VOYEUR (2017, doc)

November 30, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. We are watching the final product of filmmakers watching a reporter watching a man whose hobby is watching those who don’t know they are being watched. Lacking a single redeeming individual, the film’s creep factor slithers towards 11 on the (“SPINAL TAP”) scale.

It’s understandable if you assume this is the story of a pathetic and disgusting Aurora, Colorado motel owner who, for many years, quietly leered at his guests from a self-constructed perch in the attic. Gerald Foos methodically documented the sexual actions of the Manor House Motel guests, which numbered 2000-3000 per year. If his actions aren’t remarkable (not in a good way) enough, Mr. Foos actually married not one, but two women who were complicit in his hobby.

In 1980, renowned reporter and author (“from age 15 to 80”) Gay Talese received a letter from Gerald Foos, kicking off a three decade relationship culminating in a controversial feature article in “The New Yorker” and a book entitled “The Voyeur’s Motel”. Once Mr. Foos agrees to have his name published, co-directors Myles Kane and Josh Koury jump on board to document the final steps in Mr. Talese’s writing and research process. It’s here that we enter the oddest man cave you’ll likely see. In the basement of Talese’s immaculate Manhattan brownstone is not just his writing office, but also a lifetime of research and writing … boxes and shelves of material that will surely one day be part of a museum or university collection.

The unexpected parallels between writer and subject are made clear. Both are voyeurs and both are collectors. As a journalist, Talese observes the actions of people, while Foos is quite obviously the definition of a Peeping Tom. Talese collects the years of research for his writings, while Foos shows off his extraordinary sports memorabilia collection (also in his basement). Beyond these similarities, what stands out most are the unbridled egos of these two men. Both seemed most focused on getting or keeping their names and stories in the headlines. Of course, Talese has built a career on his name and reputation, while the aging Foos simply sees this as his legacy that somehow deserves historical prominence.

The filmmakers remain more focused on Talese than Foos, and that takes us inside “The New Yorker” where the editors are justifiably concerned about a single-source story – one that without Talese’s name attached would likely have never made it past an initial perusal. The aftermath of publication reminds us that we’ve seen con men before, and there is little joy in being taken on a long ride of deceit. Perhaps the best description of what we see on screen is that it’s a sideshow of ego and the need to be seen (watched).

watch the trailer:

 

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PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES

July 17, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Let me start by saying that you need not be a newspaper expert, reporter or reader to appreciate the points discussed in this documentary from Andrew Rossi. These key points include the battle of print vs social media, the need for true reporting, and the sustainability of the venerable institution that is The New York Times.

There is some argument given towards what constitutes journalism, but for me the real guts of the matter boils down to our absolute NEED for investigative reporting. I have always given value to bulldog reporting as a checks and balances for our system. Maybe, just maybe, our public officials and corporate leaders will toe the line if they are being watched. Sure, we can all rattle off a long list of when that hasn’t been the case, but I truly believe, having reporters following and snooping does make a difference in the actions of those in charge … and even if it doesn’t, it certainly makes a difference in the accuracy and depth with which their actions are written about.

 The filmmaker has been given substantial access to the media desk inside the newsroom. We even get to sit on a portion of the morning meeting where the senior editors decide what the lead stories will be. Personally, I would have loved a couple more hours of just that! But just as fascinating is how Bruce Headlam manages the media news, and in particular, star reporter David Carr. Mr. Carr is a hardened reporter with the spectacular ability to cut directly through to the important point and focus on the details, verify those details, and then summarize in a concise, understandable manner. We see this in full glory with his handling of the crisis and scandal at the Chicago Tribune under Sam Zell‘s banner.

Today, we like our news spoon fed to us in 20 second sound bites. So we find our favorite websites and we scan the headlines, which themselves are scans of news stories. My favorite moment of the movie occurs on a discussion panel when David Carr holds up a printout of the home page of a news “aggregator”. Moments later he makes the point that without real reporters and news teams (like the NYT), this aggregator’s home page would look quite different … he then holds up that same home page with 95% of the stories cut out because their source is a real news organization.

Some attention is paid to Twitter and other social media outlets. This seems to be finally accepted by reporters as being effective for two things: a delivery system for information and a grapevine with lightning speed. Of course, no verification is required for a “news” story to hit Twitter, and therein lies its limitation.

 We get interviews from both Gay Talese and Carl Bernstein on the importance of news reporting. Evidence is provided through mentions of the Pentagon Papers, Wikileaks and Watergate. Judith Miller and Jayson Blair are topics that embarrassed and did significant damage to the industry … but changes were adopted to (hopefully) prevent re-occurrence. The News of the World scandal is too new to have made the film, but it certainly would have added a fascinating subtext to it.

The bankruptcy trail of so many newspapers is discussed, along with the possibility of this happening at The Times. Personally I wish more detail had been provided on the survival strategy of this institution. Since the release of the film, there has been a change in the Executive Editor position. Bill Keller, who is featured prominently in the morning meetings, has stepped down and been replaced by Jill Abramson. Ms. Abramson is charged with driving and building online presence and revenue. We should all be wishing her success as the world is a better place with The New York Times.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are questioning whether we benefit from news reporters OR you believe Twitter gives you all the scoop you need 

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: TMZ fufills your need for hard-hitting news

the film’s trailer: