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August 8, 2011 | by  | in Film |
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Page One: Inside the New York Times

On November 1, 1765, The British Parliament was set to levy a Stamp Act on the Thirteen American Colonies. This stamp tax, which would tax the printed page, hit the fledging American newspaper industry particularly hard. Many believed they were witnessing the ‘death of the newspaper’. This, of course, was partly the intention—to nip America’s emerging free press in the bud. Of course, few things in history work as intended; the stamp tax backfired and resulted in a string of cataclysmic events that fed into the Boston Tea Party and the War of Independence. It is no coincidence, therefore, that when Thomas Jefferson penned the Bill of Rights in 1789, he would enshrine the press’ right to freedom in the First Amendment as a cornerstone of American democracy. Page One: Inside the New York Times attempts to make this argument as to the American press’ pivotal role in modern democracy. The documentary is a verbose, if ineloquent, defence of the power of the traditional newspaper, not unlike its protagonist, New York Times editor David Carr. With a line up of the usual suspects in the ‘Death of the Newspaper’—Twitter, Facebook, online newspapers, WikiLeaks—Rossi gives a convincing, if fractured, argument as to what would be lost should they successfully kill the traditional newspaper. However, in a climate where we (again) have politicians crying doom for the newspaper and a new Tea Party opposing new taxes, it is disappointing that Andrew Rossi does not make more of the historical argument for the newspapers’ survival. This was just one of the many blind spots and structural issues arising from a film that felt, at times, like following the Gordian knot.

As a piece of drama, the film is highly enjoyable. The verbal tomfoolery of its characters plays out like vintage Woody Allen. David Carr, an ex coke-addict turned newspaper man, provides enough laughter to soften an otherwise sombre film. However, Rossi makes poor use of digital photography, unlike R.J. Cutter, whose September Issue felt lush and avant garde—the low resolution of Rossi’s images plagues even the tiny Paramount screen. That said, it is ultimately the importance of Rossi’s argument and the fun that he seems to have making that is too contagious to resist and I (and many of the audience it seemed) left the cinema satisfied.

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