Journalism in the Movies

Article excerpt

Ehrlich, Matthew C. Journalism in the Movies. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2004. 191 pp. $35.

Anyone who has watched the film adaptation of a favorite novel understands the power of a movie to alter the pictures in our heads. Thus, the "moving pictures" have enjoyed a powerful influence not only on our individual perceptions of the world but also how a society as a whole views itself and its most powerful institutions, from the courts and police to religion and the military. Journalism is no different. Indeed, in Journalism in the Movies, author Matthew C. Ehrlich attempts to "enhance our understanding of how movies help make journalism matter in the public consciousness." He succeeds on many levels.

First, a warning: while the casual reader will enjoy this book, particularly when turning to discussion of a favorite film and discovering new facts and insights, this is at its heart a work of academic history and social analysis. Ehrlich is careful and comprehensive in his scholarship, but he also writes with a clarity-even joy-about how film portrays the myths and realities of journalism. For people who toiled in a newsroom and who can tick off from memory the movies that influenced them (All the President's Men for my generation), this book offers a peek behind the curtain and into the minds of those who nurtured and helped create what was seen on the silver screen, from plot to performance.

But Ehrlich does more than provide answers to questions so arcane that they may never arise in a game of Trivial Pursuit. Building on the work of others, he examines the films through the screwball comedy and the storytelling of Frank Capra, the noir approach, the role of conspiracy, and, perhaps more important, how myth and anti-myth appear and are exposed (and exploited) by filmmakers working in the journalism genre. Certain films are identified as so important they deserve either their own chapter headings (The Front Page and Citizen Kane) or are weaved throughout other chapters to illustrate a point (i.e., Deadline USA with Humphrey Bogart).

Newspapers often detested how they appeared on film and could, through their critics and news pages, attack the portrayals as much as any other institution in defense of its prestige. …