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    Tuesday, January 29, 2008

    Sort-Of Related: Park Row (1952)/The Wire, Season Five

    Park Row, Samuel Fuller’s two-fisted tribute to the glory days of the newspaper industry, has long been one of my personal white whales. It’s unable on video and seldom turns up on television, owing in part to its history as one of the first independent films. I was thrilled to see it surface on Turner Classic Movies during John Sayles’ recent stint as guest programmer – and could have kicked myself for almost forgetting to set the DVR.

    Why do I love Sam Fuller? Because he has no problem opening the film with a list of more than 1700 daily newspapers, followed by the 120-point declaration DEDICATED TO AMERICAN JOURNALISM. Because when he offers adoring close ups of the statues of Horace Greeley and Benjamin Franklin that adorn the New York street of the title, you know someone will later get his ass kicked in front of them. Because he’ll wear his heart on his sleeve and give you the shirt off his back.

    Sayles wasn’t kidding when he introduced the film by saying that it packs twenty years of journalism history into two months. Gene Evans, a Fuller regular who once played John D. MacDonald’s Meyer to Sam Elliott’s Travis McGee, stars as the crusading editor who gets a chance to start his own paper in 1886 Manhattan. He then singlehandedly develops banner headlines, newsstands, and linotype, all while romancing his chief competitor. It’s one damn thing after another, served up with Fuller’s customary brio and feet-firmly-planted honesty. Alas, the print quality was noticeably poor; someone needs to restore this corker sharpish.

    It was strange to watch Fuller’s film in the midst of the fifth season of HBO’s The Wire, focused as it is on the inexorable demise of the daily newspaper. Series creator David Simon had a storied career with the Baltimore Sun, and he’s openly admitted that he has axes to grind. Personally I think the man responsible for the finest show in television history is entitled do what he likes, even if he is nostalgic for an era that may have been an aberration.

    That said, the newsroom scenes have yet to grip me. Maybe Simon’s proximity to this world weakens the material. But the truth is the drama is simply too pallid compared to the rest of what The Wire has to offer. Cops, drug dealers and politicians are being challenged by technology and cold economics. They’re not being fundamentally altered by them, the way newspapers are. End of story. As Sam Fuller would say, thirty.

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