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martedì 19 luglio 2011

Stay true to facts. Samuel Fuller’s Park Row (1952), an ode to American Journalism as it was.

 “If you don’t like the films of Samuel Fuller, then you just don’t like cinema” 
(Martin Scorsese)

“I decided that the only way to make Park Row was to put up my own dough and produce it myself. Two hundred grand, to be exact. To hell with Zanuck and Fox! Fuck the entire studio system! My film was going to be a personal gift to American Journalism” (Samuel Fuller)

New York late 19th century. Park Row is the street where most of the newspapers have offices. The place in which Pulitzer lived and worked. Phineas Mitchell (Gene Evans) is a well known journalist. He’s very concerned about the way his newspaper, run by fancy dame Charity Hackett (Mary Welsh), is treating the news. Matter of fact a man has been executed, for a crime Phineas is convinced he didn’t commit, as the result of the pressure on the public opinion made by Hackett and her staff of journalists. Phineas leave the job and start his own paper with the help of a wealthy man fascinated by the press. But things, smoothly at first, get worse when the new journal, called the Globe, manage to reach success, even because of the new way of circulation invented by Mitchell and his fellows journalists. Hackett can’t afford to loose readers and decide to start a street war to consolidate her power and kill the competition.
Horses, bringing paper and newspapers, are killed. Newsstands’ owners are menaced and beaten. But not with this standing the Globe is still going on. Hackett has her own plan to merge the two companies together and regain control. She’s very attracted by Phineas that return her love but is well aware the lady is poison.
Gene Evans (left), Samuel Fuller (center), Mary Welsh (right)
But Phineas doesn’t give in, so Hackett put in charge some of her men to find a way to shut down the Globe once and for all. One night, they launch a bomb to the offices of the Globe destroying most of the furniture and specially the printing machines. Phineas give up, he can’t make it to the morning edition and this would mean the end of the newspaper he envisioned: a free, independent journal, reporting facts and not making them up. But the following morning the Globe is in the streets. Hackett tell him, she gave the order to win the war over but she didn’t mean to use violence and fired the men who did. Out of her love, she printed the morning edition of the Globe suppressing hers once and for good. In the days of a scandal devastating one of the biggest media empire of the world, News Co., failing under the blows of their own faults and mistakes (to spy on people and making up news); Fuller’s film is as relevant as it was in his days. This remarkable man, a journalist himself, would be surely disconcerted by the way press, even the glorious American one, is ruled and conducted nowadays. Park Row is an exciting look at a long gone era of right men that fought for their principles. They gave up everything to achieve the dream to get a free press, to inform the people reporting facts and news with truthfulness and courage. The movie is an outstanding piece of filmmaking with the only fault, if one, to be a little bit too much sentimental in the ending. The character of Hackett is well created, but her sneaky and cruel behaviour change too sudden at last. If she was so mean and power thirsty she would have never gave in to feelings like love and respect, not so abruptly at least. But even with this flaw, the film is engaging and so well made to reach perfection even with a small budget, mostly gone to recreate in studio the Park Row set. This allow Fuller to shoot long tracks sequences, that are technically dazzling and provide also the viewers with the sense of chaos and energy of a NY street, as Fuller remember:
I was writing with a camera now, painting a character and his own environment on film”.
Samuel Fuller and the Benjamin Franklin's statue
He displayed all his abilities in film technique to the point to be a precursor of modern ones. Comparing the style of Park Row to most of the studio films of those days is enlighting: the difference from the engaging long takes and camera movements with no cuts, to the motionless shots, reverse shots and master takes of these productions, show a skill in Fuller that will later be featured in all his masterpieces.
Park Row was a turning point for me. I was more confident than ever, having made that picture, ready to broach any material, even the most controversial. I was better able to write with my camera, inventing techniques to capture the atmosphere I wanted on film”.
Park Row is an honest film made by an honest man who always fought for his principles like those journalist he depicted with such fondness.
A true American that made great contribution to the develop of the movies as an art form. He was able to bend genres and techniques to his own purpose, to create a new, inventive, style that would have influenced filmmakers to come: from the French nouvelle vague to modern Hollywood authors like Scorsese, Spielberg and many others.
Grauman's Chinese Theatre In Hollywood
An accomplished technician, but  also a great actors’ director. Performances are excellent, from the leaders, to the supporters like Herbert Heyes and Bela Kovacs, Fuller always got the most even out of lesser known actors, a sign of distinction running along all his philmography. It's unfortunate that the film was a BO flop at the time, even with strong reviews. But Fuller declared, he was happy to loose his money to make something he believed in so firmly. The movie grew up a cult status during the years.
The DVD examined her is part of the MGM Limited Collection, a DVD-R on demand. The only extras is the original trailer (the very same one under here), but the film has been re mastered from the original materials in good condition. There are only few dirts here and there, no massive restoration has been done but the movie look very good, the original 1.37:1 aspect ratio rendered FF.
The quotes and photos showed here are taken from Samuel Fuller’s bio: A Third Face: my tale of writing, fighting, and filmmaking (Applause theatre & cinema books, 2002). The book was edited by Jerome Henry Rudes and by former actress Christa Lang that was married to Fuller since 1967. I strongly recommend to watch Park Row, but also to read this. It’s not only one of the best books ever written on movies, it’s a great one on a great man that took some of his time to share with the readers his vision of life, telling his experience in war, journalism and filmmaking. Unforgettable.

Film mass is ended you may go in peace
The Vikar

"The press is good or evil, according to the character of those who direct it"

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