Journalism in the Movies. Matthew C. Ehrlich. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2004.191 pp. $35 hbk.
Journalism and film are among the most powerful forces in the American cultural landscape. In Journalism in the Movies, Matthew Ehrlich examines the intersection of the two and evaluates how one has so dramatically shaped the image of the other in the eyes of the public.
Ehrlich, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, has explored aspects of myth and American journalism in other work and that is, indeed, a prominent theme in this volume. The author follows Jack Lule's definition of "myth" as the "sacred, societal story that draws from archetypical figures and forms to offer exemplary models for human life." Throughout the book, Ehrlich examines myths about journalism as portrayed in selected American movies, dating back to the 1931 release of the movie version of The Front Page.
Ehrlich self-describes his focus as concentrating on a few movies in which journalists are protagonists and their work is central to the plot. That is an accurate description, but at times it is unclear why Ehrlich chose the films he did, especially in the case of more recent movies about journalism. Among the better-known movies Ehrlich writes about are His Girl Friday, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Citizen Kane, All the President's Men, Network, Absence of Malice, Broadcast News, The Killing Fields, and The Insider. He gives relatively short shrift to other significant modern works with journalism themes, however, including The Year of Living Dangerously and The China Syndrome. At the same time, he discusses at length some pretty forgettable recent films including The Paper, The Mean Season, and True Crime, without making a strong case for their inclusion over others.
The Front Page, adapted from the Broadway version written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur in the late 1920s, is given extensive treatment and analysis by Ehrlich. While the discussion is comprehensive and insightful, it's not clear if Ehrlich thinks the nearly seventyfive-year-old movie has lingering impact today and whether the images it portrayed to its contemporary audience affected the public's view of American journalism over time. Since this was apparently the first extensive treatment of journalism in American movies, perhaps it would have been worthwhile to include additional analysis about whether this now notvery-watchable movie has any influence on our current perceptions of journalism. …