Up Close & Personal
Up Close & Personal is a complete satire of the television news industry, and that’s just for starters. It analyzes the critical dilemma, and gets a proper solution. When it comes to reading bilge from a prompter, the seasoned reporter is perfectly capable of eschewing such a course and telling the real story.
This is an art. How it is achieved is depicted, whether or not it can be explained. Rigorous preparation, reportorial inquiry, and remembering to stand upwind are given as standards. Selling the news, or even making the news, are ultimately as nothing compared with accurately reporting the news.
The structural layout of the work is indicated by Robert Redford’s presence. All the President’s Men is the precondition of the first part, Brubaker of the second. There are also elements of Havana, The Great Gatsby, and other films which are brought to bear laterally.
A Star Is Born figures as the extinguishing of a creative persona, not through alcoholism but a continuous desire to get at the story even though the industry as depicted here is managed by markets and focus groups.
Much has been made of the purported relationship between this film and the facts of Jessica Savitch’s life. There is an early reference to an auto accident similar to hers, and when the reporter here (Michelle Pfeiffer) questions a Miami politician about his drug ties she’s accused of being a pervert. These are the links to the Savitch biography.
Everything in Up Close & Personal confounded the critics. Considering that our critics are correct about the films they review no more often than a newsroom full of monkeys with laptops, the question may fairly be asked what else in the news you get is worth a tinker’s curse. Clint Eastwood saw the point, and made True Crime.
Stockard Channing plays the ideal TV news anchor of a type, the type who serenely stares into the camera to report (she’s reading this) on Nursing Home Sex Scandals. James Karen plays the other side of this counterfeit specie.
Avnet’s style suits the script. In the middle distance a woman is being carried down a fire ladder, he tracks on her and down to the fire trucks and the reporter on camera in the foreground with just the right speed (and focus-pulling) to register this with the eye of a TV news director.
The opening is a shot of the duck pond in Purple Bamboo Park, then an up-angle on sunlight through bamboo leaves, then a kite in the sky, tilting down to Tiananmen Square and the portrait of Mao, goose-stepping soldiers, surveillance camera, etc.
That summation of history, a minute’s worth of screen time, introduces another historical event which is suggested rather obliquely by the murder victim’s profession. She is a fashion model and art student, and as her father is a general, the allusion is to John Quincy Adams (“I must study politics and war...”).
An American company lawyer is in the former Peking to broker a communications deal, and failing to pay a bribe pays the consequences. His trial eventually unearths the culprits, and he goes free.
This is, naturally, a resumption of terms broken off in Henry King’s Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, and ends with an evocation of Casablanca on the tarmac, held indefinitely, between the acquitted lawyer and his female defense counsel.
The People’s Court is ruled by a woman in military uniform. The police are complicit in attempts on the defendant’s life, after one of which he makes a breathtaking escape and at length espies the flag of the U.S. Embassy, whither he hies like Cagney in Blood on the Sun. The staff are craven and business-bent, but the Marine outside ushers him in. His photo is promised in Time and Newsweek, but he surrenders himself lest his counselor suffer for it.
Avnet is especially good at evoking emotional situations as ambient spaces, catching the effect of conversing through glass, for example, and a number of other dispositions, by way of elucidating the main dilemma, however rough-hewn.