Sunday, May 24, 2009

Second Thoughts on The Third Man

Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West.Image via Wikipedia

I urge my journalism students to send copies of their stories (particularly the unpublished ones that otherwise fall silently in the forest) to their most important sources, the ones who are quoted and/or described. And particularly to their *most important* sources, if you know what I mean. You don't fiddle to flatter, as it were, but most stories a student journalist writes are pretty benign and most people like reading anything about themselves.

It's just common sense. Give people a chance to remember you, to think well of you, to be primed for a word, a wink or a nod in your favor. Oh yeah, I remember the word: networking.

One of the students in my reviewing class followed my instructions. He'd quoted a Chron man in several stories, all of which he then shared with his source. Source made a comment that struck me as odd. He said the kid's work -- which the kid had posted on his blog for easy access -- was "blog-style" writing. The oddity lay in the fact none of the reviews were written for the blog. They were written for me, and they were written in a generally conversational style I encourage the kids to try.

Shall we go back to Addison and Steele? It ain't a new style.

This rather odd comment made me think about what *my* blog style is. Look at my "Third Man" comments from a few days ago. They are no more or no less informal and casual than much of the feature writing I did in Chron days. My spelling and grammar are no more or less conventional. Indeed, I'd say the sentences are no more or no less polished. But it is "blog style" in just this way: It is unrevised and hence -- let's call a spade a spade and a Spode a Spode -- does not always quite make sense.

The form of my exposition is the same as always. But we've got some content problems here, people. What the Eff do I mean? I'm thinking on the fly, or -- to put it another way -- *beginning* to think.

This is on my mind because yesterday I read David Denby's essay on Victor Fleming in the May 25th New Yorker. This is what he said about Fleming and the Hollywood of his day.

(Michael) Sragow is immensely attentive to Fleming’s films, and he traces in detail the fortunes of all the people connected to them, but his book is held together by what can only be called the romance of movie-making in the studio era—the large, free, hard-drinking life that the men (but rarely the women) enjoyed when movies were still made quickly and relatively cheaply, craft was spoken of with respect, and art was barely mentioned.

That's what I meant about the charm of all those old black-and-white films. The filmmakers weren't choosing black and white to make some artistic statement; it was simply the tool that was in their hands if they chose to make such a statement. But -- Denby suggests -- craft was what they were about, or what they talked about anyway.

I'm saying black and white is a beautiful tool, which helps tell the story but, in the "old" movies, doesn't get in the way of the story. I guess I'm struck by the easy beauty of some old b&w because no one can be that easy in its use anymore. Hey, what if I wrote this little blog post in iambic pentameter?

Now if I had seen about a hundred times the number of movies I actually have seen, my idea might have more weight, or might even be correct. But that's the thing about talking about movies. Most of just assume we have the right. And if I'm babbling? So what?

There is a bar to clear called Blogworthy, and you can rest it on a grass blade.

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