Thursday, November 10, 2016
Nathanael Hood ponders THE PULITZER AT 100 DOC NYC 2016
But for a film barely one step above a puff piece, The Pulitzer at 100 remains a compelling documentary. The elements they do explore are approached with a refreshing level of frankness and honesty. Yes, many writers see the Pulitzer as one of the greatest achievements they could dream of, but they recognize that it casts a grim shadow over the rest of their careers; how do you follow up winning one of the world’s highest honors? Many reporters express a similar unease over the prospect of winning. Nicholas Kristof, columnist for The New York Times and two-time winner (’90, ’06), mentions how weird it felt to win a Pulitzer for his coverage of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. “The real winners were the students who protested,” Kristof mentions before continuing how “there is a certain irony in gaining from a surge of human misery.” The reporters from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans who won a Pulitzer for their coverage of Hurricane Katrina were unanimous in their declaration that they’d gladly trade their Prize to get their damaged city back.
Simon prevents his documentary from becoming a rote procession of talking heads with an interposed series of biographical vignettes about the Hungarian-born Joseph Pulitzer, the pioneering newspaper magnate who established the Awards—as well as the Columbia School of Journalism—in part to help rehabilitate the reputation of American journalism after souring it with years of Yellow Journalism. Simon also liberally peppers the film with inserts of famous actors and writers dramatically reading passages from Award-winning works. Though pleasant enough—I particularly enjoyed John Lithgow’s rendition of Robert Frost’s Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening—I couldn’t help but feel them largely unnecessary for Simon’s stated purpose of examining the Awards and their legacy.
THE PULITZER AT 100 plays at DOC NYC on November 12. For Tickets and more information go here.