Park Row (1952)

5 05 2014

Much has already been written about director Samuel Fuller’s own admiration for his 1952 effort Park Row. The film, a personal love letter to the very newspaper world he worked his way through as a youth, was a fiscal failure, which almost seems to deepen its bond with its filmmaker. Fuller’s style of filmmaking always suggests that he’s going 100 miles per hour, and that he believes every bit of his film is crucial and urgent. The comparison seems forced but through this idealism Fuller finds his closest colleague in Pier Paolo Pasolini. Sure, they worked towards a different ideology, but both did so with such passion and earnestness that what one could call “amatuerish” about their work (ie the potentially hamfisted nature way their politics manifest) ends up becoming part of its charm. Though “charm” seems to be a disservice to both men, it’s almost the ethos of their energy energy, and it becomes more and more contagious in every moment.

1

Phineas Mitchell is a great journalist at The Star, but the paper’s involvement in a recent trial has left him disillusioned. At a local dive bar, he tells off the paper’s proprietor, Mary Hackett. The other Star journalists at the bar are similarly dismissed, which leads Mitchell to wishfully entertain ideas of making his own paper. Someone listens and gives him an old office right next to The Star. The Globe is born over night and it quickly becomes a success. However, this success is much to Hackett’s chagrin, who seems devoted to quickly ending The Globe’s successful run. Undeterred by some shady efforts from his rival, Mitchell seeks to grow The Globe’s readership by having a drive to complete the Statue of Liberty. With every new innovation, however, Mitchell opens himself for a new opportunity to be taken apart.

2

Fuller’s energy and drive is commendable and it’s something I’ll go into later, but I find it more important to begin with a narrative that manages to be both simplistic but complicated. The actual arc isn’t difficult to follow, but rather the complications come from the Mary Hackett character. She is drawn rather broadly, at times appearing more like Cruella De Vil than an actual woman with fears, dreams, expectations, and disappointments. Her relationship with Mitchell is where things get sort of interesting, since the film ultimately redeems her from this basic character template. The film shows an interest in elevating her from this unremarkable and equally unflattering trope, but it doesn’t quite work. At one point, she gives Mitchell a knowing wink and he returns it before the two embrace. Although the intimacy achieved in this moment is later revealed to be another manipulative tool of Hackett’s (sigh) the glance in the sequence suggests that both Fuller and Mary Welch (who portrays Hackett) understands how stifling such a character type can be. The fact that their romance ends up working out suggests that their animosity comes almost of convenience to the story, at that Fuller is winking along with the couple the entire time.

3

Park Row from a social perspective, is probably best read as Fuller’s love letter to journalism. It’s been described as such before, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with agreeing with the film’s accepted reading. The marvel of Fuller’s film does not come from its subtext, but instead from the filmmaker’s technical virtuosity. There’s an energy in every composition, even the ones that are completely static. Sure, the tracking shot at the one hour mark is amazing all on its own, but just as impressive is how much Fuller’s gets out of his less flashy moments. Jonathan Rosenbaum describes the film as “cozy”  which seems like the perfect description for those compositions where Fuller squeezes everyone into the frames, much like how the characters themselves seem to squeeze into a seedy dive bar during off-hours. It’s this kind of love that one can read from Fuller in every frame. The way Mitchell gets excited for starting a new kind of paper in The Globe mirrors the way Fuller gets excited about making a new kind of movie.

5

 

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