like Maggie and MacKenzie, Sloan comes off as smarter, sexier and more dominating (both physically and verbally) than anyone else. Getting thrown up against the wall by Sloan after calling her butt big must’ve been some experience, Neal!

For Sloan’s character in season two, I really hope to see her continuously becoming a more important, dominating force on the News Night team. As she takes on more stories and projects and continues to work under and alongside McAvoy and MacKenzie, I’m fairly confident that she’s on the straight path to success. Even if News Night were to fail or be cancelled, I don’t think there’s any doubt that a financial company (investing, marketing, actuarial services, etc.) would hire her in a heart beat.

Ms. Sabbith, you’re one strong women. If there’s anything I have to say to you, it’s keep your eyes clear and your heart open. You’re smart enough to know (on book-smart and street-smart levels) when someone or something is good for you and when that same person or thing is bad for you, and that kind of knowledge mixed with a PhD from Duke and McAvoy’s tutelage will take you places. Stay beautiful, sistah.

 

References:

HBO’s The Newsroom – Sloan Sabbith, HBO Website

@SloanSabbithACN, Twitter

The Newsroom Season One, Episodes One – Ten

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“We Told the News” – The Newsroom Season One Reflection

I worked in a newsroom once. Only it was called “The War Room” in my case. It wasn’t for a televised news show like Atlantis Cable News, but for the Queens Chronicle, the most widely read and distributed print newspaper in Queens.

During my time at the QC, I leaned a lot about print journalism, advertising, marketing and bureaucracy. I got to experience all different kinds of events and occurrences, from the Wiener scandals and Queens-based political campaigns to NYPD raids and health care festivals. All the while, I was meeting new people, both journalists I worked with at the QC and reporters from other papers.

Despite all of the aforementioned benefits of working on a very popular and widely-read newspaper, there are a few things that I never saw or heard take place: in-office relationships, verbal wars with publishers/the media gatekeepers, and scandalous choices to publish controversial news stories, just to list a few examples. Others who have worked in newsrooms (and even other workplaces) have experienced one or two of these things here and there, but I’ve never seen or heard of anyone who saw them all pile up together.

This all leads me to pretty much the main thing I dislike about The Newsroom: its unrealistic nature. Despite its accurate representation of various people, politicians and corporate bigwigs, Aaron Sorkin’s show has proven time and time again that all it is is a fictional television show meant to draw in an audience and entertain. For any television show this is pretty much necessary for survival, and I completely understand that. But for a show that goes to great lengths to convey messages about the current state of investigative journalism and the US fourth estate as well as the nation’s interpretation of what purpose television serves in society today, I wonder why so much of it stands out as unreal.

The Newsroom perfectly portrays life in a bustling news room. Go figure!

The Newsroom perfectly portrays life in a bustling news room.

 

Take for example the way characters talk to one another. There’s not enough fumbling with words! There’s never a loss for some great emotional revelation or realization about why we humans do what we do (why we love who we love, hate who we hate, side with who we side with, etc). Even in the cases of the love triangles (McAvoy and MacKenzie, and Maggie, Jim, Don and Sloan) there’s never a point where things stop and nothing is said. There’s always something going on, and the rapid pace of these relationships almost never slows.

These relationships are also the only other thing that I think works against the show. In real life, love triangles and quadrangles like the ones portrayed on The Newsroom are simply too perfect. Throughout the first season, I always had issues in believing that Maggie continuously wanted to stay with Don even though Jim offered her so much more love and respect. Granted, Jim continuously chose to stay with Lisa, so it wouldn’t have really mattered what Maggie chose anyway.

These kinds of crazy triangles not only draw attention to the way The Newsroom tries to appeal to viewers of soap operas, but it detracts from the intelligence these women are supposed to have. They’re all double and triple major college and graduate school scholars who, despite all of their collective knowledge, continuously make such ridiculous relationship and emotional choices. I can understand that they’re socially awkward and even inept at times, but being lulled into a false sense of security and love by a room full of flowers and light candles just wouldn’t work after going through countless stand-ups, multiple missed dinners with parents, continuos verbal abuse and overall emotional stress (this particular example is taken from the final episode, where Maggie and Don have one final make-up session).

Some other plot points like McAvoy smoking pot before going on air and Jim having sing-along music sessions with coworkers outside of the always-heated office space just add to the ridiculousness of certain aspects of the show. Critics like Dorothy Rabinowitz of The Wall Street Journal, Mary MacNamara of the L.A. Times and Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker all seem to agree that The Newsroom has tremendous potential, but due to its often silly dialouge and plot points, plus a semi-unrealistic nature, it falters on multiple levels.

A Newsroom bingo card with just about every cliche/pun/repetitious act the show uses.

A Newsroom bingo card with just about every cliche/pun/repetitious act the show uses.

 

Regardless, let’s look at The Newsroom from the scope of it being a drama television show and nothing more. It does a fantastic job of telling the story of a team of investigative journalists who want nothing more than to tell the news. Many characters were written well and had a very clear and serious arc (even if the arc wasn’t integral to the core story, like Neal going from being a shy office nerd to standing up for what he believes in and taking chances with the News Night producers).

Even with debatable arcs and sub-plots like Don transitioning from a “bad guy” to a “good guy” throughout the first season (I personally think he went from a “bad guy” to a “self-aware bad guy,” but to each his/her own), I still found the show very enjoyable. Viewers were able to relive important events in the US’ past few years in a new way, looking at them from the eyes of reporters who attempt to report as objectively as possible. We were transported directly into an American workplace where things didn’t always go as planned, people sometimes got hurt, and there was always a new issue to deal with.

Watching a show like a television show should be was also refreshing–meaning that I only watched The Newsroom once a week for the ten weeks. Nowadays, everything is about instant gratification and being able to do anything you want whenever you want. So to be able to relax and take the time to really critique and review the show has been a positive media experience to say the least.

The news desk is left open for a whole series of sub-plots and stories in the show's second season. Here's hoping it takes the best of the first season and only makes it better!

The news desk is left open for a whole series of sub-plots and stories in the show’s second season. Here’s hoping it takes the best of the first season and only makes it better!

 

To complete the ‘fan service package,’ I’m a massive fan of how perfectly The Newsroom ended its first season: just enough was revealed to satiate, but just enough was left open to keep viewers coming back for more. As I think more and more about what I’d like to see during the second season (which I intend to try and watch online since my family doesn’t own cable–ironic, since it’s to watch a show about a cable news network), I keep coming back to my desire to see the show develop into less of a romantic dramedy and more of a well-balanced personal and interpersonal exploration of the media and its influence in everyday life.

Besides that, hopefully Don and Sloan will get together (a really unexpected plot twist, might I add), McAvoy and MacKenzie will become the perfect news duo and couple, Skinner will continue to fight for justice in the ranks of William Paley (and avenge the self-inflicted death of his newfound friend, Hancock), Leona will agree to work with Skinner and McAvoy (or at least allow them to survive), Sorkin will learn how to better write women in screenplays, and the show will do one heck of a job at representing the honest and true viewpoints behind Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential elections (a topic I’m very excited to see analyzed and discussed).

My overall Newsroom season one rating: 7.5 out of 10 Dunphys. Well done, Mr. Sorkin. =u)

And thank you for the experience, Professor Dunphy! This last clip is for you (it describes how I felt after finishing my blog posts):

 

References:

The Newsroom Season One Reviews Collection, MetaCritic (full online collection)

The Newsroom Season One WSJ Preview, Dorothy Rabinowitz

The Newsroom Season One LA Times Review, Mary McNamara

The Newsroom Season One New Yorker Review, Emily Nussbaum

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Who’s Sponsoring What, and Why?

In January 2009, BioShock 2 released for the PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Both a sequel and prequel to the original BioShock in a single player story and multiplayer story, respectively, fans across the globe rushed to stores to pickup their copies. After a few short months of offline single player campaign and online multiplayer gameplay, a downloadable content package (DLC, for short) was released on the consoles’ marketplaces. As fans downloaded the DLC, they realized that the size of the file they were downloading was 128.00 KB.

You don’t have to be a Computer Science major to know that anything in KBs is pretty small. Usually, Text Edit and Notepad notes are only 10KB or so. How could a full DLC package for a fifth-generation console game (complete with high-definition video and audio) only equate to 128.00 KB? It can’t. What the fans discovered was that they were downloading a virtual key of sorts that would unlock the DLC content which came pre-installed on the original game disc.

This sparked a large debate over what constituted “DLC” and what people were really paying for when they purchased a game. On one side, the content was already on the disc, and since people paid $59.99 for that disc, shouldn’t they have been allowed to access all of it? On the other side, the content was not pertinent to the single player or multiplayer experiences and only added to the overall experience, so didn’t the developers, 2K Games, have a right to moderate when the unlock code for extra content was released? In the end, no true verdict was reached, and people eventually just moved on to the next problems life threw at them.

Many were felt bothered and betrayed by the realization that they already owned the "new content" they were purchasing.

Many were felt bothered and betrayed by the realization that they already owned the “new content” they were purchasing.

 

In the case of the recent announcement of Sony’s PS4, a similar thing happened. People noticed that of the two posts published on BuzzFeed, one was “sponsored” by PlayStation while the other was not. Both appeared to be identical posts, minus a sponsor acknowledgment and off-white background color. The problem that arises from these two posts is that readers can’t be certain what is the true, objective opinion of the reviewer, or what is the information sponsored and written in by PlayStation’s own marketing team. Like with 2K Games, fans are left with a feeling of distrust towards the company.

Andrew Sullivan of The Dish writes that what’s not being respected here is the ” divide between editorial and advertizing,” a sort of unspoken boundary that exists, much like the separation of church and state. As times have changed and the line between journalism/criticism and industry advertising has widened and dissipated, it’s no longer clear what constitutes a totally unbiased piece of writing.

The infamous PS4 announcement was where the new PS4 controller was unveiled. Will we be able to navigate true journalism and editorial criticism with it? Or just loads of sponsored, influenced content?

The infamous PS4 announcement was where the new PS4 controller was unveiled. Will we be able to navigate true journalism and editorial criticism with it? Or just loads of sponsored, influenced content?

 

Editorial writing and media advertising need one another for both to survive, so sponsored content must continue to exist–without it, many companies wouldn’t be able to continue operating due to lack of funds. However when the two things become indistinguishable, “aren’t we in danger of destroying the village in order to save it?”

The Dish blog post can be read here.

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S1E10, The Greater Fool – Good Night, And Hire Her

In the finale of it’s first season, The Newsroom’s two sides come full circle. The first side of the show revolves around the emotional, mental and physical relationships between office couples (mainly McAvoy and MacKenzie, Maggie and Jim, and Maggie and Don). The second side of the show revolves around what the word “news” really means, and how it’s constantly influenced by people, power and politics (not only in the government, but in the corporations and networks that run the news shows).

In past episodes, Aaron Sorkin (creator of The Newsroom) has clearly had a hard time balancing the two sides out. Sometimes, an episode would focus almost entirely on the relationship side and not pay any attention to the actual ACN News Night newsroom. “News Night 2.0” and “The 112th Congress” are two examples. These were the episodes that I had the hardest time paying attention to, as well as the ones that I found most critics and reviewers calling more of a romantic comedy sitcom than a fictional narrative about news in our non-fictional world.

On the other hand, some episodes focused much more on the news and the powers that are always influencing it. Episodes like “Amen” and “We Got Him” did this, and I definitely preferred them to episodes that focused mainly on relationships. Despite that fact, I found myself having a hard time connecting to the characters and getting into their mindset, or becoming emotionally involved with them. So it was clear to me from early on that Sorkin’s biggest challenge would be balancing these two sides out.

“The Greater Fool” accomplishes this perfectly. I was admittedly a little confused about where the episode was headed in the beginning, mainly while we were jumping between McAvoy reporting on air and McAvoy in his apartment bathroom, bleeding out. However as the gap between the two places in time decreased, motives behind this story structure became more clear.

Will McAvoy: The Greater Fool. The seasone one finale investigates just what that caption really means.

Will McAvoy: The Greater Fool. The seasone one finale investigates just what that caption really means.

 

One critic, Lesley Goldberg of The Hollywood Reporter, said that the biggest reveals of this episode were on the relationship side. On her list of the top six reveals of the episode, she included McAvoy’s message about him still loving MacKenzie, Jim and Maggie finally kissing, Maggie and Don moving in together, and Don figuring out that Sloan is still single because he never asked her out. (The Hollywood Reporter Six Biggest Reveals List) These were definitely the emotional high points of the show, but I’m more interested in the news-related high points.

For one thing, the article about McAvoy and the News Night team written by MacKenzie’s old boyfriend was finally released. In it, McAvoy was called “the greater fool,” which he originally thought of as an insult. After fighting to not only keep an honest news show afloat in the middle of a world filled with TMZ and The Real Housewives of New Jersey look-alikes, but attempting to change the Republican primary debate format, alter the way that ACN operates, and going on a “mission to civilize,” McAvoy thinks that maybe he is just a fool.

Sloan eventually steps in and explains that “the greater fool” is an economic term used to described people who think outside the box and break free of the popular norm. It’s “someone with the perfect blend of self delusion and ego to think that he can succeed where others have failed. This whole country was made by greater fools.” After that, McAvoy not only has a renewed feeling for himself and what the entire News Night team is doing, but he’s proud of Sloan and the person that she’s become after having worked there.

Another big news-related high point of the episode was the confrontation of the gatekeepers of ACN. After Skinner’s newfound friend Solomon commits suicide, Skinner knows that what he was telling him about was 100% truthful (the illegal hacking of cell phones by Leona’s son). Armed with that knowledge, he led McAvoy and MacKenzie on a mission to put Leona and her son in their place while trying their best to get them to work with the News Night team and “start producing the news again.” Instead of focusing on lying, celebrity slander stories and making more money than anyone would ever need, all the three want to do is provide the American people with the news, the whole news, and nothing but the news.

McAvoy, MacKenzie and Skinner appear to have succeeded in keeping those pesky gatekeepers at bay. Will it stay the same way next season?

McAvoy, MacKenzie and Skinner appear to have succeeded in keeping those pesky gatekeepers at bay. Will it stay the same way next season?

 

The one other plot point that needs to be discussed is the reintroduction of “sorority girl” into the show. Since The Newsroom quite literally began with her being assaulted by McAvoy, it’s fantastic to see it end (the first season) with her wanting to work for/alongside him. The best way to be a fool is to learn from one, and that’s the reasoning she uses to get McAvoy to hire her on the spot. In a review on the media criticism site Zap2It, Carina MacKenzie writes that “[‘sorority girl’s’] obviously got some cojones, and her arrival at ACN is definitely a sign that despite his struggles, Will has made a difference in the time since he first met her.” (Zap2It Newsroom Finale Review) It’s going to be very interesting to see what influence she’ll have on McAvoy and the rest of the team.

It’s season finales like this that really prove to me that great television show writing still exists. Many problems were solved and their solutions revealed, but there are still plenty of things left unsaid. Will McAvoy and MacKenzie ever get back together? Will Sloan stay with the network and become the next McAvoy (or will “sorority girl” take her place)? Will ACN clean up its act and become the leading force in the Fourth Estate? All of these and more will hopefully be answered in season two, but this finale holds up extremely well regardless. The combination of relationships reaching their emotional and mental climaxes with the News Night team telling the true stories of Americans like Dorothy Cooper and kicking some gatekeeper ass while doing it works extremely well.

Enough has happened that us viewers would be content if the show were to end here, and at the same time enough has been left unsaid that we would come back for a second season. Getting an ending so, so right is enough for me to give any show’s season finale episode a 6/5 (yep, 6/5) rating.

Here’s to season two!

 

References:

The Hollywood Reporter Six Biggest Reveals List, Lesley Goldberg

Zap2It Newsroom Finale Review, Carina MacKenzie

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TV Journalism In Its Prime, Filmmaking Not So Much – Good Night, And Good Luck Review

I’d like to make this clarification right off the bat: as a historically accurate representation of broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow’s quest to expose Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communism insanity, Good Night, And Good Luck is a fantastic movie. Life if the 1950s wasn’t easy–especially when you were someone known and seen by a very large part of the nation on a regular basis. Although I feel this aspect of the movie stands strong, I do believe that Good Night, And Good Luck is not as successful in the aspect of filmmaking.

In terms of story,  Good Night, And Good Luck focuses in one a small part of Murrow’s life–the time when he fought against the government (mainly Senator Joseph McCarthy) after hearing of the dismissal of Air Force Pilot Milo Radulovich. Senator McCarthy accused him of being a communist, which in turn led the Air Force and government to fire him without a fair trial or hearing. This gained the interest of Murrow and the rest of the CBS News team. In one of Murrow’s shows, See It Now, an air wave battle took place as both men traded blows on who was the real communist infiltrating our nation’s soil. In the end, Radulovich was reinstated and McCarthy defeated (in a sense, at least), but Murrow paid the price through his show being moved to a very bad time slot and the suppressing of his presence on the network.

Murrow and his friend and CBS co-worker, Fred Friendly.

Murrow and his friend and CBS co-worker, Fred Friendly.

 

As a film, there are very clear pros and cons. Regardless of what I have to say here, the film was nominated for six oscars and won 40 other miscellaneous awards when released in 2005, so it must have done something right. The first real noticable thing about it is that is’s presented in full black and white. This serves the story well considering it’s representing a time when television was on the rise and the world could really only see it in black and white. The world had color, but print and television journalism was colorless.

The other main thing the film does is constantly use real footage from the original Murrow broadcasts, television commercials, McCarthy announcements and trials/hearings of the time. This, I believe, has the opposite effect on the film in some cases. While the audience is trying to connect with the vast amount of characters that are being presented to them (another problem with the film–the fact that there’s so many characters and no real time given to form emotional connections with each and every one), they’re constantly given full-length original television clips to watch. Although this helps tell the story because, well, it IS the story, I didn’t like how frequently these clips were shown. If the film had focused only on the actors it was using to portray the real-life characters, audiences would have been able to connect to them more.

Another issue putting characters back to back with the real people brings about is that audiences will tend to start to look for similarities and differences among actors and who is supposed to be playing who. Now for the most part, this is a good thing–historical films should encourage viewers to focus on the real people behind the stories and compare them with the actors portraying them in the film, but since it happens so frequently here, I feel that it has an opposite effect. I found myself focusing more on the production design of the sets and the makeup and accuracy of the actors and their historically-accurate counterparts more than I did any of the stories presented throughout the film.

Besides focusing on the technical aspects of the film rather than focusing on its story and the messages and meanings behind the real-life events it was recounting, I also had a hard time waiting for the main conflicts to arise. When you get right down to it, this film is about a very really and potentially life-threatening battle between Murrow and McCarthy. There were other prominent sub-plots revolving around the extent of government and network censorship as well as dealing with the stress and emotionally-tasking nature of broadcast journalism during a time when there were very few faces traveling across the airwaves, but none of them were as focused on. Going back to what I was commenting on before, the large amount of characters played by prominent, well-known actors in this film didn’t help me to get inside the heads of the characters at all.

One of Murrow's trusted and faithful cohorts in the CBS News network, Don Hollenbeck.

One of Murrow’s trusted and faithful cohorts in the CBS News network, Don Hollenbeck.

 

This argument is especially clear in the sub-plot regarding one of Murrow’s fellow CBS newscasters, Don Hollenbeck. Without giving any major plot points away, Hollenbeck has a very hard time dealing with the aggressive comments and criticisms printed in the newspapers and recounted by other television reporters. This is an age old issue (being open to criticism, but drawing a fine line between what’s constructive and what’s insulting), something that truly began in Hollenbeck’s era, but is much more prominent today. In The Insider, a film that investigates choices made during on of the United States largest cases regarding tobacco companies and investigative journalism’s role in the assault on those companies, television newscasters have to constantly deal with whatever is said about them by whomever–whether or not it’s true.

A character like Lowell Bergman (the main protagonist of The Insider) has a full film almost exclusively to himself to investigate how he feels about what people around him do and say, and the audience forms a strong connection with him over the two hour movie. In Hollenbeck’s case, the story feels very rushed, and it’s not as clear why he feels so strongly about the criticisms thrown against him. Again, it’s important to understand that in the 1950s, any hint of opressive verbal violence or slander could lead someone to worry for countless hours that they would be marked as a communist, but Good Night, And Good Luck never really helps the audience to form that connection.

Just as stated in the beginning of this post, I feel that Good Night, And Good Luck has some serious pros as well as some serious cons. The production value and A-List actors who worked on this project add a lot of realism, believability and integrity to the recreation of one of the nation’s turning points (at least for the fields of television broadcasting and investigative journalism). At the same time, the amount of information and characters mixed with the lack of clarity for certain motives as well as the constant use of original source material makes the film a little hard to sit through. I have a strong feeling that with the same artistic and storytelling formula and less characters, this movie could work extremely well as a long short (around 50 minutes long or so). I give it a 3/5 rating.

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99% Certainty Is Not Foolproof

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are two super sly newscasters. They know exactly how the American people feel and what they want, they can play to just about any group or audience while basing statements exclusively off the facts (for the most part), and they’re just all-around funny guys. Who better to represent our country that these guys?

In an interview with Jim Cramer, the official commentator of Mad Money, a show about making easy money quickly, Stewart brings up key arguments against Cramer’s work and what he says his purpose is. Cramer says that he tries his best to expose and call out the people in high places (mainly, financial industry leaders and mavens) in order to get them noticed and held responsible for any illegal or distrustful actions. Stewart argues that while Cramer says this is what he’s doing, there is a serious second agenda that he and his show have (as well as the financial network that airs the show), which revolves around creating an entertainment show that tells some of the facts and acts like they care about the state of the economy and serious monetary decisions when they really don’t.

Stewart told Cramer that the money and finances that he's always talking about are very serious parts of our nation--"they're not a f***ing game." (Jon Stewart Interview)

Stewart told Cramer that the money and finances that he’s always talking about are very serious parts of our nation–“they’re not a f***ing game.” (Jon Stewart Interview)

 

Stewart uses clips from another interview with Cramer where he’s caught discussing financial decisions and practices that he seems to be against on his own show as an incentive to try and get him to speak freely. As Stewart attacked Cramer and the people he represented, I realized that he’s a heck of a lot like Will McAvoy from The Newsroom, a show which our Mass Media class is watching this semester. Like McAvoy, Stewart gets straight to the point and interrupts the interviewee every single time s/he goes off topic. It’s a form of questioning and investigative journalism that is almost completely unseen on regular news channels. On Fifth Estate shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, this kind of questioning is not only possible, it’s heavily desired.

This two-part interview with Jim Cramer can be viewed here.

As for Stephen Colbert, he interviewed Julian Assange, creator of WikiLeaks, a site devoted to releasing corporate and government secret documents and media to the United States public. Assange believes that what he’s doing is something that is and always has been a part of the flow of information to the people. By providing them with information that would otherwise be denied from them, the people have a freedom to know who did what when.

In a very similar manner to that of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert gets straight to the point with his statements and questions and allows no time to dance around the straight, hard answer, whatever it may be.

In a very similar manner to that of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert gets straight to the point with his statements and questions and allows no time to dance around the straight, hard answer, whatever it may be.

 

Colbert counters what Assange believes with some humor, but true humor at that. “Governments are elected based on what the people know about the government…if we don’t know what the government’s doing, we can’t be sad about it.” It seems funny at first, but there is some truth to this statement, especially in the fact that many people have a policy of ‘ignorance is bliss.’ Assange doesn’t believe in this kind of thinking, and feels that by reveling secrets to the public, he and the site can 1) provide the source of the leak with the maximum possible political impact, and 2) provide the public with the full, uncensored source material.

In the case that Colbert brings up involving a secret video of an Apache helicopter attack on innocent people in Baghdad, Assange makes it clear that he titled the video “Collateral Murder” to achieve maximum political effect for the source. “That’s not leaking. That’s a pure editorial,” Colbert responded.

The extended interview with Julian Assange can be viewed here.

These two video interviews lead to very serious questions about who has the right to edit what the public sees. Even though both appear to have only the best intentions for the American people, there are clear underlying motives to persuade and influence decision-making processes and opinions. As Dr. Alan Grant said in Jurassic Park III, “some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the best intentions.”

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S1E9, The Blackout Part Two – The Great Debates

McAvoy and MacKenzie’s relationship is slowly leading towards either a total make-up or complete disintegration, Don is finally getting the message about how Maggie feels for Jim, Neal and Sloan have worked their way into upper-level journalist ranks, and Terry Crews is still a recurring character (every now and then, at least).

Now that I’ve gotten the story-related plot point of The Newsroom’s ninth episode out of the way, I can focus on what I’m really interested in: the “new debate format” suggested by McAvoy and the rest of the News Night team.

The mock debate scene from The Newsroom's ninth episode.

The mock debate scene from The Newsroom’s ninth episode.

 

A few months back, sometime before I started my Mass Media class with Professor Dunphy, a friend of mine shared the mock debate scene from this episode on Facebook. At the time, I had no idea who any of the characters were, why they were all pretending to be the potential Republican presidential candidates, or what The Newsroom even was. Now, months later, I know all about the show and its characters. Despite this newfound knowledge, I didn’t feel any different watching the scene a second time around.

This is something that really stand out to me. If we’re not supposed to be looking at the characters or anything onscreen, it’s pretty clear that Sorkin wants us to look deeper, at something beyond the composition of the shot.

To me, this debate format is amazing and horrifying at the same time. As I get older, I pay more attention to the way politicians speak and how the questions they’re asked by the media differ greatly compared to the questions the average everyday person has. Most of the time, the questions asked by the media (radio and television news shows, talk shows, etc.) are somewhat vauge and can be answered in a very broad way. Especially when it comes to presidential elections, Q&A sessions and debates become very long-winded and very repetitive very quickly. The people asking the questions don’t get to the point, nor do they speak like human beings. They spit the questions out as if they’re coming from a robot, almost never sounding natural.

McAvoy, MacKenzie and the rest of the team have devised a formula that breaks all of these habits. Not only does McAvoy get straight to the point and not waste a single breath by beating around the bush, but he stops the candidates when they don’t answer the questions, constantly switches between various subject matter and topics to keep everyone on their toes, and even confronts some candidates on a personal, real, human level (asking about sexual and racial stereotyping scandals, for example).

In the episode, the representative from the Republican National Committee isn’t please at all by what McAvoy is offering, but his boyhood friend working alongside the representative does see the positive points about this new debate format. For one thing, McAvoy and his friend agree that if the candidates are going to be running for the position of the president of the United States they should be able to answer questions in this manner. What they’ll have to do in office will no doubt be much more urgent and serious than being completely honest with the American public. Even more on honesty, McAvoy’s debate style doesn’t allow for any freedom to beat around the bush or to be untruthful–the candidates are stopped when they’re not answering the question asked by the moderator and called out when they’re stating incorrect information (again, by the moderator, not by themselves).

I did find it interesting that most other reviews of this episode didn’t feel that the mock debates worked very well in bringing anything new to the table. Since the Republican pre-primaries (and the entire presidential election process) has obviously already passed, it’s pretty clear that the Republicans “still ended up seeing through all those guys and nominating the one who, judging from the lack of abuse he’s taken on The Newsroom, seems to be the one Sorkin views as least evil.” (Newsroom Episode Nine Recap)

I don’t think it’s clear if the kind of debate method presented in episode nine of The Newsroom could ever work. It brings a lot to the table, but also takes some away. By giving the moderator complete control over the pacing, topics and subjects of the deabtes with no limitations or off-limits questions, it seems that stings step backwards just as much as they step forwards. There needs to be some form of order in the court while maintaing the ability to stay on topic and on point (cut the fat).

Because this new debate style is presented in such an interesting way that leaves the audience really comparing and contrasting our real-life system to a fictional system, this episode gets a 5/5 (and yes, that rating is completely disregarding the silly emotional/relationship side of the episode–mainly because I’m rather sick of it now). Here’s hoping McAvoy finds a way to get his pants on in the Season One finale!

Did I forget to mention that? There was a silly recurring joke all episode about Will's "pants problem." It reminded me of Ted Striker's "drinking problem" from Airplane.

Did I forget to mention that? There was a silly recurring joke all episode about Will’s “pants problem.” It reminded me of Ted Striker’s “drinking problem” from Airplane.

 

Reference:

The Newsroom Episode Nine Recap, Jeff Bercovici

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Ordinary People In Extraordinary Situations – The Insider Review

Imagine a well-written, fully-arced show like The Newsroom (the parts that focus on the conflict between legitimate investigative journalism and station bureaucracy, at least) with a focus placed on investigative journalism in corporate America, and you’ve got The Insider.

Released in 1999, The Insider “tells the true story of a man who decided to tell the world what the seven major tobacco companies knew (and concealed) about the dangers of their product.” (Rotten Tomatoes) The film was nominated for seven Oscars ranging from Best Director to Best Editing, and went on to win not only many more awards, but the praise of film critics from across the nation.

 

At the most basic level, the film’s story revolves around Jeffrey Wigand (played by Russell Crowe), a research scientist at Brown and Williamson who was fired in March 1993 due to the fact that he ‘did his job too well.’ (Anatomy Of A Decision Timeline) To retaliate against the tobacco industry and fight for what he believed was right in the terms of American public health, Wigand decided to blow the whistle with the help of Lowell Bergman (played by Al Pacino), a producer of CBS’ news show 60 Minutes. As threats against his family were made by Brown and Williamson (the film states that in the real life story, it was never discovered who sparked the harassment and mafe the threats), Wigand hoped that the threats would stop and he would gain safety, approval and support in the court of public appeal by whistle blowing.

Unfortunately for Wigand, things didn’t go as planned. As he pursued exposing companies like Brown and Williamson, the threats only became more serious, his wife left him due to the stress and constant fear of being “silenced,” and reporters began to dig further and further into his past. All of these things on top of one another created a very intense, dark and stressful situation for Wigand, and the feelings his character was experiencing spilled off onto the audience. Through the constant use of high-pitched musical scores, dark shots with heavy shadow compositions and close-ups on Wigand and Bergman’s faces, The Insider masterfully conveys the feeling of what it’s like to be an insider–someone with information that everyone wants to know, even though they don’t know that they want it.

Shot composition is one of the main things that stood out to me during the more macabre scenes like this one.

Shot composition is one of the main things that stood out to me during the more macabre scenes in the film, ones like this one (where Wigand calls Bergman in a fit of paranoia and fear).

 

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the film also conveys what it’s like to be an investigative journalist in the midst of a real, savage, sometimes unfair world. The film’s opening scene is where this side of the storytelling really shines: the audience gets to experience a military humvee ride in the desert through the eyes of a prisoner with a cloth bag over his/her head. It’s revealed that Bergman is the man under the bag, and he’s being transported to the location of an terrorist/sheik who may or may not agree to do an interview with Mike Wallace (the main face behind 60 Minutes, a reporter who has worked on the show for over 50 years). After ironically telling the sheik that the interview would help to give him a face while his face as covered, Bergman is told that the interview will happen in two days.

After the interview with Wallace takes place in a following scene, the main story (involving Wigand and the big tobacco companies) really begins. After such a shift in story, I was really left wondering why such a scene would be placed right at the beginning of the movie. At that point, I though that the film was going to be more about terrorism and negotiations with Islamic fundamentalists than nicotine and corporate greed. So this clear clash between stories and worlds really draws attention to itself.

As I researched what other critics and reviewers had to say about this part of the film, the words of Andy Markowitz, a film critic for the Baltimore City Paper, stood out: “The opening scenes of The Insider are all about how brave, resourceful, and idealistic Lowell Bergman is.” Markowitz sees the entire film as a commentary on the status of investigative reporters in the context of the world of The Insider. I immediately found myself agree with him because as I worked my way further and further into the film’s stories, the lives of the characters and the desires of each and every party, I also drew the conclusion that this film is meant to focus more on the journalism aspect rather than the big business, tobacco aspect.

Bergman's job of reporting the news and uncovering the truth constantly clashed with his desire to keep Wigand and his family alive and safe.

Bergman’s job of reporting the news and uncovering the truth constantly clashed with his desire to keep Wigand and his family alive and safe.

 

Even after the opening scene where Bergman and Wallace drive right into the heart of evil and danger by interviewing terrorists on their soil, many scenes further their “no-bullcrap, we’re here to do our job and nothing less” policies. When Wigand begins to think that informing the public about what’s really going on behind their backs might not actually win them over or make them care, he questions Bergman’s loyalty. Bergman, in a very assertive manner, tells Wigand that he’s “been out in the world, giving [his] word and backing it up with action.”

Even Wallace questions whose side Bergman is on later in the film, which leads to the supressing of Wigand’s interview and the tobacco story by CBS News. In real life, Wallace and Don Hewitt (the executive producer of the show) sided with CBS News on the choice not to air the original Wigand interview due to potential legal issues/lawsuits that Brown and Williamson might have raised against them. In an interview with the real Lowell Bergman on PBS’ Frontline, it was addressed that Wallace and Hewitt both “called the film an inaccurate record of events and an unfair characterization of their respective positions on the decision not to air the Wigand interview.” (A Talk With Lowell Bergman) Because of statements like this coming from the real life people, it’s hard to tell which opinions and beliefs were real and which were dramatized for effect in The Insider.

Regardless of the true personal beliefs of each person involved in the decision, the interview was only aired after the news of CBS declaring not to air Wigand’s interview was leaked to The New York Times. The fact that it had to come to the court of public opinion for CBS to allow the interview to be aired is ironic to say the least. The people that fought so hard to provide information to the public so they could in turn fight against an organization who was denying that information to them in the first place were chained back by another organization denying the public that information. As Bergman said in the film, “the more truth [Wigand] tells, the worse it gets.”

Looking back at this film after having researched and analyzed it, I can understand why it was so highly praised and meant so much for investigative journalism. It accurately depicts the vigorous, powerful and moving hunt for the truth that true journalists must go through constantly, especially when it comes to stories that could fundamentally change the way some of the nation’s largest industries work.

Stepping even further back and viewing the film for Markowitz’s point of view, that it’s an exploration of the bravery, resourcefulness and idealism of investigative journalists in the rapidly expanding (approaching, at the time of the film’s release) 21st century, The Insider stands out as a film that inspects human nature in one of the greatest legal cases in our country’s history. It tries to analyze why some people believe what they do, how they change over time, how others betray them and for what reasons, and why journalism is such a necessary part of this modern society we all live in. The film takes occasional liberties in modifying the story and creating a few fictional emotional responses and decisions, but it explores each and every character, their motives, their fears, their idiosyncrasies, their level of power and their place in society masterfully.

When “ordinary people are under extraordinary pressure,” it’s never clear what’s going to happen next. I give The Insider a 10/10.

– – – – –

References:

Rotten Tomatoes, Film Review Aggregator

Anatomy Of A Decision Timeline, PBS Frontline

Baltimore City Paper The Insider Review, Andy Markowitz

 A Talk With Lowell Bergman, PBS Frontline

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S1E8, The Blackout Part One – Comic Timing

As I continue the watch The Newsroom, I’m starting to realize that even though McAvoy, MacKenzie, Jim, Sloan and the rest of the News Night team are trying to do amazing things for the worlds of live news broadcasting and television, they’re just characters. They’re part of a show that’s beginning to focus more on staying alive through what’s popular rather than telling a serious, innovative, new story. Don’t get me wrong, the show has done quite a bit of honest storytelling in the past, but as I watch it more and more I realize how much The Newsroom is really changing.

Episode eight strays away from the theme of each episode focusing in on one single major news event. Rather, it focuses on a bunch of little events, both serious and silly, factual and fictional. From Congressman Wiener and his scandalous Twitter photos to the very serious upcoming debates for presidential hopefuls, the News Night crew navigates through it all.

The reason everyone is starting to focus on the silly news is because ratings dropped tremendously after the show chose not to cover the Casey Anthony story. McAvoy and Skinner know that they’ll have to get ratings back up in order to One, not get fired and booted from the air completely and Two, to have the number of viewers needed to be a host of the upcoming debates for presidential candidates. These two factoids are all the team needs to hear to get working on stories that really don’t deserve much attention at all.

A very unhappy trio dealing with the sad fact that they'll have to deal with what they hate to get what they want.

A very unhappy trio dealing with the sad fact that they’ll have to deal with what they hate to get what they want.

 

This change in interest definitely makes sense in the real world, but I don’t seem to understand how so many viewers would have navigated away from McAvoy for such a news story. Jack Mirkinson of The Huffington Post posits the question, “If Will has been airing very high-minded shows for a year and his ratings have held up, why would they suddenly crater because of the trial? Surely the people who watched him would have learned to turn to him because he was offering an alternative.” (Huffington Post Newsroom Episode Eight Review) This is exactly how I felt when I heard the news about viewers switching channels (and I don’t believe that the fact that the Casey Anthony story was nationwide, “hot news,” because true fans of McAvoy would trust in him to filter out the garbage and focus on the serious).

As the episode goes on, viewers are introduced to another sub-plot involving a whistle blower from the NSA. The man who told Skinner about the infamous email regarding Osama Bin Laden’s death last episode shows up in person to discuss the information he has to share and under what conditions he’ll do so. It felt like watching a political crime drama film when this scene was on, which I thought was a little out of place for the show. Adding in mystery and cliffhangers for future episodes is fine, but throwing in a whole other genre of storytelling just seemed quite jarring.

The main scene that stood out to me was the one that Scott Ryan focuses on in his review of the episode on The Red Room Podcast: “The scene that should be watched and rewatched was when Don picked apart a Nancy Grace newscast. Showing you bit by bit how they manipulate the viewer, mostly women viewers.” (The Red Room Podcast Review) It’s an extremely interesting experience to see things from the producers point of view, specifically a producer from a show that manipulates viewers. It’s also quite sad to know that so many people, too many, are focused with drawing in viewers to sell products better and have higher ratings than conducting honest television shows and being truthful.

Since we’re left on a cliff hanger at the end of the episode, right after God responds to the prayers of the entire News Night team and causes a blackout (it’s implied that way, haha), not too much is tied up. Besides the conflict in interest between puff pieces / slander stories and serious, legitimate news, Sorkin also does his best to continue to add to the emotional, romantic aspect of the show by introducing MacKenzie’s other ex-boyfriend into the picture (the one she cheated on McAvoy with). As anyone can imagine, this opens up tons of awkward possibilities for character development. So far, all the audience knows is that McAvoy selected MacKenzie’s other ex for a reason, but even he’s not completely sure what that reason is yet.

MacKenzie caught in the middle of ex-boyfriend number one and ex-boyfriend number two. Awkward...

MacKenzie caught in the middle of ex-boyfriend number one and ex-boyfriend number two. Awkward…

 

In the second part of this episode, I hope to see McAvoy and MacKenize figure out a way to stand up for what they both know each other believes in while ensuring the return of their viewers. It’s a tough situation that has no easy resolution, but to have McAvoy cave into the crap that he’s been fighting the whole season so easily just won’t work. Maybe the laid-back McAvoy in this episode will be countered by a hyped-up, steadfast McAvoy in the next! This one gets a 3/5, since it’s only half of the full story (the rest of which I’m excited for).

References:

The Red Room Podcast Episode Eight Review, Scott Ryan 

The Huffington Post Episode Eight Review, Jack Mirkinson

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“It’s Called ‘Shining'” – Room 237 Review

The Shining is one of my all-time favorite horror films. Ever since my parents cruelly had me watch it as a young child (maybe around the age of seven or so–and yes, they covered my eyes during scenes featuring nudity), I’ve been terrified by it. The desolate hotel setting, barren snowy landscape, echoing hallways and corridors, drab ’70s and ’80s art and furniture, and the fact that the main protagonist shared my age (at the time of my first viewing) and my name all make me shiver. Hearing Jack Nicholson running through the Overlook Hotel hallways while shouting “DANNY” over and over again startles me to this day.

After hearing about and going to see Room 237, a documentary film based on the theories and analyses of The Shining, I learned that what I originally thought to be a pure horror film may very well be something else entirely. Multiple film critics, professors and historians spend the entire length of the documentary pitching their theories on why The Shining is really about the British colonists slaughter of the Native Americans, Adolf Hitler and his rise to power alongside the Nazi army, mythological creatures and fantasy in reality, and my favorite, the faking of the moon landing in the 1970s.

Danny having fun in the Overlook.

Danny having fun in the Overlook.

 

The Shining was based off of the novel of the same name written by Stephen King, but the screenplay was re-written and directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1980. Since there already existed a laundry list of films directed by Kubrick like 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange and Dr. Strangelove that really made people analyze and discuss the filmmaking process behind the movies, people began to analyze and discuss The Shining. The main problem with this was that there was no feasible way that anyone could verify or fact-check a lot of their theories due to the fact the movie was really only available to see in theaters. With the advent of the VHS tape and home video players around the time of the film’s release, people were finally able to re-watch and comb through every little bit of the film.

Over three decades later, Rodney Ascher began researching and consulting various film critics, theorists, college film professors, filmmakers and just about everyone else who theorized about The Shining at one point or another. After writing, producing, editing and releasing Room 237 in 2012, Ascher went on to win awards for Best Director and Best Editor, and the editing is where the film really shines.

Writer, director and editor Rodney Ascher did some serious research on The Shining and spoke to some serious followers of the film.

Writer, director and editor Rodney Ascher did some serious research on The Shining and spoke to some serious followers of the film.

 

When I went to see this at Lincoln Center, I was very surprised that the film didn’t make use of the traditional setup of a “talking heads” documentary. Instead, Ascher made it so that each interviewee has his or her own introduction, but their faces are never seen on-screen. Without those introductions, it would have been a little hard to put a face to the name. For the most part though, this style really works, and I found myself focused on The Shining and Stanley Kubrick, not the people who were talking about the two–and I think that was one of the main points of the film.

Another thing that struck me about the film’s editing was its constant use of other films and television shows. Whenever the interviewees would discuss how they came to watch and become a diehard fan of The Shining as well as discuss their theories on the film, various clips from other forms of media were played to further what they were saying. For example, when the first interviewee discusses how he first saw The Shining in a movie theater in France, clips of Tom Cruise walking down a street and passing a theater from Kubrick’s last film, Eyes Wide Shut, are played. Another example could be the multiple times during the film that WWII combat footage is used, as well as the infamous “fake moon landing footage.” Bringing this outside material into the film adds another level of storytelling and helps to keep viewers inside the documentary experience.

Sound also plays a large role in the documentary. On top of analyzing the sound that’s provided to viewers in Kubrick’s film, Room 237 uses sound bytes of scratching record players, Native American chants, Nazi armies and UFO sound effects to really sell the theories. While we’re in the Overlook Hotel listening to one person describe his/her theory, we’re also hearing sounds pertaining to that theory. Subconsciously, this really helps to sell the theory and make viewers believe that it’s what Kubrick originally intended. In an interview with The Verge media review website, Ascher says that “[the] idea was to try to present each of [the interviewees] ideas as persuasively as possible. And that’s an interesting challenge… trying to make the audience of 237 watch The Shining through the eyes of these other people.”

 

This effect was also achieved with the trailer, only in the opposite way. The trailer recreates the original trailer for The Shining in its entirety, only with a VHS player and a remote replacing the Overlook Hotel elevator doors and a lounge chair. In the background, Kubrick’s original music selection is heard, but this time we get a somewhat happier feeling (more lighthearted than horrified, since we know this is a documentary ABOUT the film and not the film itself). The trailer was also the first thing related to the film that made it clear to me how much immense attention to detail would be paid in this documentary.

 

A lot of film critics and websites have been giving this film low to medium ratings with the same common complaint that the people featured in the film (as well as their theories) are ridiculous, silly, self-enthralled and obnoxious. Although I do agree with this statement to a certain extent, I think that all of them are missing the point that the documentary is self aware. It and the people featured in it know that everything it documents is all silly conjecture. Obviously Stanley Kubrick is dead, so there’s no way to know what’s really right or wrong, what’s really intentional or unintentional. One of the interviewees even says that everything in the documentary could be completely false, but that doesn’t change the fact that everything they’re discussing is there.

Whether or not it was intentional, Danny really does wear an Apollo 11 sweater, the chair behind Jack really does disappear mysteriously, and there are an awful lot of Calumet baking soda cans placed about in the background of shots.