- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Press economy

“If you want to know why newspapers are in such trouble, the most salient fact is this: Printing presses are terrifically expensive to set up and to run. …

“For a long time, longer than anyone in the newspaper business has been alive, in fact, print journalism has been intertwined with these economics. The expense of printing created an environment where Wal-Mart was willing to subsidize the Baghdad bureau. This wasn’t because of any deep link between advertising and reporting, nor was it about any real desire on the part of Wal-Mart to have their marketing budget go to international correspondents. It was just an accident. Advertisers had little choice other than to have their money used that way, since they didn’t really have any other vehicle for display ads. …

“The competition-deflecting effects of printing cost got destroyed by the Internet, where everyone pays for the infrastructure, and then everyone gets to use it. And when Wal-Mart, and the local Maytag dealer, and the law firm hiring a secretary, and that kid down the block selling his bike, were all able to use that infrastructure to get out of their old relationship with the publisher, they did. They’d never really signed up to fund the Baghdad bureau anyway.”

-Clay Shirky, writing on “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable,” on March 13 at his eponymous blog (https://www.shirky.com/ weblog/)

Too dirty

“Universal’s ‘Bruno,’ the widely anticipated Sacha Baron Cohen docu-comedy opening in July, has been slapped with an NC-17 rating on its first submission to the Motion Picture Association of America because of numerous sexual scenes that the ratings board considers over the line, according to the studio releasing the film. …

“Baron Cohen is accustomed to pushing boundaries. In his last hit film, ‘Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,’ the writer and actor orchestrated outrageous real-life situations that challenged anti-Semitic and other stereotypes. With ‘Bruno,’ Baron Cohen apparently goes even further, drawing a cutting comic edge that challenges homophobia and racism by embracing both. His method is a kind of cinema verite, drawing unsuspecting bystanders into outrageous situations, or provoking them to say outrageous things, and orchestrating NC-17 rated situations. …

“But Cohen needs to deliver an R-rated film to Universal, which will not consider releasing an NC-17 ‘Bruno,’ according to an executive there. The difference between an R and an NC-17 in terms of financial reward is vast.”

-Sharon Waxman, writing on “Baron Cohen’s ‘Bruno’ Slapped With NC-17” on March 29 at The Wrap

Iconic birth

“Masks are uncanny things. They can release strange energies in the wearer and create powerful, sometimes overwhelming feelings in the spectator. They need not be stylized facial carapaces: they can be created by the simplest means - sticking on a false nose, or applying a lick of make-up, or donning a wig. It can be a pair of shoes that makes you walk in a certain fashion, or an oversized coat. You look at yourself in the mirror and something starts to happen. The body changes shape; unexpected impulses take you over. Every actor, every dancer, knows this wonderful moment.

“Out of such experiences the great characters are born. It happened to a brilliant young English comedian, Charles Chaplin - hitherto noted for his performances as spivs and drunken toffs with names such as Lord Helpus - one day in January 1914 at the Keystone Studios in Hollywood. Rummaging around among some rubbish, he fished out a bowler hat, a cane, some absurdly overlarge boots, a pair of outsize pants and an undersized jacket. Knowing that Mack Sennett, for whom he was working, wanted an older type for the scene he was about to shoot, he stuck a little moustache on his upper lip. By the time he got to the set, the character of the Tramp ‘was fully born.’

“Neither Chaplin, nor Sennett, nor Mabel Normand, with whom he was about to play the scene, realized that anything momentous had happened; but only a year later, the Tramp was unstoppable. Chaplin mania gripped the country: there were suddenly armies of Chaplin impersonators, and at the climax of one successful Broadway show the entire chorus of girls appeared dressed as Charlie. For the next 25 years, Chaplin played variations on the Little Fellow, who became one of the indelible icons of the 20th century, of all time.”

-Simon Callow, writing on “The Little Fellow Who Ruled the World” on March 28 at the Guardian

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