Programming the Slammer Film Festival

Running thoughts on movies and their makings.
July 5 2005 1:19 PM

Programming the Slammer Film Festival

Readers choose the most enlightening fare for Judith Miller.

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The Sweet Smell of Success: "Amoral press agent shops around a fabricated piece of gossip in order to destroy someone's reputation, ends up destroying everyone involved."—Ben Zimmer

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Meet John Doe: "Barbara Stanwyck, a cynical ace reporter for an increasingly profit-minded newspaper, makes up a story that gives birth to a national political movement. Fascistic politicians move to harness it. Will Barbara grow a conscience, keep the nation free and save Gary Cooper?"—David Fellerath

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Mother Night:"Nick Nolte's character is far more sympathetic than [Miller], but the film is essentially about a reporter who allows himself to become a propaganda tool and a secret agent, and enters a moral twilight zone. Perhaps it will give her something to be thankful for: at least she's not on trial for war crimes. (Now, if only we can get everyone in the administration to watch Lawrence of Arabia, or better yet, read Col. Lawrence's memoir.)"—Ed Noon

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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: "What better way for Judy to learn about the ability of the press, whether through silence or action, to affect political reality? Plus she gets a much-needed refresher course on democracy (the people's will—good, strong-arm tactics and threats—bad) via John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, and some of the best the West has to offer."—Jared Moshe

Valerie Michaels offers good reasons for three more related movies:

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The Third Man: "A shady profiteer sows tragedy in post-war Vienna, abetted by a fawning dame who really ought to know better. When the nefarious Valli walks by the heroic Joseph Cotten, her eyes burning with resentment, the viewer sympathizes with her plight but knows full well that she is no hero. That's our Judy.

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"Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, in which a slimy, sycophantic writer follows a vicious outlaw around, penning a heroic novel about his misdeeds. The writer is then forced to confront the horror of real violence and his own rank cowardice. Judy might learn a valuable lesson about what can happen to journalists who fraternize with the 'Duke of Death.' "

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"The Man Who Wasn't There, in which a brassy dame falls for the phony war stories and corrupt schemes of a rich chickenhawk, then gets locked up for a crime someone else committed. Perhaps Judy will come to understand that her fate is poetically just, even if it is not legally just."

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Care for a little espionage? How about Three Days of the Condor? "It explores what happens to a CIA operative when his cover is blown" (John W. Royal). Bryn Lewis writes, "It captures the same era as [ All the President's Men ] but also portrays sinister government motivations and manipulations in the name of international relations and oil. Sample line: 'What is it with you people? Do you think not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth?' "

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Probably Miller needs a hopeful film to keep her spirits up. Many readers suggested The Shawshank Redemption, in which prison "makes you a better person."—JP Davis

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Farther afield, but fun to consider, is Splendid IREny's suggestion of Being There: "It has more in common with the mid-70s post-Watergate mentality than films of the late 70s. Of course, [director Hal] Ashby's spin was to topple the corporate powerbroker and replace him with a simpleton, Peter Sellers' Chauncey Gardiner. What satisfaction or empathy would Miller draw from this film? Compare Chauncey's mantra, 'I like to watch,' " with Miller's self-defense: 'Just because I don't write it doesn't mean that the New York Times doesn't write it.' "