Got the BD of "Broadcast News" yesterday afternoon and watched it last night. I saw it twice before (both VHS rentals in the late 80's/1992-ish) but at the time I remember not being very impressed because it didn't feel to me like the movie taught me anything meaningful about the TV business (was a Media Communications college student). Yes, I was a dumb punk back then. A lifetime later I realize that "Broadcast News" is the "Bull Durham" of TV newsroom media: just because it's happening in the background while the leads go through their relationship/professional troubles doesn't mean they don't love their work and appreciate it, it's just so common to them they rarely stop to think about it until it's either too late or they miss it. Plus, since I got my degree in Communications and work at a small TV production company in NYC (more toward the direct response commercial aspect of the business than news), it resonates to me on both a personal and professional level. It's like a mainstream Whit Stillman movie, except with the pretentious quasi-intellectual arguments among elite New Yorkers replaced by personal discussions between the working class Washington elite. And thank God there are no cameos by political/media personalities of the day, like in Ivan Reitman's "Dave" (which feels older and more dated than this 1987 movie).
I love "Terms of Endearment" and "As Good As It Gets" is OK (Jack's the man!), but to me the name 'James L. Brooks' always conjurs images of one of my favorite TV shows of all time, Fox's "The Tracey Ullman Show." While some wacky sneaks into "Broadcast News" (Cusack's famous videotape run, Marc Shaiman/Glen Roven's news theme demonstration, etc.) the movie is actually pretty serious and heartfelt about the emotions of Tom, Jane and (though he masks it well with them one-liners) Aaron feel for each other as well as their work. I remember not liking back then that these guys didn't seem to have an interest in the politics of the day or anything outside their immediate needs/relationships. Now I realize Brooks has written (and the actors bring to life) such competent professionals that we're asked to take for granted that Aaron and Jane follow world events and are smart in and outside of work (while Tom, while not being dumb, certainly prioritizes practicing news delivery in front of the mirror over reading National Review). That's also why I liked the epilogue and prologue about the trio of leads; it mirrors, without calling attention to it, how fleeting a moment in time is yet it's profoundly changing the world of TV news. Brooks was smart to avoid trying to show how news media had changed 'Seven Years Later' with technology; Tom Grunick rising to network anchorman was all we needed to see to know how far news standards had fallen since 'the present.' I couldn't help but be reminded of Brian Williams, whom I watched as a local NYC anchorman on WBCS-TV, being groomed to take over Tom Brokaw as I watched the ascencion of Tom Grunick to the network anchor position when William Hurt and Jack Nicholson shake hands (it's almost a throwaway scene but the close-up of the handshake is powerful).
William Hurt and Albert Brooks are great (Lois Chiles is also very good; I laughed out loud at the way she pronounces 'Alaska' when filing that serial killer news report) but for the life of me I couldn't bring myself to like Holly Hunter. Especially after seeing the Criterion bonus features where they profile Susan Zirinsky, Hunter's portrayal of Jane Craig comes off as an uptight nervous wreck in her private life that only a colleague like Brooks' Aaron (or a doofus like Hurt's character) would find likable by virtue of her professional competence. I didn't hate Jane as much as she didn't do anything for me. Jane became the cipher that could make or break the lives of Tom or Aaron. It's Aaron's heartbreak I cared about after he bombs anchoring the weekend news, not Jane's when she comes over to his place afterwards. Bill Conti tries hard (and mostly fails) to emulate the score from "Terms of Endearment" but it's an OK score. Whatever film stock Michael Ballhauss was using back in the 1980's really brings out the grain because, even with a 4K transfer (per Criterion's manual), this movie looks older than '87. It's detailed enough to get by and reflects how the negative actually looks (I shudder to think about the Fox people that DNR'd "Predator" getting a hold of this) but this is not a show-off movie. The Washington newsroom set is ugly as hell (just like they were in the 70's and early 80's) but the TV set from where Hurt and Nicholson (who makes for a surprisingly believable network news anchor in his few scenes) do their TV broadcasts looks great. Great supporting work from the Cusacks (yes, John is in it for like half-a-second), Robert Prosky, Stephen Mendillo (as Tom's father in two key scenes), and Amy Brooks (her deleted scene is a winner, even Brooks laughs out loud rewatching it).
Now for the true gold of this Criterion release of "Broadcast News" (which, unless you're a diehard JLB fan, I'd suggest you buy when it's on sale or cheaper than retail): the alternate ending and 20 minutes worth of deleted scenes, a lot of which is pretty damn good and well-acted. There's an entire subplot involving a whistleblower named Buddy that becomes Tom's source/friend (which helps explain why Tom was liked in the Washington newsroom and so well prepared when he had to anchor the special report) but also colors Hurt's character with a lot more shades of grey than what appears on the movie. Tom goes from naive to gentle to stone-cold (the handshake!), all for being nice to a gay guy that needed a friend. A lot of these Buddy scenes would end up, reshaped and re-written, into the Greg Kinnear character from "As Good As It Gets." Brooks claims in the deleted scenes commentary that Buddy's scenes were removed for time and other tone reasons, but I just don't see Buddy's homosexuality going so well on a Hollywood mainstream movie in Reagan's America (plus they also make Tom seem a lot dumber and ruthless than the dude we see in the rest of the movie). We get two versions (deleted scene and then alternate ending) of basically the movie ending with Tom and Jane together, and they're both OK but then betray Aaron and the movie's epilogue (which reminds me: did Tom become a better reporter and that's why Jane decided to accept his managing editor offer? Or did Jane surrender her principles in order to climb the professional ladder by becoming the managing editor of Tom's watered-down newscast?). Basically there's no satisfying ending to "Broadcast News," but that didn't bother me since getting to spend time in James L. Brooks' pre-"I'll Fly Away" mindset is such a cozy and fun place to be. Feauturettes and Brooks' commentary to come, (no) film at 11.
Last edited by dad1153
on Fri Jan 28, 2011 6:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.