The new documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times, which hits two Manhattan theaters today (and expands next week), tells the story of America’s premier newspaper and its flux status among new, threatening technology. So, in light of the new release, The New York Times has posted its review. The verdict: not good.
In an effort to preserve journalistic objectivity, the paper assigned Michael Kinsley, a regular Times contributor but not on staff, to write the review. He had some not-nice things to say about the film.
“All of these people know far more than I do about The Times and are better positioned to judge the movie,” Kinsley says in the review, “…having seen Page One, I don’t know much more than I did before. The movie is, in a word, a mess.”
Other highlights: “It [the film] flits from topic to topic, character to character, explaining almost nothing…Like a shopper at the supermarket without a shopping list, Page One careers around the aisles picking up this item and that one, ultimately coming home with three jars of peanut butter and no 2-percent milk.”
But what’s most interesting about all this isn’t the film itself or the review separately—it’s the two of them together. Separately, they’re a documentary film and a piece of entertainment criticism. Together, however, they’re a strange meta-journalistic bundle in which the reviewer, Kinsley, first acknowledges the strangeness and then proceeds to bulldoze the film in all significant areas. Would The Times have been better off running a feature article from a staff reviewer like A.O. Scott or Manohla Dargis about this weird, unique situation, a deeper study on the nature of art and criticism and journalism and objectivity, instead of outsourcing a review? Which would have been more valuable?
But, now that the review has been written, and the review is unequivocally negative, how do the powers that be at the paper feel about it? Do they want the public to see a movie about them if that movie is “a mess”?
What adds even more intrigue to this story is that Page One has received generally favorable reviews: it sits at 79% on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of this writing. Maybe The Times wins, if for no other reason, than the fact that its own internal review, perhaps in part because of its negativity, has succeeded in drawing far more attention than any other outlet could possibly hope for.