March 5, 2016
Notes on Spotlight
- We saw this last night at the Penthouse and liked it a lot. It’s not very cinematic though. There’s nothing in there that wouldn’t have been in an HBO series dealing with the same material. I wonder if US television is now, artistically the dominant medium and its sensibilities are influencing film instead of the other way around. It’s not as if they didn’t have enough money – Pierre Omidyar was one of the executive producers.
- It’s probably routine to point out that the very important deep investigative journalism depicted in this movie doesn’t happen much any more because the business model for it collapsed. What I wondered about, watching it, is how the model ever worked in the first place. People in the late 2000s didn’t suddenly lose interest in important journalism because they preferred celebrity stories and pictures of cats. Probably, mostly we always did.
- I wonder if people bought newspapers with serious stories in them because it reflected the way we wanted to think about ourselves and be seen on the train, or at the desk in the office, or wherever. Whereas people who now read the news on their devices look at what they actually want to look at. And the papers that we still pay for and are seen, publicly to read still have some real stories and many psuedo-stories based on turning around press releases etc.
- Also, I thought a bit about the debate in the comments of the previous thread about the flag and design experts, in which various commentators disagreed with me arguing that there is such a profession as designer, and its a body of knowledge about the principles of design, and they’ve become experts in it and can make informed objective judgements about whether flag designs are good or bad based on adherence to those principles.
- Specifically, I kept thinking that there are also, in screen-writing – and every other creative area – basic principles which you learn and which helps screen-writers write good scripts. ‘Show don’t tell’, is one, and there are principles of structure and character and plot. And Spotlight breaks just about every one of those principles yet is still -I think – a good movie. We see this in every other creative medium: talented artists make intuitive choices about when to break the rules in the hope that the outcome is something new and interesting. And we see it in flags, like the Welsh flag or the Albanian Flag, which break some or all of the principles of good design that the so-called experts claim can never be broken, but are awesome, especially the Albanian one.
- Aesthetic principles are useful, especially for newcomers to a medium, but they are not canonical and judgements made based on them are not definitive, and I think that any expert who claims they are knows a lot less about creativity and art than they think they do.
- Spoiler alert about Spotlight: it is ultimately a movie about journalistic self-censorship. All through the film we’re told how powerful the church is: they control the judges and everything else; the public will turn against the paper and storm it with protesters, the journalists constantly warn each other. But the judge decides against the church. There is no public protest. The church doesn’t even fight or comment on the story. And the heroes had everything they needed to run the story for years, but didn’t. The moral, I guess, is that speaking truth to power can be easier than you think
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