Monday, November 3, 2014

Movies Take On The Media

Inciting Ebola mania.

"If it bleeds, it leads."

Death and destruction will always be the story given the most attention on the news.

We are all guilty of being fascinated in looking when life hits terrible turns. It's the car crash you can't help but rubberneck on the highway. TV has made it that much easier to indulge in such practices. Yet, the over the top nature in which it is covered can be upsetting most of the time.

Just sitting down tonight, in one hour spanning both local and national perspectives, various stories that fit that frame were, as expected, set up on the center stage. There was a follow-up to  last week's gun shooting at a Marysville, Wash. high school, a story about torrential storms causing panic for unsuspecting citizens all over the east coast, and continuing coverage on the Virgin America crash. 

Even through all the criticism, I still live for the news. It is frustratingly flawed in some ways (like, endlessly covering Ebola in the US when we should focus on how to help the problem in Africa), but I remain optimistic that there is enough quality reporting still happening that would outweigh the negatives.

Since I'm actively critical and a heavy consumer of media, it was hard to ignore that our common place world of visual storytelling is clearly ridiculed in some very popular entertainment items from this week. Two top movies at the box office are largely, if not completely, focused on our obsession with watching horrible crimes and the sketchy nature of the media.

No spoilers here about Gone Girl. I was one of those folks who had wanted to read the book for the last year and then, at least, before the movie came out. Well, that never happened. I don't know the ending yet, but after starting the novel less than two weeks ago, I'm now getting into the last one hundred pages.

What I can confidently say without ruining anything, is that a huge focus of the story is being critical of how crime stories unfold on the television. There is even a character that is straight up an homage to Nancy Grace, since no story of this nature could be complete without a passionate lady like her.

As if we are all detectives and life is a game of Clue, viewers of shows like the one Ms. Grace hosts, pick apart evidence that is seen on their screen and half expect to solve the mysteries themselves. Many even take sides and make judgements without even really knowing the "true story".

I say that in quotes, because, what really is the truth? Does anyone else wonder if we ever know for sure? That's just me being a crazy conspiracy theorist.

Being told from two different perspectives, Gone Girl wonderfully plays with the truth, bouncing the readers (or, I imagine now, the viewers) to continually change their perspectives on who can be trustworthy. Just like the audience enjoying the tale, when presented with new information, the national media covering the Amy Dunne case is seen to change their minds very quickly. Those news producers are simply going with what details  they have to continue the story. They may turn the hero into the villain and vice-versa multiple times over, but we hope that they are always reporting the most honest and accurate information.

"Hoping" seems all well and good until a "wowza" movie like Nightcrawler is released. It is such a fantastic flick that it will stick in your mind and, at the same time, make you question everything you see on television.

Lou Bloom, a crazed trickster/perpetual thief (played to creepy perfection by Jake Gyllenhaal) has his keen eyes set on finding an actual career. While curiously checking out a car accident, Bloom observes a news film crew recording the entire scene and instantly decides that is the job for him. With obsessive detail, Bloom begins figuring out how to film car accidents and other crimes during the late nights/early mornings in L.A. This type of footage, the bloodier, the better, reels in viewers and is in high demand at every news station in the area, which quickly turns Bloom into a money making machine. The real seedy side of journalism.

He's new to the trade, yet quickly develops his skills at a frighteningly top notch level. Bloom turns in such impressive work that it gets to the point where one station manager is willing to do just about anything to get some of his b-roll footage. When all that power isn't enough, nothing and no one around him is safe from his manipulation. Even what he films and the lengths he will go to in order to get some great footage.

Slick as I'll get out, yet unprofessional as hell. Simple cuts, edits, or a different angle and perspective can completely change any story. Altering the truth can be so simple.

Could a person like Bloom actually exist? Sure. Plenty of journalists have been caught writing misleading news. Two excellent stories like Gone Girl and Nightcrawler weren't written to make us all depressed about how easily people can be untrustworthy, but instead both tales force us all to think a little more before taking everything we watch at face value. Maybe we should even do a little more of our own research before making a single judgement.

Or maybe we should stop caring so much about seeing bloody car crashes or wondering if a guy killed his wife or who the shooter was in a local tragedy. If we all still tune in for that type of news, the networks will continue to focus on it the most.

Until next time.

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